My papers cover topics on authoritarian elite politics, the political and economic implications of weak rule of law, and state-society relations in dictatorships. You can download some of the papers directly from the links provided below. All working papers are available upon request.

Authoritarian Elite Politics

"Term Limits and Authoritarian Power Sharing: Theory and Evidence from China” Journal of East Asian Studies 16(1): 61-85.

Term limits that effectively govern leadership transition play an important role in authoritarian power sharing. A fixed term and a pre-appointed successor – two crucial components of term limits – credibly commit the incumbent ruler to share power with other elites, and also allow the elites to monitor and coordinate against the ruler's transgression of the power-sharing agreement. While the successful adoption of term limits often requires an even balance of power among the ruling elites in the first place, once adopted it initiates an evolving bargain over allocation of political power among multiple generations of leaders that further keeps any one faction from dominating the others. I corroborate this argument using a biographical dataset of elite members of the Chinese Communist Party from 1982 to 2012. The findings suggest that the Party's incumbent leaders and their rivals (i.e., predecessor and heir-apparent) shared equal chances in promoting their associates—which proxy their political influence—and this pattern has become more salient since the 16th party congress, when the term limits that currently govern China's leadership transition became fully fledged. This result also sheds light on the role of informal, patronage-based promotion in the institutionalization of authoritarian politics.

"Keep Silent and Make a Big Fortune: Partially Free Media and an Authoritarian Intra-Elite Election" (with Fengming Lu, under review)

An emerging literature points to partially free media as an important channel for authoritarian elites to gather information from below. We argue that such media also help identify potential threats from within. Motivated by profit and newsworthiness, media with less state control tend to cover politicians with characters that would interest the audience. Those characters often stem from activities that challenge the implicit norms of the regime, and therefore might be perceived as threats to the power sharing status quo. We corroborate this argument with evidence from the Chinese Communist Party’s most recent intra-party election in 2012. Applying Bayesian partial rank likelihood models, we find candidates that appeared more frequently in various partially free media received fewer votes from the party congress delegates. This pattern is robust after accounting for a series of alternative explanations, and after we re-test the same models using data from the previous 2007 election.

"Collaborative Instability: The Role of Mass Mobilization in Intra-Bureaucratic Bargaining" (working paper)

This paper explores the conditions under which officials manipulate and use mass mobilization to extract concessions from their more powerful counterparts within the bureaucracy. Local officials strategically tolerate mass mobilization when the demand of the masses is congruent with their own agenda and would otherwise not be achieved. Protestors in the streets turn out to be a powerful bargaining chip for local officials. Protests illustrate ex ante the grave consequences (i.e., social instability) of rejecting the locality’s demand and bring the pressure of the masses to bear on the officials at higher levels. This paper presents a detailed case study focusing on the alliance between local officials and citizens that took place in a mass mobilization in eastern county C regarding local redistricting, also discusses the presence of such “collaborative instability” in other issue areas in China. A survey experiment of local officials reveals that officials are more likely to concede to the demands of their subordinates, when such demands are backed by popular pressure that entails threats to regime stability. The findings reveal a crucial elite-mass linkage in China’s bureaucratic politics that has so far been neglected.

Political Economy of Weak Rule of Law

“Befriending the Authoritarian State: Local State Sector and Foreign Direct Investment in China” (working paper)

Why and how does foreign investment thrive in countries without securing property rights institutions? What market-entering strategies do foreign investors adopt to reduce political and market risks? This paper argues that, when entering a market with substantial uncertainty, foreign investment tends to flourish in locales with a strong local state sector, as such a condition provides opportunities to form joint ventures with local state-owned enterprises (LSOEs). Partnership with LSOEs aligns the interest of the local officials with that of the foreign investors, and shields foreign business from various political and market risks. I test this argument using a county-level dataset of China’s Yangtze Delta Region—a national-level economic zone that hosts more than half of the foreign direct investment (FDI) in China. I find that counties with a larger state sector in the late 1980s—the time when China opened its market—tended to attract more FDI in the early 1990s, and this positive association is robust to different ways of measuring the size of local state sector, and after accounting for various alternative explanations. To further identify the causal direction of this association, I instrument the size of each county’s state sector by each county’s distance to Taipei. Counties located closer to Taiwan faced imminent threats of military conflict during the cross-strait standoff between China and Taiwan before 1980s, therefore received little state-directed investment under the centrally planned economic system. Consequently, these counties had a smaller stock of state capital with which foreign investors could form joint ventures, and were less attractive to FDI when China opened itself to the outside world. The instrumental variable analysis lends strong support that the relationship between local state sector and FDI is causal.

“When Do People Seek Justice: Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Rural China” (working paper, with Susan Whiting)

We use a survey in two Chinese counties to examine how Chinese citizens perceive the efficacy of local legal institutions in protecting them from infringements of individual rights by the state, particularly those related to land rights. Our findings point to the conclusion that many of these institutions serve as the tool of the state to contain citizen grievances and deflect them back to local levels.

State-Society Relations in Authoritarian Regimes

"How Autocratic Leaders Manipulate Nationalism: Evidence from China" (with Chuyu Liu, under review)

How and why do autocrats initiate campaigns that promote nationalist sentiment among the masses? Conventional wisdom suggests that authoritarian leaders use nationalism as an expedient tool to weather political crises and to strengthen mass support. Yet few studies have provided systematic evidence for such accounts. We argue that rational autocrats are more likely to adopt a nationalism campaign to target localities with greater anti-regime potentials. Using a unique dataset of “patriotic education sites” that were constructed throughout China as tools to advance Chinese Communist Party’s nationalistic campaign since the early 1990s, we found that the locations of the sites as designated by the central government are systematically associated with the scale of anti-regime mobilization in the 1989 pro-democracy movement. The longer the anti-regime protest lasted in a city in 1989, the greater the number of patriotic education sites the city would be assigned.

Making Reform Work: Evidence from a Quasi-Natural Experiment in Rural China (working paper, with Shuo Chen)

“Income and Regime Support: Field-experimental Evidence from China’s Stock Market” (in progress, with Jason Q. Guo and Erik H. Wang)

Book Reviews

Forthcoming. “Book Review: Information for Autocrats: Representation in Chinese Local Congress (by Melanie Manion).” The China Review

“Book Review: Capital, Coercion, and Post-Communist States (by Gerald Easter).” Comparative Political Studies, 46(9): 1143-46.