Patricia M Thornton

Council Member, BCAS

Associate Professor of Chinese Politics, DPIR
Fellow, Merton College
Government and Politics Network
International Relations Network
Merton College

I am an associate professor in the Department of Politics (DPIR) and the University of Oxford China Centre, and Tutor in the Politics of China at Merton College. I am currently a Council Member of the British Association for Chinese Studies, having previously served as a member of the East and Inner Asia Council (EAIC, formerly CIAC-- China-Inner Asia Council) of the Association for Asian Studies. I served on the Executive Committee of The China Quarterly's editorial board for ten years, and as its Acting Editor in Chief in 2021. At the University of Oxford's DPIR, I have previously served as Chair of the Sub-Faculty of Politics and International Relations, and Chair of the PPE Committee, which oversees and manages the PPE degree programme at the University of Oxford.

For my up-to-date views and other information on political developments in contemporary China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, follow me on Twitter at @PM_Thornton.


In the broadest possible sense, my research focuses on mapping the interactions—including institutions, practices and networks—between the Party-state and social forces in China over time. In Disciplining the State: Virtue, Violence and State-making in Modern China (Harvard, 2007), I argued that the process of state-making in China has been driven both by normative and normalizing goals, and curbed by a conservative calculus that weighs incremental increases in the size and scope of the administration against the projected costs required to support it. The historical result is a minimalist state that relies upon the intermittent mobilisation of social forces to realise a range of ambitious goals.

To produce Identity Matters: Ethnic and Sectarian Conflict (Berghahn, 2007), I worked with an international group of Fulbright New Century Scholars to analyse the relationships between collective identity and conflict through a variety of case studies.

In Red Shadows: Memories and Legacies of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Cambridge, 2017), Chris Berry (King's College), Sun Peidong (Cornell University, formerly of Fudan University) and I trace the living legacies of China's Cultural Revolution in post-Mao China, 50 years after it began in 1966.

In To Govern China: Evolving Practices of Power (Cambridge, 2017), Vivienne Shue and I assembled an international team of China scholars who seek to move beyond the current consensus regarding contemporary China's adaptive 'authoritarian resilience' in order to explore the cross-cutting currents in ongoing processes of political change in contemporary Chinese governance. More recently, I edited an open-access special issue of The China Quarterly marking the CCP's centenary.

My research interests include:

Government, Constitutions, Institutions and Governments, Groups, Identities and Social Movements, Institutions and organisations, Community, Constitutions and Government, Identity, Institutions and organisations, States


At the undergraduate level, I teach the Government and Politics of China option, a further option in comparative politics open to both PPE and HP students at the University of Oxford, and part of the Politics Prelims paper for undergraduates at Merton College. I also teach the DPIR's post-graduate seminar on Chinese politics, open to MSc students in Contemporary Chinese Studies, MPhil students in Modern Chinese Studies and MPhil students in Comparative Government in the DPIR. I also supervise postgraduate students in the MPhil and DPhil in Politics (Comparative Government) programmes working on various aspects of the domestic politics of China.


  • Siu Yau Lee ( 李肇祐 )(DPhil, 2013): "Explaining Institutional Changes in Authoritarian States: Language Management and Resistance in Contemporary China" (currently Associate Professor and Acting Head of the Department of Asian and Policy Studies (APS) of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (FLASS) at The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK).)
  • Yu Tao (陶郁) (DPhil, 2015): "Enemies of the State or Friends of the ‘Harmonious Society’? Religious Groups and Collective Protests in Contemporary Rural China" (currently Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Discipline of Asian Studies and Languages, University of Western Australia)
  • Karita Ching-yeung Kan (靳清揚) (DPhil, 2014): "Contesting Urban Futures: Mapping State-Society Relations in China's Urban Development" (currently Associate Professor, Department of Applied Social Sciences at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University) 
  • Xibai Xu (徐曦白) (DPhil candidate in Politics) "Fragmented Authoritarianism, Selective Control and the Rise of Entrepreneurial Charity in China"
  • Peng Chun (彭錞) (DPhil in Law, 2015) (co-supervision): "Taming the Dragon: Rural Land Acquisition and its Legal Reform in Modern China" (currently Assistant Professor, Beijing University Law School)
  • Samson Wai-Hei Yuen (袁瑋熙) (DPhil in Politics, 2016): "Partners of Authoritarian Governance: The Politics of Community NGOs in China" (currently Associate Professor at the Department of Government and International Studies of Hong Kong Baptist University.)
  • Sojeong Im (DPhil candidate in Politics) (co-supervision)
  • Shun-yan Olivia Cheung (DPhil, 2018): "Model-making and policy change in China" (currently Research Fellow, SOAS China Institute)
  • Lu Xiaoyu (DPhil, 2019): "Neither local nor global: a political ethnography of storytelling and norm diffusion in the UNDP China" (currently Assistant Professor at School of International Studies at Beijing University)
  • Rowan Alcock (DPhil, 2020): "Polanyi, China and the environmental impasse: unconscious retrogression and conscious advance"
  • Jean Mittelstaedt (DPhil, 2019): "Revolutionizing the Party-state: The 1975 Chinese State Constitution" (currently Departmental Lecturer in Modern Chinese Studies, University of Oxford China Centre)
  • Hu Yuhan (current DPhil candidate)
  • Han Bowen (current MPhil candidate)
  • Ruijie Liu (current MPhil candidate)