2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 276

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Citizen Participation and Political Change in Contemporary China

Organizer: Ceren Ergenc, Middle East Technical University, Turkey

Discussant: Joseph Fewsmith, Boston University, USA

China’s current political system does not offer its citizens formal representation systems such as elections but there are multiple channels of political influence available for the Chinese society. While some of these channels are bolstered by the citizens themselves such as internet forums, there are venues of political participation that are initiated by the state such as local elections and various deliberative mechanisms. Our panel focuses on these state-led citizen participation models with the aim of demonstrating their transformative effect on the state-society relations in China. The existing literature mainly focuses on the effects of these mechanisms on the administrative system, such as the restraints these institutional designs exert on the local state regarding transparency and accountability. Our panel inquires into the effects of these mechanisms on the society, and evaluates the changes in perceptions and attitudes of the citizens following participation in local elections and deliberative meetings. We also include the impact of these mechanisms on the broader public. Our papers analyze the voting behavior in local elections and the changes in voters’ attitude towards the state following participation in the elections. We also examine the participation processes in deliberative meetings in order to trace the outcomes of the empowerment that these processes produces. We utilize both quantitative and survey data to reach generalizable conclusions and case studies to develop an in-depth analysis of citizen participation in China. We intend to contribute to conceptualization of political participation in authoritarian settings within the context of changing state-society relations in China. Our panel is a part of a broader project that investigates the problems and prospects of representation and participation mechanisms in contemporary China.

Autocrats’ Dilemma: Evaluating the Political Impact of Authoritarian Elections in China
Xin Sun, Northwestern University, Ireland

Political scientists hold contrasting views over the impact of competitive elections on the political development and transition of authoritarian regimes. Earlier democratic theories contend that the competitive political process tend to undermine the ideological foundation and the elite cohesion essential for these regimes to survive, while a newer generation of scholarship tends to emphasize the usefulness of elections in the consolidation of authoritarian rule. This paper joins the debate by analyzing the impact of elections in authoritarian regimes on the formation and evolution of regime-related public opinions. Drawing on the recent experience of local elections in rural China, we argue that elections have two simultaneous effects on voters political attitudes to the regime. On the one hand, by keeping elections clean, incumbent governments can receive more trust from the public. On the other hand, elections also provide voters with a platform to accumulate democratic experience through participation, which in turn increases their democratic consciousness and demand for further political rights. Using data from two nationwide surveys covering the same 114 electoral districts in China, our empirical analysis confirms the two effects. We also adopt an instrument variable approach to tackle the problem of causal inference. One implication of this finding is that elections may simultaneously consolidate authoritarian rule and trigger greater demand for further democratization of the regime.

Participation and Representation in Deliberative Politics in China: A Case Study on Public Hearings
Ceren Ergenc, Middle East Technical University, Turkey

Chinese government maintains legitimacy in the eyes of Chinese people by providing them goods, service and welfare to some extent. Rising life standards and exposure to domestic and international discourses on citizen rights, however, require the Chinese state to strive for the legitimacy that comes from involving people in public and administrative decision-making. The Chinese state has launched the administrative democracy campaign which involves various mechanisms of participatory politics. In this paper I examine the participant selection mechanism and the deliberation process of public hearings in order to observe the changes in the attitudes of the participants as well as the perceptions of the broader public regarding state-society relations. Participant selection mechanism of public hearings suffer from problems both intrinsic to all representation systems and problems peculiar to China. The process of participation eliminates some of these problems pertaining legitimacy and justness of public hearings. The experience in it is entirety empowers the participants as they perceive that they are able to influence the policy decisions through various formal and informal practices that take place during the deliberation process. Screening the process from without, the general public also develops a sense of entitlement regarding its role in political matters. In order to demonstrate the change in the perceptions and attitudes, I use semi-structured interviews and surveys from three cities that represent the socio-economic development zones in contemporary China.

Deliberative Governance and Democratization in Post-reform China
Beibei Tang, Australian National University, Australia

Instead of liberal democratization as seen in the history of western industrialized societies, China has shown an unconventional mode—the Communist regime has received popular domestic support, despite the widening income and social inequality gap and intensified popular protests. To explain the contradictory path, recent studies have highlighted the role of the state in cultivating people’s dependence on the state for their wellbeing, from views of Chinese political tradition, changing state-society relations during the reform, and changing governance strategies to maintain economic growth and social stability. Going beyond the discussions on how the authoritarian state retained regime legitimacy, adopts a deliberative turn to analyze democratization through deliberative governance, in the form of talk-centric communications and reflective public reasoning for collective decision-making and conflict management. I engage theories of deliberative democracy and lay particular emphasis on its key concept of “deliberative capacity building” in the setting of contemporary China. This paper argues that deliberative governance could contribute to democratization through deliberative capacity building in an authoritarian state with the absence of regime legitimacy transformation. I situate deliberative governance in the context of changing state-society relations which has not received enough attention in existing studies on deliberative democracy in China. The discussions of this paper focus on how China could adjust its political adaptation strategies and how citizens could improve their political participations, not in spite of, but because of all the challenges to the party-state’s governance under a socialist market economy.