- The Logic of Authoritarian Political Selection: Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment in China. [PDF]
Conditionally accepted, Political Science Research and Methods.
Despite the importance of authoritarian political selection to regime survival, this topic remains understudied because of the opacity of process. Although selection outcomes are often observed, it is difficult to decipher elites' logic of decision-making due to their multidimensional preference. Employing a conjoint experiment conducted among government officials in China, this paper unpacks the multidimensionality of elite preference in entry-level political selection. It finds that while elites observe institutional norms and select candidates based on competence and loyalty, they also take into account personal preference to favor candidates with political connections. Specifically, kinship ties to government increase a candidate's chance by over 20 percentage points, even though the candidate is not deemed more competent or loyal. The influence of political connections on political selection has adverse implications for state capacity and political mobility. The findings demonstrate that, as agents of the regime, authoritarian elites do not always follow the logic of regime survival.
- Audacity of Hope in Autocracy: Merit-Based Elite Recruitment and Upward Mobility in China.
Social mobility is important for authoritarian regime survival. When it is possible for ordinary citizens to enter the political elite class, they are likely to be less hostile to the elites and more tolerant of existing inequalities. By examining the recently introduced national civil service exam (NCSE) in China, this paper shows that an authoritarian regime can use merit-based elite recruitment to improve public perception of upward mobility. I employ a generalized difference-in-differences framework that leverages provincial variation in NCSE implementation date and cohort variation in NCSE eligibility. Using national survey data, I find that NCSE has a significant positive effect on how college-educated youths perceive their mobility experience and mobility prospect; correspondingly, it also has a dampening effect on their preference for income redistribution.
- Elite School Networks and Working for the Government: Natural Experimental Evidence from China. [PDF]
with Yuhua Wang (Harvard University)
Why do political networks persist? Scholars have previously focused on the demand side: politicians promote their alumni, protege, and relatives to keep their grip on power. We provide a supply-side explanation that citizens choose a political career if they believe their network can enhance their career prospects. Specifically, we examine whether elite school networks in the government incentivize students from the same schools to pursue a career in the civil service. Exploiting a natural experiment in China, where universities use an arbitrary cutoff score to enroll students, we show that students attending elite universities, which have strong alumni networks in the government, are on average 25% more likely to prefer a political career than those attending other universities. An original online survey confirms that alumni networks serve as a causal mechanism. Our study provides a new explanation of the entrenchment of power and establishes a causal relationship between existing political networks and candidates’ career preferences.
- Authoritarian Media Bias in International Context: A Tale of Commercial Peace. [PDF]
with Chengyuan Ji (Peking University)
This paper examines authoritarian media bias in its coverage of international news, using the case of China. Employing machine-learning methods to analyze the text of over 28,000 pieces of international news aired on the state-run television network between 2003 and 2015, and combining results of text analysis with other country-level observational data, we find that countries with stronger trade ties with China receive significantly more favorable news coverage. Additionally, using multiple waves of survey data, we find that public opinion on foreign countries is susceptible to such media bias. These findings show clear evidence on how an authoritarian government strategically uses media bias to shape public opinion on foreign countries, in order to achieve its foreign policy goals. Moreover, it sheds light on a particular mechanism through which commercial peace is achieved by an authoritarian regime.
- A Golden Rice Bowl? The Civil Service Effect on Personal Income in China.
Given the low-powered incentives typical of a government organization, does an authoritarian regime reward its civil servants with less income in exchange for deferred promotion, or does it pay them more to garner support for the regime? Using data from seven waves of a national survey, I find a strong positive civil service effect on personal income in China, which has grown substantially since the 1990s. The income effect is heterogeneous across age and education subgroups and it is more pronounced for the less experienced and less educated. Additional tests show that the effect is not driven by high rent-paying government positions at the top, but a systemic feature that disproportionally rewards lower ranks. These findings suggest that the CCP regime uses monetary reward to co-opt civil servants instead of incentivizing performance.
Work in Progress
- Authoritarian Elite Recruitment: When is Meritocracy Adopted?