‘Purpose’ and the Adaptation of Authoritarian Institutions: The Case of China’s State Feminist Organization

Konstantinos Tsimonis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines the All China Women’s Federation’s “women’s work” (funv gongzuo) since 1978 and offers a new analytical explanation of its mixed record of success and failure. It is argued that the ACWF has undergone a process of adaptation that is driven by the agency of its cadres, who have succeeded in institutionalizing purposive incentives for pro-women action in the Federation. Cadres have engaged with academic discourses on gender and have socialized with women’s organizations and the international feminist movement. This process has created a space within the ACWF where pro-women work can develop and influence policy-making without challenging the Federation’s dependency to the Party. The resulting duality of the ACWF, as purposeful cadre agency-driven initiatives coexist with the regime’s conservative policy priorities and campaigns, explains the Federation’s successes as well as its many contradictions and important limitations. The case of the ACWF demonstrates that cadre agency is an important, yet frequently overlooked, variable informing the adaptation of authoritarian institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-74
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Chinese Political Science
Issue number1
Early online date24 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • ACWF
  • Adaptation
  • Authoritarianism
  • Cadre Agency
  • China
  • Mass Organization
  • State Feminism


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