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Home | Events Archive | One or Two Heads? The Short-run Impacts of the Re-Centralization of Power in Rural China

One or Two Heads? The Short-run Impacts of the Re-Centralization of Power in Rural China

  • Location
    Erasmus University Rotterdam, Lounge/kitchen E Building floor E1 Rotterdam
  • Date and time

    February 16, 2023
    12:00 - 13:00


Democratic institutions adopted by otherwise authoritarian regimes may vary in their effects on political and economic outcomes. The impact of giving such rights to citizens has been extensively studied but much less is known about the consequences of taking them away when the states seek to recentralize its power. Village autonomy of governance via elections in rural China, introduced in the 1980s, has eroded in the past two decades and the Communist Party has recently promoted a ‘one head’ policy since 2018 to further control this process. The ‘two head’ system – a village chief (VC) and a party secretary (PS) – is being replaced by dual office-holding where the individual elected is simultaneously VC and PS, entailing that all candidates are party affiliated and vetted. We investigate how this policy impacted voting behaviors and political beliefs of affected villagers using a nationally representative survey and exploiting election timing to instrument for its introduction. Our results show that turnout rate very strongly decreased in ‘one head’ villages, which we attribute to the predetermined election results and hence lowered election competition. This drop in democratic participation is however followed by improvements in villagers’ beliefs: lower corruption of local cadres and higher trust in local government. Dual office-holding also leads to increased political accountability, especially in places with lower baseline democratic quality, higher congruence in interests, and stronger government capacity. Our results suggest that the reversal of democratic process via party influence in village elections in Rural China strongly reduced voters’ participation, without incurring any backlash in terms of citizen’s perception in the quality of institutions. Joint paper with Olivier Marie (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Thomas Post (Maastricht University) and Xiaopeng Zou (Zhejiang University).

Zihan Ye is a visitor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and works on household finance, especially regarding the economic decisions made to facilitate old-age financial preparedness.