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

Distelhorst, Greg (2016) The Power of Empty Promises: Quasidemocratic Institutions and Activism in China. Comparative Political Studies.

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Abstract

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: Article
Subject(s): Strategy; Entrepreneurship & Global business
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2015 10:36
Date of author-version deposit: 6 October 2015
Last Modified: 06 Dec 2016 15:10
Funders: N/A
URI: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/id/eprint/5640

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