Articles & Chapters

Vote Buying as Rent Seeking: Land Sales in China’s Village Elections
(with Xiao Ma, Tan Zhao, and Tonglong Zhang)
Studies in Comparative International Development (link)

What explains why vote buying occurs in some elections but not others? The phenomenon of vote buying is under-studied in authoritarian, single-party-dominant regimes, especially in non-partisan elections in which competition is candidate-centered rather than party centered. Village elections in China provide a valuable window on the dynamics of vote buying in these conditions. Employing both an in-depth case study and an original, panel survey to provide new, systematic measures of rents and vote buying, we develop and test the following hypothesis: the availability of non-competitive rents accessible by winning candidates explains the variation in the incidence of vote buying in local elections. Our causal identification strategy exploits the timing of land takings and the exogenous nature of formal land takings authorized in state land-use plans at higher administrative levels to test the vote-buying-as-rent-seeking hypothesis. We find that the lure of rents, mainly from government takings of village land, is a key driver of vote buying by nonpartisan candidates for the office of village leader. The evidence suggests that vote buying provides information to the authoritarian state about which local elites it should recruit into the rent-sharing coalition.

Authoritarian ‘Rule of Law’ and Regime Legitimacy
Comparative Political Studies (link)

A prominent hypothesis to explain the durability of authoritarian regimes focuses on the official adoption of law and legal institutions. The present study offers a novel empirical approach to test the relationship between legal construction and regime legitimation, drawing on a quasi-experiment and original panel survey in rural China. Using difference-in-difference, sub-group, and two-stage least squares analyses, it finds that the Chinese state’s project of legal construction powerfully shapes the legal consciousness of ordinary rural citizens and that state-constructed legal consciousness enhances regime legitimacy. The study also presents qualitative evidence to identify the causal mechanism linking state-constructed legal consciousness and regime legitimacy: the expansion of local institutions like state-run legal-aid centers in rural communities. The study contributes to the institutional focus in debates about authoritarian durability by providing evidence at the intersection of state and society.

Validating Vignette Designs with Real-World Data: A Study of Legal Mobilization in Response to Land Grievance in Rural China (with Xiao Ma)
China Quarterly (link)

How well do vignette designs capture actual behavior in the real world? This study employs original survey data featuring both hypothetical vignettes and behavioral questions in order to assess the external validity of descriptive and causal inference in survey experiments. The survey was conducted in a three-province, probability-proportional-to-size sample of 1,897 rural residents of China and focuses on legal mobilization of citizens in response to grievances involving land rights. In terms of descriptive inference, we find that, relative to the behavioral benchmark, hypothetical vignettes significantly over-estimate legal mobilization in response to a grievance, particularly for higher-cost actions like petitioning the government and litigating in court. We find that data from hypothetical vignettes affect causal inference as well, producing significantly different results regarding the effect of political connections and legal knowledge on legal mobilization. The study makes a contribution by identifying conditions under which hypothetical vignettes are less likely to produce valid inference. It engages a rich literature on disputing and legal mobilization in the field of Chinese politics and helps resolve debates over the role of political connections and legal knowledge.


Land Rights, Industrialization, and Urbanization: China in Comparative Context, Journal of Chinese Political Science (link)

What do studies of land rights in China contribute to the broader discipline of political science? First, the Chinese case challenges orthodox theories of secure, private property rights as a prerequisite for growth and sheds light on the distinctly fiscal roots of urban bias, a phenomenon pervasive in countries making the transition from agriculture to industry. Second, studies of land grabbing in the Chinese case provide a basis for comparisons of state-society relations in authoritarian vs. democratic regimes. While democratic institutions create more openings for aggrieved actors to organize and shape policy, ordinary citizens in both authoritarian and democratic regimes use protest in order to capture a greater share of rents from land. Third, land grabbing exacerbates inequalities; research on the Chinese case in comparative context shows that exclusionary modes of land ownership and limits on full social and political citizenship are mutually reinforcing across all types of regimes.  

A Long View of Resilience in the Chengdu Plain, China
(with Daniel Abramson, Shang Yuan, and Stevan Harrell)
Journal of Asian Studies (link)

The Chengdu Plain is an agroecosystem that depends on the Dujiangyan (Capital River Weir) for its functioning. This system has been sustained at high levels of productivity for more than two thousand years, experiencing only a few disturbances that have disrupted its functioning. Integrating field and documentary research on ecological, market, and governance factors, this article discusses the remarkable resilience of this system from the late Qing to the present and identifies current threats to its resilience. When the ecology consists of patchy and diverse landscapes, markets allow for adaptation through exchange, and governance includes cross-cutting sources of authority and flexible property regimes, the ecosystem is more resilient—that is, better able to withstand disturbances and maintain its basic functions.

Changing Property Rights Regimes: A Study of Rural Land Tenure in China
(with Loren Brandt, Linxiu Zhang, and Tonglong Zhang)
China Quarterly (link)

Through two rounds of land contracting, rural households have been allocated a bundle of rights in land. We observe significant differences across villages in the amount of land to which villagers retain a claim and the institutional mechanisms governing the exchange of land rights. This study reveals the perpetuation and expansion of non-market mechanisms accruing to the benefit of village cadres and state officials and only limited emergence of market mechanisms in which households are primary beneficiaries.It identifies factors in economic, political, and legal domains that incentivize and enable state officials and local cadres to capture returns from use of land. Relatedly, the study finds differences in conflict over property rights regimes. Drawing on a pilot survey carried out by the authors in November of 2011 in Shaanxi and Jiangsu provinces (192 households in 24 villages), this paper seeks to explain heterogeneity and change in property rights regimes over time and across space.

通过两轮的家庭联产承包,土地的部分产权已经分到了农户手中。我们观察到不同村之间村民拥有土地的数量和管理土地权利交换的制度机制都存在显著不同。本研究显示有利于村干部和地方政府的行政机制普遍存在,而有利于农户的市场机制仍然作用有限。 本文区分了经济、政治、和法律因素对村干部和地方政府官员形成激励,并使得他们从土地中获得好处。与此对应,本文也发现了不同产权机制引起的冲突也不同。基于作者2011年11月在江苏省和陕西省进行的初步调查(24个村192农户),本文意图解释这一土地产权机制的跨时空变化。

The Role of Law in China’s Economic Development
In China’s Great Economic Transformation (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
(with Donald Clarke and Peter Murrell)

The Cadre Evaluation System at the Grass Roots: The Paradox of Party Rule
(Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Fiscal Pressures, Land Disputes, and Justice Claims in Rural China
Urban Studies
This article explores justice claims and legal recourse in disputes over land rights—a major source of unrest—in rural China. Local governments’ search for fiscal revenue and the concomitant fiscalisation of land create the context for the recent wave of land disputes. The types of dispute and the contexts in which disputes arise shape the ways in which citizens seek recourse to threats to their property rights and shape the kinds of justice claim they make in the process. Citizens whose land rights are threatened by land takings orchestrated by local governments and outside developers are more likely to pursue both distributive and procedural justice claims in court than are citizens whose land rights are threatened by reallocation of land within the community. In the latter case, citizens are more likely to pursue distributive but not procedural justice claims through mediation. These patterns hold in both case study and survey evidence. Distributive justice is associated with the fairness of outcome of a dispute, while procedural justice is associated with fairness of the process of dispute resolution.

Fiscal Reform and Land Public Finance
In China’s Local Public Finance in Transition

Law and Its Substitutes
In Dynamics of Local Governance in China

The Mobilization of Private Investment as a Problem of Trust
In Trust and Governance

The Politics of NGO Development in China

The Rural Economy
(with Dan Wang)
Sage Handbook of Contemporary China (link)

China’s rural economy holds important lessons for development studies. This chapter addresses the legacies of the Mao era and the key features of the post-Mao era. The planned economy, instituted under Mao, used state power to divide the urban and rural economies and to extract resources from the rural sector at unfavorable terms, facilitated by the collectivization of agriculture. In the post-Mao era, China’s rural economy has both challenged and confirmed elements of development orthodoxy. While maintaining collective ownership of rural land, post-Mao reforms assigned certain land rights to households, improved incentives, and introduced markets, all contributing to stronger growth, productivity, and poverty reduction. Rural industry—township and village enterprises (TVEs)—was marked by second-best institutions and yet contributed to higher incomes and provision of public goods in rural communities. Agricultural price reform has been gradual, but most food prices are now determined by market forces. At the same time, the government, motivated by a concern over food security, has heavily subsidized staple crops, leading to market distortions and budgetary pressures. Achieving sustainable agricultural production in the face of water shortages, soil degradation, etc., and providing more equal opportunity for rural residents pose policy challenges for the 21st century.