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Ideational Learning and the Paradox of Chinese Catholic Reconciliation


  • Lawrence C. Reardon



During the 1980s, Chinese policy elites underwent a process of complex learning in economic policy that resulted in a shift from a revolutionary to a techno-economic paradigm that greatly reduced the control of the Chinese Communist Party over the economy. Spillover from the sectoral paradigm shift affected other policy sectors, which forced policy elites to experiment with religious policies that would complement the new economic paradigm. This experimentation fostered the growth of a civil society that could assume the social responsibilities cast off by the reforming state-owned enterprises. However, the experimentation also empowered distributional coalitions such as the Falungong, which threatened the party’s control. Policy elites thus implemented adaptations of religious policies formulated under the revolutionary paradigm. The study concludes that the current conflict between the Vatican and Beijing resembles an iterated prisoner’s dilemma and that the conflict will continue until Chinese policy elites realize that the failure of religious policy adaptations threaten the long-term goals of the techno-economic paradigm.

Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence C. Reardon, 2011. "Ideational Learning and the Paradox of Chinese Catholic Reconciliation," Journal of Current Chinese Affairs - China aktuell, Institute of Asian Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 40(2), pages 43-70.
  • Handle: RePEc:gig:chaktu:v:40:y:2011:i:2:p:43-70

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Stein, Janice Gross, 1994. "Political learning by doing: Gorbachev as uncommitted thinker and motivated learner," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(02), pages 155-183, March.
    2. Arne Niemann, 2008. "Dynamics and Countervailing Pressures of Visa, Asylum and Immigration Policy Treaty Revision: Explaining Change and Stagnation from the Amsterdam IGC to the IGC of 2003-04," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46, pages 559-591, June.
    3. Robert Axelrod, 1980. "Effective Choice in the Prisoner's Dilemma," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 24(1), pages 3-25, March.
    4. Adler, Emanuel, 1992. "The emergence of cooperation: national epistemic communities and the international evolution of the idea of nuclear arms control," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(01), pages 101-145, December.
    5. Dosi, Giovanni, 1993. "Technological paradigms and technological trajectories : A suggested interpretation of the determinants and directions of technical change," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 102-103, April.
    6. Robert Axelrod, 1980. "More Effective Choice in the Prisoner's Dilemma," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 24(3), pages 379-403, September.
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    China; religion; Catholic church; learning;


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