Decentralized Authoritarianism in China

The Communist Party's Control of Local Elites in the Post-Mao Era

Decentralized Authoritarianism in China

China, like many authoritarian regimes, struggles with the tension between the need to foster economic development by empowering local officials and the regime’s imperative to control them politically. Landry explores how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) manages local officials in order to meet these goals and perpetuate an unusually decentralized authoritarian regime. Using unique data collected at the municipal, county, and village level, Landry examines in detail how the promotion mechanisms for local cadres have allowed the CCP to reward officials for the development of their localities without weakening political control. His research shows that the CCP’s personnel management system is a key factor in explaining China’s enduring authoritarianism and proves convincingly that decentralization and authoritarianism can work hand in hand.


“In this important new book, Pierre Landry tackles one of the central debates among China specialists: is the authority of the central government being undermined by the parallel processes of privatization of the economy and decentralization of policy implementation? His focus on the appointment, promotion, and transfer of local officials challenges the conventional wisdom that the central state is losing control of the localities. Combining original data on the career patterns of officials with an innovative and rigorous perspective, it is among the most sophisticated analyses of contemporary China available. He has much to tell us about the evolution of the Chinese political system.”
-Bruce Dickson, George Washington University

“Using original data and state-of-the-art political science, Pierre Landry shows how China prospers as a state that is centralized in its ideals but fragmented in practice. Economic boom has legitimated a regime that the pluralistic divisions required by market efficiency tend to corrode. China nonetheless holds together conservatively, because the Party controls each cadre promotion from a level high enough to be authoritative yet low enough to monitor the personnel involved. Prosperity might later liberalize this planet’s most populous country, but for the nonce progress is illiberal at each size of collectivity. Everyone who is interested in China, or in scalar methods of governance, must read this book.”
-Lynn White, Princeton University

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