AbstractResearch shows that postcrisis policy change in democracies is shaped by how crises are framed. Given structural political differences, the role that such framing plays in postcrisis policy change in other types of political systems is unclear. Therefore, this study adjusts the concept of crisis framing to authoritarian China and subsequently identifies framing strategies used by national leaders in response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Sichuan earthquake, and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Based on qualitative thematic analysis of statements made by national leaders, this paper shows that although no framing contests existed between them, these individuals used different framing strategies in response to different crises, and each strategy corresponds with different degrees of crisis-induced policy change. We observed major policy changes when national leaders simultaneously acknowledged the crisis, admitted a malfunctioning status quo, and put forward explicit proposals for postcrisis policy changes. Conversely, we observed minor policy change when national leaders denied the significance of the crisis, blamed the crisis on external forces, or put forward no or only abstract proposals for policy change. We argue that national leaders in China use the former strategies if they want to legitimize major policy changes and use the latter if they want to defend the status quo and restrict policy change.

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