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Useful Complaints

How Petitions Assist Decentralized Authoritarianism in China

Jing Chen

Hardback
eBook
This book develops an informational theory to account for the coexistence of China’s exceptionally resilient authoritarianism and its high decentralization. The nuanced information contained in citizens’ complaints, which are filed through the petition system, helps to sustain China’s decentralized authoritarianism in three important ways. First, petitions help to alleviate the information asymmetry problem that arises when the central government has less information than lower level governments do. When studying citizens’ petitions, higher level governments can obtain valuable and accurate information about local officials’ performance in policy implementation, public goods provision, and corruption. Higher level governments need this information in order to effectively utilize the cadre management system to reward good performance and punish malpractice. The result of this interaction is the PRC’s relatively high quality of governance and effective control of local officials. There is also a second way in which citizens’ petitions help the government to overcome the dictator’s dilemma that arises when an authoritarian regime is uncertain about how much support it really enjoys among its citizens. Citizens’ specific grievances are revealed in these petitions and are mostly addressed in their beginning stages. When citizens’ complaints are rooted in central policy, they set the agenda for policy change in order to maintain social order. There is yet a third benefit conferred upon the PRC by the petition system. Thanks to the petition system, the central government can present itself as the ally of citizens when it addresses the matters raised by their petitions. As a result, the petition system grants the central government an opportunity to hold local officials accountable, scapegoat local authorities, divide citizens and local officials, and justly claim all the credit when its policies succeed. This helps to build citizens’ trust in their central government and reinforces its legitimacy in their eyes. In Huntington’s terms, the Chinese Communist Party institutionalizes mass support by addressing citizens’ grievances expressed through the channel of communication provided by the petition system. In this sense, the complaints of citizens can be very useful tools for regime maintenance. The author substantiates these points with case studies and statistical analysis. « less more »
Lexington Books
Pages: 204Size: 6 3/8 x 9 1/4
978-1-4985-3452-9 • Hardback • September 2016 • $85.00 • (£54.95)
978-1-4985-3453-6 • eBook • September 2016 • $80.00 • (£52.95)
Jing Chen is assistant professor of political science at Hartwick College.
Chapter 3 Petitions and Stability: A Tale of Two Townships
Chapter 4 Petitioning Beijing: The Case of Jiangxi Province
Chapter 5 The Policy Effects of Petitions
Chapter 6 Who Petitions?
Chapter 7 Conclusion: Petitions and China’s Proactive Authoritarianism
With extensive qualitative and quantitative data collected in China, this book develops an informational theory to account for the coexistence of China’s resilient authoritarianism and its high decentralization.... Methodologically, Chen substantiates her points by detailed cases, in-depth interviews and statistical analysis of petitions.... Students, researchers, and teachers who are interested in the Chinese petition system would gain insights from this book.
China Information


This is a well-researched and well-presented book. It is a systematic study on the government's use of petitions at both the national and local levels. Its claim that petitions contribute to regime stability or resilience in China is valid. Useful Complaints should be of interest to those who wish to understand how the government interacts with the people of China and how the Chinese political system is operated.
China Quarterly


Useful Complaints embodies the best of cutting-edge research on contentious politics in China: fresh new data, mixed methods and extensive fieldwork. Chen skillfully combines qualitative comparative case studies with quantitative analysis of original datasets on petition mobilization. A great strength of Useful Complaints is in Chen’s meticulous research at the grassroots, which provides fresh new insights into how local governments cope with protests and, more importantly, why some local governments prove much more capable at the task of maintaining stability than others. Chen also sheds light on under-studied phenomena in contentious politics, such as why some villagers participate in collective petitions while others do not. Useful Complaints makes a compelling argument that the Chinese state proactively uses the petitioning system as a governance tool to promote the durability of CCP rule.
Christopher Heurlin, Bowdoin College


This book offers a rich and clear analysis of how the Chinese state uses the petition system to achieve political responsiveness and hold local officials accountable. This is an important contribution to the debate on authoritarian resilience in China.
Xi Chen, The Chinese University of Hong Kong


With a range of original qualitative and quantitative data collected from field work, Professor Jing Chen shows that China’s petition system plays a significant role in helping the government monitor local officials’ performance, gather inputs for national policy changes, and shift blame to local authorities, all of which contribute to the resilience of decentralized authoritarianism. This book is an important read for anyone interested in Chinese politics, petitions and protest, or authoritarianism.
Haifeng Huang, University of California, Merced


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