Clan organizations, village elections, and grassroots governance in China

Project: Research project

Project Details


Several autocratic regimes have introduced local elections to improve the accountability of local government officials, e.g. China introduced village elections in the 1980s. However, studies on elite capture (or cronyism) suggest that the accountability effect of democracy could be compromised if elites and powerful interest groups are able to exploit their advantages in networking and resource mobilization to manipulate the outcomes of elections (Lizzeri and Persico, 2001; Martinez-Bravo et al., 2014; Cruz et al., 2017). In rural China, clan organizations of the large surname are an example of such an elite group. Several qualitative studies demonstrate that the clan leaders of large surnames enjoy an advantage in village elections (Tan and Xin, 2007; Kennedy, 2010). After elected, they often use their combination of political and social influence to confiscate property and capture rents for their clans (O’Donnell, 1999; Collins, 2003; Manion, 2006; Su et al., 2011; Mattingly, 2016). However, there is little systematic evidence on the effect of clan organizations on local electoral outcomes and, thereby, on elite capture.

I propose an empirical study to explore whether clan organizations have affected the outcomes of village elections and of resource allocation using panel data from over 20,000 rural households in 217 Chinese villages between 1986 and 2014. I will first explore whether clan leaders from large surnames are more likely to be elected, and to what extent their likelihood of being elected is conditional on the pre-existing clan structure. I will then analyze the welfare effects: 1) whether households from the same clan as the village leader receive more government subsidies, and 2) whether (and how) such an effect could be affected by the election. I will further examine two types of “mistargeting” in the poverty subsidy allocation of the nationwide poverty alleviation program. The first is to fail to grant subsidies to eligible households, and the second is to grant subsidies to ineligible households. I will explore how clans’ election performance
may affect these policy failures. Finally, using more recent data, I will evaluate the overall welfare effect of village elections, focusing on the period after 2004, when a major institutional land reform gradually increased the rent of rural land, which complements previous findings on China’s village elections using data collected before 2005 (Martinez-Bravo, et al., 2012, 2017 among others).
Effective start/end date1/01/2431/12/26


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