My dissertation solves a puzzling question in Chinese politics: Why do China's local governments exhibit different degrees of compliance with central-government directives, ranging from merely perfunctory efforts to absolute obedience? Existing literature either emphasizes the predominance of the central government over local authorities or suggests that local implementation almost always diverges sharply from the policies proclaimed in Beijing. But neither of these two accounts is able to systematically explain the considerable variation of local compliance behavior when different localities are confronted with the same central dictate. Based on a year of fieldwork, I develop a theory that integrates the two intrinsic power mechanisms of China's Cadre Evaluation System (CES) - top-down control and local autonomy - to explain the variation in local officials' compliance behavior. "Top-down control" refers to the fundamental evaluation guidelines dictated by the central government that local cadres must obey, while "local autonomy" refers to the substantial leeway that local cadres possess to formulate the specific strategies to fulfill the central government's evaluation targets. I find that to work their way up the career ladder within the Chinese Communist Party, local officials must thread the needle between these two power mechanisms and figure out a way to fulfill the central-government's fundamental guidelines while also taking local conditions into account. Once we understand that literally obeying orders may not be the optimal strategy for many local officials to win promotion, we are on the way to explaining the variation in their compliance behavior.
My research expands and challenges the existing literature, which only focuses on the top-down control function of the CES and ignores the extent to which local cadres possess autonomy. My research further challenges the widely received notion that the Party's personnel management system is a power instrument under the absolute control of the central government, by identifying the essential "local autonomy" power mechanism embedded in the CES and the substantial amount of bargaining and negotiation involved in the cadre evaluation process. My findings have critical implications for understanding China's central-local relations, its political economy of development, and the durability of the Party regime.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2013. Major: Political science. Advisor: David Julian Samuels. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 183 pages.
Career ambition and local compliance: the political logic of tourism development policy implementation in China.
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