In recent years, scholars have puzzled over the fact that China’s increased economic privatization and marketization since the early 1990s have not triggered a simultaneous advance in political liberalization. Many have sought to explain why – despite a marked upsurge in popular unrest – sources of social support for the political order have remained sizeable. Seeking to shed light on this debate, this article investigates the nature and implications of the political embeddedness of China’s private capital holders. The embeddedness of these individuals is “thick” in the sense that it encompasses an inter-twined amalgam of instrumental ties and affective links to the agents and institutions of the party-state. Thick embeddedness therefore incorporates personal links that bind private capital holders to the party-state through connections that are layered with reciprocal affective components. Such close relations work against the potential interest that private capital holders might have in leading or joining efforts to press for fundamental political liberalization. Drawing on these findings, the article places China’s economic and political development in comparative perspective, and lays out the most likely scenarios for China’s future.

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