Working Papers

“Dethroning the Mao-Era Elite: Using Organizational Histories to Illuminate Cadre Management” (with Chen Hao, Xu Changxin, Cheng Cheng, and Wang Yuhua)

Using a novel dataset of cadres at the central and local levels, we show that the most lasting, thoroughgoing personnel changes in the PRC’s history occurred at the start of the reform era. Whereas discussions of momentous personnel changes in China tend to gravitate towards the Cultural Revolution, Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, and a litany of Mao-era purges, the long-term effects of these events on the composition of bureaucratic leadership pale in comparison to those undertaken at the start of the reform era. Most notably during the 1982–1984 administrative reforms, the newly installed reformist leadership at the center undertook a wholesale transformation of the Chinese political elite, ushering out Mao-era elites and replacing them with younger, professionalized cadres. We are able to show this early and extensive departure of Mao-era elites from leadership positions using a novel dataset of over 70,000 bureaucrats. Gleaned from organizational histories and yearbooks, this new dataset extends from the central level to the township level and from the founding of the party to the present, opening the door to much deeper insights into temporal and geographic variations in cadre management.

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“Fencing Off: Trading Institutional Constraints for Institutional Autonomy” (with Hou Li)

Politicians impose constraints on their own power in efforts to consolidate power.  In the literature on institutional constraints, leaders constrain their own power in exchange for support from the masses or capitalists, or to protect against future policy changes.  In this article, we explore why municipal governments sometimes constrain their power over urban development, the key locus of municipal power (and municipal officials’ personal rents) in rapidly urbanizing China.  We contend that officials in the municipality seek to constrain their power in order to increase their autonomy against meddling from above.  They are able to wrest autonomy by framing their institutional innovations as good governance reforms.

A Schematic Model of Chinese Political Economy

“Taking the Mayor’s Measure: Personnel Changes Associated with Turnover in Chinese Municipal Leadership”

Quantitative research on Chinese municipal governments tends to focus on the purportedly uniform, performance-based promotion incentives faced by top leaders—Party Secretaries and Mayors—effectively ignoring constraints from the complicated apparatus of municipal government and the possibility that they might exhibit personal policy preferences. This project takes a step backward to characterize the importance and nature of the top leadership in Chinese municipalities, with a particular focus on personnel management in municipal government agencies. Drawing on a dataset of party and government personnel from Fujian province, I show that, until about 2010, leaders of municipal bureaucracies were appointed and removed in a relatively stable pattern, and much of the time they were serving party secretaries or mayors who did not appoint them. Since 2010, however, personnel management has become less routinized, and as a result, agency leaders are increasingly serving under the top leadership who appointed them to their post.