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Title: Local governance in rural China : an analysis of fiscal, political and social institutions
Author: Pesque Cela, Vanesa
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 6472
Awarding Body: SOAS University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2015
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China is moving from a decentralized to a centralized system of government. Nowhere is this change in central-local relations more evident than in the rural areas. The analysis of the political, fiscal, and administrative dimensions of (de-)centralization at the village level reveals a paradox: the apparent empowerment of villagers to hold village officials accountable for service provision through elections and other democratic institutions contrasts with the parallel disempowerment of popularly elected village committees. Using cross-sectional survey data from more than 100 villages in six provinces, this study investigates how the distribution of power (i.e., control over fiscal resources) between levels of the Party-state, and between Party and non-Party institutions at the village level, affects patterns of accountability and participation in service delivery across rural communities. The empirical analysis shows that in villages governed by democratically elected village committees, officials tend to be more accountable to villagers and to allocate more resources to the provision of infrastructure. However, village committees are powerless in most villages, even when - and especially when - they are democratically elected. The findings suggest that, by undermining the power of village committees and ultimately the effectiveness of village elections, the centralization of the fiscal and administrative systems has contributed to a reversal of political decentralization and to a widening of the 'accountability gap' between villagers and officials - a gap that cannot be filled by the Party's control mechanisms alone, whether fiscal (e.g., earmarked transfers), administrative (e.g., performance contracts) or political (e.g., intra-Party elections). In parts of rural China, this has led to a decline in the legitimacy of the (local) state and to the growth of clan and religious organizations that substitute for the state in the provision of basic infrastructure services. Participation in these organizations is a symptom of, not a solution to, problems of local governance.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral