”Consent to Contend: The Power of the Masses in China’s Local Elite Bargain“ The China Review, forthcoming
This study explores how local officials tolerate and use mass mobilization to extract policy concessions from above. Local officials strategically tolerate mass mobilization when the demands of the masses are congruent with elements of their own agenda that they are otherwise unable to pursue. Protestors in the streets turn out to be a powerful bargaining chip for local officials: they illustrate ex ante that higher-level leaders risk causing social instability if they reject the masses’ demands. The paper lays out the institutional environment that gives rise to such a strategy, presents a detailed case study focusing on the alliance between local officials and citizens in a mass mobilization regarding administrative re-districting, and discusses the presence of such “consent instability” in other issue areas in China. The result from a survey experiment of Chinese officials is consistent with the hypothesis that officials are more likely to concede to the demands of their subordinates when popular pressure back their demand. The findings reveal a crucial elite-mass linkage in China’s bureaucratic politics that researchers have neglected.
"Is Any Publicity Good Publicity? Media Coverage, Party Institutions, and Authoritarian Power-Sharing" (with Fengming Lu) Political Communication, forthcoming
Existing literature identifies non-official media as a tool for rulers to gather information from below. We argue that such media also help identify threats among elites. Motivated by profit, partially free media tend to cover politicians who challenge implicit norms of the regime. These political elites are perceived as threats to the power-sharing status quo, which leads peers to sanction them. We test this argument with evidence from the Chinese Communist Party’s intra-party elections of alternate Central Committee members in 2012 and 2007. With Bayesian rank likelihood models, we find that candidates who appeared more frequently in various partially free media received fewer votes from the Party Congress delegates, and this pattern is robust after accounting for a series of alternative explanations. Detailed case studies also show that low-ranked candidates have more partially free media coverage because they broke party norms.
"Popular Threats and Nationalistic Propaganda: Political Logic of China's Patriotic Campaign" (with Chuyu Liu) Security Studies, forthcoming
Conventional wisdom suggests that authoritarian leaders use nationalist propaganda as a tool to strengthen mass support. Yet few studies have provided systematic evidence to account for specific tactics underlying these information manipulations. We argue that autocrats, recognizing the material costs of propaganda, are more likely to target localities with the greatest anti-regime potential. Using a unique dataset of "patriotic education sites" that the Chinese Communist Party assigned throughout China as tools to advance its nationalistic campaign, we found a systematic association between these locations and 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 contains. Our findings highlight the strategic way in which autocrats manipulate nationalist propaganda to mitigate popular threats.
Please see the appendix on my coauthor Chuyu Liu's website.
"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.
Working Papers (available upon request)
“Befriending the Authoritarian State: Local State Sector and Foreign Direct Investment in China” (working paper)
“Farmland and Fraud: Land Taking and Vote Buying in Rural China” (working paper, with Susan Whiting and Tan Zhao)
“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 Review: Information for Autocrats: Representation in Chinese Local Congress (by Melanie Manion).” The China Review