The Power of Empty Promises: Quasidemocratic Institutions and Activism in China

Distelhorst, Greg (2015) The Power of Empty Promises: Quasidemocratic Institutions and Activism in China. MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2014-19, Rotman School of Management Working Paper No. 2491744.

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In authoritarian regimes, seemingly liberal reforms are often poorly implemented in practice. However, this study argues that even weak quasidemocratic institutions can offer important resources to political activists. Formal institutions of participation offer politically anodyne frames for activism, allowing activists to distance themselves from political taboos. Weak institutions also allow activists to engineer institutional failures that fuel legal and media-based campaigns. Evidence comes from the effects of China’s 2008 Open Government Information reform. A national field audit finds that local governments satisfy just 14% of citizen requests for basic information. Yet case studies show how Chinese activists exploited the same institution to extract concessions from government agencies and pursue policy change in disparate issue areas. These findings highlight the importance of looking beyond policy implementation to understand the effects of authoritarian institutions on political accountability.

Item Type: Other Working Paper
Keywords: Non-Democratic Regimes, Political Institutions, Contentious Politics, China, international business, strategy & innovation
Subject(s): Strategy; Entrepreneurship & Global business
Centre: Faculty of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and International Business
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2015 13:53
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2015 14:08
Funders: N/A

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