Tamed village “democracy”: elections, governance and clientelism in a contemporary Chinese village.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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The thesis is an exploration of the elections and governance in a contemporary Chinese village. It is a qualitative case study of one village in Shandong Province, China, using in-depth interviews with villagers, village candidates, township officials as well as national, provincial, township and village documents. It reveals how the clientelist system functions in and shapes the process of the village elections and governance.
Drawing upon the qualitative data and empirical evidence collected in the field site, the thesis challenges the liberal-democratic view that the implementation of direct village elections and self-governance, which is generally considered to be “village democracy”, has empowered villagers to resist the state and may mark the beginning of a bottom-up democratization in China. In contrast, it argues that even procedurally “free and fair” village elections largely fail to deliver meaningful results, and that village governance, although in the name of self-governance, actually continues to be dominated by the Chinese local state. This is because clientelist structures, embodied in vertical patron-client alliances between political elites and villagers, have strongly influenced the actors and functioned to facilitate and supplement the authoritarian control of the state.
The thesis also contests interpretations of village elections and self-governance that stress the state’s formal administrative capacity over controlling and manipulating village politics. While it shows some of the formal mechanisms by which township government control village affairs, it demonstrates also that after the implementation of the “village democracy” the state is still able to maintain its authoritarian capacity by taking advantage of the informal clientelist interaction between local state officials and the village elites.
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