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How Do Land Takings Affect Political Trust in China?

  • Gavekal Dragonomics
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong Shenzhen

Abstract and Figures

While China's ruling Communist Party has benefited from a reservoir of political trust engendered by more than three decades of rapid economic growth, it is confronted with rising social tensions and the prospect of instability. The number of mass incidents, which is a key measure of instability, has risen enormously, and a major source of such incidents stems from local governments taking land from farmers, often at below-market prices. This article draws upon data from two surveys to assess the political trust implications of land takings. It is found that, as expected, land takings are associated with a decline in political trust. However, the decline affects trust in local authorities only and leaves the central government largely unscathed. Nonetheless, the gap between villagers' trust in central and local authorities is not unalloyed good news for the regime and has major implications for policy implementation and governance.
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How Do Land Takings Affect Political Trust in
Rural China?
Ernan Cui
GaveKal Dragonomics
Ran Tao
Renmin University of China
Travis J. Warner
University of Chicago
Dali L. Yang
University of Chicago
While China’s ruling Communist Party has benefited from a reservoir of political trust engendered by more than three
decades of rapid economic growth, it is confronted with rising social tensions and the prospect of instability. The
number of mass incidents, which is a key measure of instability, has risen enormously, and a major source of such
incidents stems from local governments taking land from farmers, often at below-market prices. This article draws upon
data from two surveys to assess the political trust implications of land takings. It is found that, as expected, land takings
are associated with a decline in political trust. However, the decline affects trust in local authorities only and leaves the
central government largely unscathed. Nonetheless, the gap between villagers’ trust in central and local authorities is
not unalloyed good news for the regime and has major implications for policy implementation and governance.
Keywords: political trust; China; economic development; land requisition; land takings
A country’s land ownership is generally the outcome of centuries of political battles and
negotiations and often has far-reaching political consequences. Barrington Moore famously
argued that England’s ‘peaceful’ transition to democracy during the nineteenth century was
made possible by preceding centuries of violent, Parliament-supported land enclosures,
which empowered the bourgeoisie at the expense of both royalty and the peasantry
(Moore, 1966, pp. 3–39). Alexis de Tocqueville famously claimed that ‘democracy in
America’ was built on a foundation of relative land equality among freeholders. In recent
years, scholars have applied Tocqueville’s insight more broadly, showing that countries
with low levels of land inequality are more likely to make the transition away from
authoritarianism (Ansell and Samuels, 2010; Boix, 2003; Ziblatt, 2008). Continuing dis-
putes over eminent domain in the United States remind us that state-society negotiations
over rights to land persist in democratic regimes (Somin, 2014).
Perhaps nowhere in today’s world is the political salience of land more evident than in
contemporary China. While playing a central role in China’s economic transformation
(Hsing, 2010), land requisition has become one of the country’s most contentious issues. Of
the 187,000 ‘mass incidents’ that occurred in China in 2010, more than 65 per cent were
due to farmers’ anger at losing their land on what they perceived to be unfair terms (Landesa,
2012). The frequency of land-related protests led one veteran observer to claim that ‘the
Beijing leadership is in danger of losing control of vast tracts of the countryside’ (Lam,
Will land-related unrest loosen the regime’s grip on the countryside? In this article, we
illuminate the implications of prevailing land policy by examining the effect of land
doi: 10.1111/1467-9248.12151
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
requisition on villagers’ trust in political authorities. High levels of political trust have been
shown to bolster regime legitimacy in both democratic and non-democratic contexts
(Jamal, 2007; Johnson, 2005; Miller and Listhaug, 1990). Survey research indicates that,
since at least the early 1990s, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has benefited from a
deep reservoir of popular support. Might villagers’ trust in their leaders be shaken by the
jarring experience of losing their land? We find that the answer to this question depends
on which level of government one is talking about. In our analysis of data from two
distinct surveys, we observe that land requisition is associated with a decline in villagers’
trust in local authorities only; trust in the central government appears unaffected. This
finding is not unexpected, given existing research, but its political consequences may
nonetheless be significant. Insofar as unfair land takings widen the gap between central and
local government trust, their persistence will further complicate rural governance in China.
Land Takings and Political Conflict in Rural China
The use and distribution of agricultural land have inflamed rural passions since the dawn
of the People’s Republic of China. The dust of the Chinese Civil War had barely settled
when the victorious Chinese Communist Party (CCP) embarked on land reform nation-
wide, confiscating the property of landlords and well-to-do peasants and redistributing it
to the rural poor. Despite the bloodshed that accompanied the land reform program, most
villagers were grateful to receive their own farmland. They were less enthusiastic about the
process of collectivization, which began in 1953; numerous sources report villagers killing
their own livestock rather than relinquishing them to agricultural collectives. Post-Mao
decollectivization, in turn, led to a rapid increase in villagers’ incomes, but also eroded the
authority of grassroots leaders in many parts of the country and contributed to a serious
governance malaise in agricultural areas (Bernstein and Lü, 2003; Yang, 1996).
Unlike in other East Asian economies (Japan, Korea, Taiwan) with private land own-
ership where the landowners shared in the fruits of rising land values that resulted from
rapid development, the Chinese state has used its monopoly over land to acquire rural land
cheaply for rapid development. As Chinese economic growth accelerated in the 2000s,
land requisitioning expanded in scale and land-related conflict has intensified.
Local officials are eager to requisition land from rural communities. First, land is needed
for new factory sites, commercial developments, infrastructure (such as roads) and residen-
tial buildings. The steady and rapid pace of industrialization and urbanization have thus
required increasing amounts of land. Second and equally importantly, local officials have
prized land development as a crucial source of revenue in itself. The roots of today’s land
conflicts lie in a package of tax and fiscal reforms enacted in 1994, which strengthened the
fiscal capacity of the central government at the expense of local governments (World
Bank, 2002). Subsequent reforms to alleviate ‘peasant burdens’, culminating in the elimi-
nation of the centuries-old agricultural tax, further weakened the fiscal position of county
and township authorities.
Struggling to fill their coffers like never before, local officials have increasingly relied on
revenue generated from requisitioning rural land for commercial and industrial develop-
ment (Tao et al., 2014). The Land Administration Law empowers local authorities to
compensate farmers for only the agricultural value of their land, rather than the often much
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
higher market value. A 2011 survey of nearly 1,800 villages found that villagers who
had lost land reported receiving an average of 18,739 yuan per mu – a paltry 2.4 per cent
of the 778,000 yuan per mu received by local governments. (Landesa, 2012). By
undercompensating dispossessed villagers and auctioning off land acquired to real estate
developers, local authorities have found land requisitioning a major source of revenue. By
the late 2000s, the amount of land lease fees, which was then not included in government
budgets, reached as much as 50 per cent of local government revenue (Amnesty
International, 2012).
The compensation discrepancy has not gone unnoticed by rural residents. Land takings
replaced ‘peasant burdens’ as the leading cause of instability in the early 2000s (Bernstein,
2006). By most accounts, the number of ‘mass incidents’ has continued to increase, from
87,000 in 2005, to 187,000 in 2010; a majority of these incidents have been attributable
to villagers’ frustration over losing their land (Göbel and Ong 2012; Landesa 2012).
Clearly, the prevailing system of land takings has angered rural residents – but has it affected
their trust in their political leaders? This question is particularly salient in rural China,
where the problem of land taking has attracted international attention. However, as a
recent series of articles elucidates, government-sponsored land requisition is an issue
throughout the developing world, from Ethiopia to Indonesia.1As in China, ‘land grab-
bing’ in these countries is the source of considerable state-society tensions (Ito et al., 2014).
That the regimes in question often hold a tenuous grip on political authority underlines the
need to understand better the social implications of large-scale land requisition.
The Importance of Political Trust
A rich literature attests to the importance of political trust, or ‘the ratio of people’s
evaluation of government performance relative to their normative expectations of how
government ought to perform’ (Hetherington and Husser, 2012). Scholars have devised a
variety of measures for political trust. Survey respondents, for example, can express
different levels of confidence in their incumbent leaders, political institutions and political
regimes (Craig et al., 1990; Easton, 1975). Citizens who trust their leaders’ commitment to
govern in their interest may not trust their competence for doing so, and these attitudes
may further diverge depending on the policy domains at stake (Levi and Stoker, 2000).
Regardless of how they measure the concept, most scholars agree that high levels of
political trust redound to the benefit of incumbent authorities. First, considerable evidence
demonstrates that political trust promotes compliance and eases policy implementation.
Trusting citizens display a greater willingness to consent to government rules and regula-
tions, and are more likely to pay taxes (Levi, 1997; Scholz and Lubell, 1998; Tyler, 1990).
In contrast, declining trust in government appears to erode support for a wide variety of
government actions, especially redistributive policies requiring personal sacrifice (Chanley
et al., 2000; Hetherington, 2005; Hetherington and Globetti, 2002).
Second, deteriorating political trust is associated with the likelihood of aggressive forms
of political participation. Following the protest wave of the 1960s, Gamson and others
found that declining political trust and rising political efficacy created the ideal conditions
for participation in demonstrations, riots and other forms of non-traditional political
participation.2Recent studies have tended to confirm the link between low political trust
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
and anti-regime behavior – albeit with more nuances (Hooghe and Marien, 2013; Kaase,
Third, low levels of political trust do not appear to undermine the legitimacy of robust
democracies, such as the United States (Citrin and Green, 1986; Lipset and Schneider,
1983), but in non-democratic contexts, declining trust, often associated with the rise of
critical citizens, has been shown to increase support for democratization (Jamal, 2007;
Johnson, 2005). In China, Li has found that less-trusting rural residents are more likely to
support direct elections for central leaders – in effect, the overturning of the existing
political regime (Li, 2004; 2010). Declining political trust may also have broader social
implications. Christoph Steinhardt (2012) and Ran Tao et al. (2014) observe that, in China,
political trust undergirds generalized social trust. Given the myriad benefits that have been
ascribed to social trust (Putnam, 2000; Putnam et al., 1993), deteriorating political trust
might have negative implications beyond the political sphere.
Political Trust in China
Chinese survey respondents tend to express a high degree of confidence in their political
leaders, particularly those at the center. Tianjian Shi’s 1993 survey, conducted not long after
the Tiananmen Crisis of 1989, surprised many with the finding that 74 per cent of
respondents agreed that they could ‘generally trust decisions made by the central govern-
ment’ (Shi, 2001, p. 406). Public confidence in the national leadership has only grown in
subsequent years. The China Survey of 2008, conducted when much of the rest of the
world was mired in the Great Recession, revealed that 86 per cent of respondents in China
trusted their central leaders (Li, 2013, p. 4). While there have been concerns about the
reliability of attitude surveys in China (Newton, 2001, p. 208), there is little evidence that
Chinese respondents systematically distort their survey responses out of political fear (Shi,
Scholars attribute the high levels of political trust in China to a variety of factors,
including ‘performance legitimacy’ arising from China’s phenomenal economic growth
(Chen et al., 1997; Wang, 2005; Yang and Tang, 2010), an emphasis in traditional Chinese
culture on deference to authority and avoidance of confrontation (Shi, 2001), and the effect
of the state-controlled media (Kennedy, 2009). Yet there exist potential cracks in the
regime’s foundation of political trust. Relying on data from the mid-1990s, Chen and Shi
(2001) found that increasing media exposure had a negative effect on trust in central
authorities, in contrast to John Kennedy’s more recent study. Research also links increasing
inequality and perceptions of corruption to declining political trust in other countries.3Both
issues are highly salient in China. Whereas China has developed rapidly and lifted hundreds
of millions out of poverty, it has also become one of the most unequal societies in the world
(Zheng, 2012). Even though China’s corruption perceptions index according to Transpar-
ency International has improved in absolute terms since the mid-1990s, it remains in the
ranks of under-achievers; half of Chinese respondents in a recent survey identified
corruption as a ‘very big problem’ (Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, 2012).
Why has confidence in the central government remained high despite mounting social
tensions? One reason is that local officials appear to have absorbed the brunt of Chinese
citizens’ political frustration. Existing studies reveal that most Chinese citizens, including
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
rural residents, trust central leaders more than the local authorities. Insofar as villagers
observe and experience local cadre predation, they tend to blame those local cadres,
thinking that higher levels are either unaware of or unable to do much about their
subordinates’ disloyalty (Li, 2004; O’Brien, 2002). Scholars have offered various explana-
tions for the existence of this ‘trust gap’. Lianjiang Li (2004, p. 234) contends that rural
residents’ ‘trust in higher level authorities, particularly the Center, seems to derive in part
from the Confucian tradition of ascribing moral virtue to the emperor and blaming wicked
and shrewd court officials for things that go wrong’. The Chinese media can report fairly
freely on the misdeeds of local officials, but must avoid criticizing sitting national leaders,
thereby contributing to the trust gap (Brady, 2007; Kennedy, 2009; Li, 2004). Moreover,
a recent study by Xiaobo Lü (2014) finds that awareness of positive government policies
increases popular trust in central officials, but not in their local subordinates. In general,
therefore, and in contrast with American and Japanese citizens, Chinese citizens tend to
view central leaders as more trustworthy than the local elites who act as the center’s agents.4
The central question motivating this article is whether this pattern holds after the jarring
experience of losing one’s land. Do dispossessed villagers lose trust in the central govern-
ment that enabled the prevailing system of land taking? Or do they merely blame their local
officials? On the one hand, comparative evidence from Latin America suggests that negative
experiences with local officials have the potential to erode citizens’ trust in the central
government (Seligson, 2002). On the other hand, anecdotal evidence from the widely
publicized case of Wukan indicates that the ‘trust gap’ persists following land requisition;
central leaders appear to escape blame for the predatory land taking of their subordinates.
Over an eighteen-year period starting in 1993, the Guangdong village of Wukan
(population: 13,000) lost more than 60 per cent of its cultivatable land to waves of land
sales engineered by local leaders (Wines, 2011). The community’s simmering frustration
boiled over in late 2011, but protesting villagers were careful to emphasize that their
complaint was directed at their local leaders, not the center, as they notified visiting
journalists: ‘We are not a revolt. We support the Communist Party. We love our country’
(Wong, 2011). Granted, in a country where outright criticism of the communist party
authority is anathema, protest leaders may make such tactical declarations to protect
themselves from the wrath of the party-state. But declarations of this nature also allow
protestors to speak the language of ‘rightful resistance’ (O’Brien and Li, 2006). Given the
survey results cited above, it seems reasonable to take these claims of central government
fealty at face value. We predict that dispossessed villagers tend to maintain their trust in the
central government, while losing faith in their local leaders. Two hypotheses follow:
H1: All else being equal, rural residents who have experienced land requisition should report
lower levels of trust in local officials.
H2: Land requisitioning should have little or no significant effect on rural residents’ trust in
the central government.
Data and Methodology
To test these hypotheses, we analyze data from two surveys we conducted in 2008 and
2009. The 2009 survey sample includes 1,195 villagers living in the suburban peripheries
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
of twelve Chinese cities (Figure 1). As we explain in more detail below, we enhance the
robustness of our findings by testing the same hypotheses with data from a representative
survey of 2,210 villagers carried out in 2008.
The core of our analysis is the 2009 twelve-city suburban survey, as it is in these areas
where land-related tensions are often most acute. The sample respondents were selected
via stratified sampling within China’s four major urbanizing areas: the Yangtze River
Delta (including the province-ranked territorial units of Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang);
the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province; the Chengdu-Chongqing region
(Sichuan and Chongqing); and the Bohai Bay area (Hebei, Shandong and Tianjin). In
each area one ‘megalopolis,’ one ‘large city,’ and one ‘small- or medium-sized city’ were
randomly selected, except for Chengdu-Chongqing, where two megalopolises were
chosen.5For each megalopolis, a single suburban district was selected for the survey. The
five megalopolis districts include Jiangbei district in Ningbo, Zhejiang; Licheng district
in Jinan, Shandong; Baiyun district in Guangzhou, Guangdong; Wenjiang district in
Chengdu, Sichuan; and Shapingba district in Chongqing. The remaining cities are
Yueqing in Wenzhou, Zhejiang; Jiangyin in Wuxi, Jiangsu; Yanjiao in Langfang, Hebei;
Weifang, Shandong; Zhongshan and Dongguan (Chashan town) in Guangdong; and
Nanchong, Sichuan. Within each city or district, five villages or communities were
randomly selected, for a total of 60 villages. In each village or community, we sought
to interview twenty randomly selected households. The research team conducted face-
to-face interviews with at least one adult member in each household. Our data include
a total of 1,195 observations.
Figure 1: Study Sites for Twelve-City Suburban Survey
Wei f an g
Yueq ing
Chon gqing S hapi ngba Di str ict
Dong gua n Cha shan T ownsh ip
Ningb o Jia ngbei Di str ict
Sanhe Yanjiao Township
Prov inc e
Cit y
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
Dependent Variable: Measuring Political Trust
We operationalize the measurement of political trust as citizens’ belief that officials are
committed to ruling or governing in their interests. Specifically, survey respondents were
asked whether local leaders and central authorities represent and protect the rightful interests
of farmers.
1. Do local (county/township) Party/government leaders truly represent and protect the
lawful rights and interests of farmers?
2. Do the Party Central Committee and the State Council truly represent and protect the
lawful rights and interests of farmers?
We coded responses on a five-level scale: ‘strongly agree’ (2), ‘slightly agree’ (1),
‘neutral’ (0), ‘slightly disagree’ (1), and ‘strongly disagree’ (2).6Admittedly, this
operationalization does not cover the full range of political trust’s ‘objects, dimensions, and
domains’ (Li, 2013, p. 26). It is a measurement more of villagers’ trust in government
leaders than of their trust in governing institutions.7
Our survey questions may also measure leaders’ commitment to acting in the interests of
villagers more than their competence to do so (Levi and Stoker, 2000, p. 476). In the
Chinese case, though, the commitment dimension of trust may have the most profound
implications for regime legitimacy. High levels of central government trust in China
generally reflect survey respondents’ confidence in the center’s intentions; interviewees
tend to report less confidence in their central leaders’ ability to put these intentions into
practice (O’Brien, 2002; Li, 2004; 2013). Thus, political trust in China is founded on faith
in the center’s commitment to the common good. It is this bedrock of political trust that
we evaluate in our empirical analysis. Our doing so, moreover, aligns with recent studies
by Li and Kennedy, who both measure political trust as survey respondents’ belief that
officials govern with their interests in mind.8
Table 1 presents the average level of local and central government trust for each city, as
well as the difference between the two. Residents in each sample city report higher levels
of trust in the central government than in local officials. This finding is consistent with
other surveys conducted in China (Li, 2004; Michelson, 2012; Shi, 2001). Intercity
variation, though, is considerable. On average, villagers in Zhejiang – one of China’s most
prosperous coastal provinces – report negative trust in their local officials. For example, in
Yueqing – the city with the lowest trust score in the sample – the mean response to the
trust-in-local-government question is –0.73, or somewhere between ‘neutral’ and ‘slightly
disagree’. Yueqing residents are thus skeptical that local leaders are committed to ruling in
their interests. Their average level of trust in the central government (1.00) is considerably
higher, if lower than in other cities. Those living in the three Guangdong municipalities
also report low levels of trust, but the difference between central and local trust is less
significant. Chengdu (Sichuan) and Weifang (Shandong) rank particularly high in terms of
both central and local political trust.
Independent Variable: Land Requisition
Every village in our suburban sample had experienced some land requisition during the
years 2000–8, but not every household lost land. We hypothesize that this inter-household
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
variation in land takings explains some of the variation in trust in local authorities. Table 2
displays the percentage of dispossessed villagers in each sample city. Overall, 63.7 per cent
of survey respondents report having lost land to requisition. Land requisition rates range
from a low of 24 per cent in Zhongshan, Guangdong, to a high of 96 per cent in the
sample unit in Chengdu, Sichuan. Dispossessed villagers lost not only farmland, but also
orchards, forest and residential land.9
Control Variables
In studies of Western democracies, various demographic characteristics have been found to
influence levels of political trust. Better-educated, higher-income individuals tend to
report greater trust in their leaders (Agger et al., 1961; Lineberry and Sharkansky, 1971).
The elderly, on average, appear less trusting than the young (Agger et al., 1961). We
control for age, gender (1 =male, 0 =female), education (in years), marital status
(1 =married, 0 =unmarried), per capita income (logged) and household per capita land
area before requisition (in mu).
Personal experiences with government officials and policies have the potential to
significantly affect an individual’s trust in political leaders. We control for ties to the regime
that might be expected to increase political trust: Communist Party membership, People’s
Liberation Army service and experience as a village leader. We also control for various
family connections to either the regime or local government leaders. We ask whether
respondents have family members who have: served as cadres at the township or county
level; been honored by the government; or participated in various wars including ‘the War
to Resist Japanese Aggression,’ the Chinese Revolution and the Korean War.
Table 1: Measurements of Political Trust in Twelve-City Suburban Survey
Province City Local trust Central trust Distance
Chongqing Chongqing 0.28 1.48 1.20
Guangdong Dongguan 0.42 1.07 0.65
Guangdong Guangzhou 0.42 1.10 0.68
Guangdong Zhongshan 0.55 1.28 0.73
Hebei Yanjiao (Langfang) 0.32 1.31 0.99
Jiangsu Jiangyin (Wuxi) 0.70 1.34 0.64
Shandong Jinan 0.45 1.53 1.08
Shandong Weifang 1.15 1.70 0.55
Sichuan Chengdu 1.01 1.78 0.77
Sichuan Nanchong 0.81 1.61 0.80
Zhejiang Ningbo 0.09 1.29 1.38
Zhejiang Yueqing (Wenzhou) 0.73 1.00 1.73
Average 0.44 1.37 0.93
Source: Authors’ own 2009 survey.
Note: Trust in this table is calculated as the average level within city.
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
Other experiences are likely to reduce trust in political authorities. Millions of Chinese
families suffered persecution during various Mao-era political campaigns. Today’s migrant
workers must contend with institutionalized forms of discrimination and often face
harassment from government or quasi-government employees (Solinger, 1999). To control
for these factors, we include variables indicating experiences with political persecution and
whether respondents have family members who have worked as migrant laborers. Finally,
we include village and province dummy variables to remove local fixed effects. Descriptive
statistics for our variables are listed in Table 4.
A Complementary Rural Dataset: The Six-Province Rural Survey
The aforementioned survey draws observations from suburban villages to highlight the
effect of land taking on political trust. We focus on suburban communities because it is
here, in the path of China’s inexorable urbanization, where contention over land requi-
sition has been most intense. In villages where requisition has occurred, we predict that
those villagers who have lost land to requisition will tend to be less trusting than their
neighbors who have avoided dispossession. Land finance has not been limited to the urban
periphery, however, so to mitigate the problem of generalizability, we run an additional
test of our hypotheses by analyzing data from a survey of rural residents conducted in
summer 2008 (hereafter the ‘Six-Province Rural Survey’). The survey sample, based on
stratified sampling, includes 117 sample villages in six provinces (Fujian, Hebei, Jiangsu,
Jilin, Shaanxi, Sichuan).10 In each village, interviews were conducted with a random sample
of twenty households. The final sample yielded 2,210 individual respondents.
Table 2: Proportion of Dispossessed Farmers in Each City
Province City Total sample
Dispossessed farmers
Number %
Chongqing Chongqing 103 56 54.4
Guangdong Dongguan 90 32 35.6
Guangdong Guangzhou 104 29 27.9
Guangdong Zhongshan 83 20 24.1
Hebei Yanjiao (Langfang) 108 53 49.1
Jiangsu Jiangyin (Wuxi) 101 79 78.2
Shandong Jinan 102 88 86.3
Shandong Weifang 109 59 54.1
Sichuan Chengdu 109 105 96.3
Sichuan Nanchong 105 92 87.6
Zhejiang Ningbo 102 90 88.2
Zhejiang Yueqing (Wenzhou) 79 58 73.4
Overall 1,195 761 63.7
Source: Authors’ own 2009 survey.
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
We use the same variables in analyzing both datasets – with one exception. As men-
tioned earlier, other scholars have observed differing impacts of media exposure on trust in
central authorities (Chen and Shi, 2001; Kennedy, 2009). In the Six-Province Rural
Survey, respondents were asked to name their favorite television program. One of the
options was central television (CCTV) primetime news. We include a dummy variable
based on this survey item (1 =preference for CCTV news; 0 =preference for other
television programs) to control for the effect of party-state propaganda on the trust levels
of rural residents.
As shown in Table 3, the percentage of respondents who reported having experienced
land requisition in the Six-Province Rural Survey is significantly lower, at 12 per cent,
compared with 63.7 per cent in the Twelve-City Suburban Survey. Descriptive statistics
for the Six-Province Rural Survey can also be found in Table 4.
Because the dependent variable, political trust, is an ordered, categorical variable, we
estimate two ordered logit regressions for trust in local and central authorities. Table 5
presents the regression results for both the suburban and the rural datasets.
Our results provide strong evidence in support of our main hypotheses. First, data from
both surveys show a statistically significant and negative relationship between land requi-
sition and trust in local officials. Villagers who reported having had their land taken through
requisition show reduced trust in township and county authorities. Second, in neither
dataset do we observe a statistically significant relationship between land requisition and
trust in central authorities. Despite the protests they have caused, the disputes surrounding
land takings are local affairs. They cause dispossessed villagers to lose trust in local officials
but have little influence on trust in central authorities.
Among the demographic characteristics, gender and age affect trust in authorities at both
local and central levels. Males in both sets of regressions are less trusting of local officials
than females. Yet in the suburban survey they exhibit higher levels of trust in central
authorities than females. This finding corroborates other studies showing that men appear
Table 3: Proportion of Dispossessed Farmers in Six-Province Rural Survey
Province Sample size
Number of
dispossessed farmers %
Fujian 378 56 14.8
Hebei 372 11 3.0
Jiangsu 355 29 8.2
Jilin 373 42 11.3
Shaanxi 382 73 19.1
Sichuan 350 56 16.0
Overall 2,210 267 12.1
Source: Authors’ own 2008 survey.
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
Table 4: Descriptive Statistics for Key Variables
Twelve-City Suburban Survey Six-Province Rural Survey
Observations Mean
deviation Minimum Maximum Observations Mean
deviation Minimum Maximum
Land requisition (1 = yes) 1,195 0.637 0.481 0 1 2,210 0.121 0.326 0 1
Gender (1 = male) 1,195 0.700 0.460 0 1 2,210 0.608 0.488 0 1
Age (years) 1,195 49.032 11.603 17 86 2,210 49.690 11.412 19 87
Education (years) 1,195 7.743 3.270 0 19 2,210 6.137 3.326 0 16
Marital status
(1 = married)
1,195 0.941 0.236 0 1 2,210 0.935 0.246 0 1
Village cadre (1 = yes) 1,195 0.059 0.236 0 1 2,210 0.029 0.166 0 1
CCP member (1 = yes) 1,195 0.230 0.421 0 1 2,210 0.076 0.264 0 1
Veteran (1 = yes) 1,195 0.094 0.292 0 1 2,210 0.045 0.207 0 1
Household income per
capita (logged)
1,195 9.216 1.259 0 12.4 2,210 8.334 0.993 2.6 11.9
Household land area per
capita (unit: mu)
1,195 0.531 0.882 0 15.6 2,210 1.541 1.921 0 33.3
Relatives as local officials
(1 = yes)
1,195 0.125 0.331 0 1 2,210 0.162 0.369 0 1
Family member with
migration experience
(1 = yes)
1,195 0.433 0.496 0 1 2,210 0.612 0.487 0 1
Family members politically
persecuted (1 = yes)
1,195 0.125 0.331 0 1 2,210 0.106 0.308 0 1
Family members honored
by government (1 = yes)
1,195 0.294 0.456 0 1 2,210 0.208 0.406 0 1
Family members war
experience (1 = yes)
1,195 0.191 0.393 0 1 2,210 0.259 0.438 0 1
Sources: Authors’ own 2008 and 2009 surveys.
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
Table 5: Determinants of Political Trust: Ordered Logit Results
Twelve-City Suburban Survey Six-Province Rural Survey
Local Central Local Central
Land requisition (1 = yes) 0.476*** (3.729) 0.080 (0.573) 0.595*** (4.108) 0.214 (1.296)
Preference for CCTV news (1 = yes) 0.301*** (3.231) 0.352*** (3.501)
Gender (1 = male) 0.210* (1.714) 0.360*** (2.665) 0.298*** (3.173) 0.142 (1.281)
Age (years) 0.012** (2.063) 0.043*** (6.445) 0.004 (1.053) 0.017*** (3.342)
Education (years) 0.017 (0.848) 0.047** (2.096) 0.025* (1.679) 0.018 (1.024)
Marital status (1 = married) 0.080 (0.385) 0.139 (0.544) 0.186 (1.042) 0.478** (2.034)
Village cadre status (1 = yes) 0.433* (1.711) 0.804*** (2.869) 0.212 (0.711) 0.541 (1.644)
CCP member status (1 = yes) 0.236* (1.810) 0.103 (0.688) 0.277 (1.491) 0.287 (1.507)
Veteran status (1 = yes) 0.078 (0.338) 0.704*** (2.913) 0.059 (0.258) 0.19 (0.838)
Household income per capita (logged) 0.034 (0.792) 0.011 (0.215) 0.072 (1.543) 0.009 (0.157)
Household land per capita (before expropriation) 0.143** (2.053) 0.006 (0.106) 0.012 (0.622) 0.017 (0.618)
Relatives as local officials (1 = yes) 0.017 (0.103) 0.113 (0.642) 0.329*** (2.693) 0.052 (0.390)
Family member with migration experience (1 = yes) 0.077 (0.472) 0.302* (1.653) 0.015 (0.169) 0.259** (2.507)
Family members politically persecuted (1 = yes) 0.038 (0.231) 0.007 (0.033) 0.251* (1.828) 0.032 (0.202)
Family members honored by government (1 = yes) 0.092 (0.755) 0.049 (0.365) 0.197* (1.815) 0.198 (1.506)
Family members participated in the wars (1 = yes) 0.445*** (3.113) 0.013 (0.087) 0.057 (0.579) 0.261** (2.240)
Province dummy Yes Yes Yes Yes
Observations 1,195 1,195 2,210 2,210
Sources: Authors’ own 2008 and 2009 surveys.
Notes: Robust z-statistics in parentheses. ***p<0.01; **p<0.05; *p<0.1.
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
to be more distrustful than women of township and county governments (Li, 2004). It
likely reflects the household division of labor in which men play a greater role in
interacting with local authorities, thus becoming more discontented (Lai, 2012). Older
villagers report higher levels of trust in both local and central authorities than their younger
counterparts (except in the rural survey, where age has no effect on local trust). This may
be due to a variety of factors. Younger Chinese tend to have access to a wider variety of
information, and may thus be less susceptible to government propaganda. Meanwhile,
older rural residents may compare present conditions to the past, especially the dismal
everyday life of the Mao era, and may be more satisfied with recent policies designed to
improve their welfare.11
Ties to the regime matter. Village leaders in the suburban survey express greater trust in
central authorities. The suburban survey data also suggest that village cadres are more
trusting of local authorities. This finding lends support to the argument that village leaders
often ally with external interests, including local government leaders, to profit from land
requisition and subsequent development (Warner and Yang, 2012). Veterans report higher
trust in central authorities while CCP members seemed inclined to trust local authorities.
But this inference is valid for the suburban survey only and is not robust for the rural
survey. Having a family member honored by the government boosts trust in local
authorities, according to the rural survey. Villagers with war veteran relatives are less likely
to trust local officials, but are more likely to trust central authorities.
Education has an inconsistent effect on political trust. More educated residents show
higher levels of trust in central authorities in the suburban survey but lower trust in local
authorities in the rural survey. Marital status, household income per capita and household
land per capita have no significant effect on trust in either of the datasets.
Finally, in the rural survey, we find that exposure to party-state propaganda has a positive
effect on trust in both central and local authorities. Respondents who preferred CCTV
news reported significantly higher levels of trust in central and local authorities. The
positive effect of propaganda on central trust is in line with previous findings by Kennedy
(2009). More surprising is our finding that media exposure appears to improve evaluations
of local officials as well, despite the fact that the Focus Point Program immediately following
CCTV Prime News often criticizes local government malfeasance.12
The Implications of Declining Local Government Trust
The rising number of protests has worried China’s leaders, concerned as they are about
stability and regime legitimacy, and contributed to the building of a costly stability
maintenance regime (Chen, 2013). Our finding that the experience of land requisition
erodes trust in local, but not central, authorities may therefore appear to be good news for
the central government. Continuing land requisition does not presage an immediate
decline in villagers’ trust in the center. National leaders have ‘room to maneuver’ in
addressing the discontent arising from China’s ceaseless development drive (Li, 2004, p.
Yet our findings also indicate that land takings have the potential to further erode local
government trust. As we noted earlier, higher levels of political trust make it easier for
officials to do their jobs; the evaporation of this trust complicates policy implementation.
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
Since the implementation of key policy tasks often falls to local officials, reform attempts
might stall in the face of declining local government support. More ominously, compara-
tive research shows that distrustful citizens are more likely to engage in aggressive forms of
political participation, such as riots and protests.
Paradoxically, confidence in central authorities may help propel the kind of instability
the center is eager to avoid. Villagers who trust central authorities more than local officials
appear more inclined to engage in acts of ‘rightful resistance’ against local authorities. Li
(2004) finds that village survey respondents who report a larger difference between their
trust in central and local leaders are more likely to have participated in ‘contentious acts’,
particularly filing collective complaints. Our results imply that the experience of land
requisition widens the already considerable gap between local and central government
trust. Land requisition may therefore not only anger villagers directly, but also incline them
towards more ‘rightful resistance’ indirectly.
Descriptive analysis of our survey data lends support to the idea that a widening trust gap
might engender more contentious activities. Our suburban survey reveals that villages in
which respondents reported higher average differences between local and central govern-
ment trust were more likely to have experienced instances of instability related to local land
taking. The survey asked respondents whether, in the past ten years, villagers had partici-
pated in (1) collective petitions, and/or (2) other ‘collective incidents’ – e.g. obstructing
traffic, blocking construction, arguing with local government representatives. The survey
also asked how many villagers had participated in these instances of unrest. For both
collective petitions and collective incidents, we coded as ‘1’ those villages where at least
one resident had reported an incident with over five participants related to land taking.
Table 6 reveals that instances of land-related unrest in these villages (all of which had
experienced land requisition) were quite common: 61 per cent (38 villages) had experi-
enced collective petitions in the years 2000–9, while 37 per cent (23 villages) had
experienced collective incidents.
Table 6 also shows that villages which experienced land-related disturbances are char-
acterized by wider average distances between central and local government trust. In villages
where residents participated in collective petitioning, central government trust was higher,
and local government trust was lower, than in villages that did not see collective petition-
ing. The average distance between central and local government trust was 1.002 for
petitioning villages, compared to 0.797 for non-petitioning villages. The difference in trust
Table 6: Village-level Instability and Trust 2000–2009
Observations Local trust Central trust Distance
Petition 38 (61%) 0.395 1.397 1.002
No petition 24 (39%) 0.515 1.312 0.797
Col. incident 23 (37%) 0.320 1.442 1.122
No col. incident 39 (63%) 0.513 1.320 0.807
Source: Authors’ own 2009 survey.
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
gaps was even starker in regard to the presence or absence of collective incidents. Places
where villagers engaged in more transgressive acts of resistance were characterized by an
average trust gap of 1.122; villages without collective incidents reported a significantly
lower trust gap of 0.807.13
We recognize that these results do not firmly establish a causal relationship between
differences in political trust and ‘rightful resistance’.14 Nonetheless, combined with earlier
findings, we believe these results are highly suggestive. Villagers with larger trust gaps are
more likely to engage in collective incidents, underlining another challenge to governance
in villages experiencing land requisition. The connections we highlight between political
trust and instability thus point to the complexities of governance in China.
As it has in other countries, land development has undoubtedly contributed to China’s
economic transformation. The rural enterprises that set China on the path to becoming the
‘factory of the world’, the rows of luxury apartments that ring its burgeoning metropolises,
the glittering skylines of Pudong and Shenzhen – all were made possible, in part, by the
conversion of farmland to non-agricultural purposes. China’s transformation has been far
from painless, though, even as it has lifted millions out of poverty. In their pursuit of
economic development and scarce revenue, local governments have dispossessed millions
of rural residents, often at knockdown prices. The rising wave of unrest over the past two
decades attests to the wrenching nature of China’s developmental experience. So too does
the increasing number of citizens willing to commit suicide in protest; at least 39 farmers
over the past five years have chosen ‘death over eviction’ (Johnson, 2013).
As noted by Barrington Moore (1966) and others, land-related conflict can have
profound political consequences. Our article illuminates the political implications of
China’s vast and conflict-ridden land requisition. We find that while the experience of
dispossession erodes villagers’ trust in township and county authorities, it does not nega-
tively affect their trust in the central authorities, as embodied in the State Council and the
Party Central Committee.
Previous studies have pointed to the existence of a ‘trust gap’ between local and central
authorities (O’Brien, 2002; Li, 2004; 2013). Yet our findings based on data from two
surveys are still noteworthy. Land takings have been the leading source of ‘mass incidents’
in China and thus the most prominent cause of social instability as well as inequality. Our
finding that land requisitioning does not diminish popular trust in the central authorities in
China thus sheds important light on the relationship between economic development and
political legitimacy in authoritarian China, and on the nature of China’s governance.
Our analysis also suggests that persistent central government trust is not an unalloyed
blessing for the regime. Inasmuch as land requisition widens the gap between villagers’ trust
in local and central authorities, it has the potential to further complicate the contentious
process of rural governance, especially accompanied by rising expectations among the
Chinese public (Chen and Yang, 2012). In recognition of this, China’s national leadership
in 2013 began to consider amending the Land Administration Law (LAL) and associated
regulations on compensation for land requisition to make the amount of compensation for
land being requisitioned fairer. If enacted, the amended LAL will likely stand both as a
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
landmark in the evolution of China’s developmental experience and a symbol of change
in China’s mode of governance.
(Accepted: 15 May 2014)
About the Authors
Ernan Cui is an analyst at GaveKal Dragonomics. GaveKal Dragonomics, Room 603, SOHO Nexus Center, 19A
Dongsanhuan Beilu, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020, China; email:
Ran Tao is a Professor in the School of Economics and Director of the China Center for Public Economics and
Governance at Renmin University of China, and a non-resident senior fellow of the Foreign Policy program at the
Brookings-Tsinghua Center. He has published broadly on the political economy of China’s economic transition. Ran
Tao, School of Economics, Renmin University of China, 59 Zhongguancun Street, Haidian, Beijing, China; email:
Travis J. Warner is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Chicago. Travis J. Warner, Department
of Political Science, University of Chicago, 5828 South University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA; email:
Dali L. Yang is a Professor of Political Science and the founding Faculty Director of the Center in Beijing at the
University of Chicago. Among his books are Remaking the Chinese Leviathan: Market Transition and the Politics of
Governance in China (Stanford University Press, 2004), Calamity and Reform in China: State, Rural Society and Institutional
Change since the Great Leap Famine (Stanford University Press, 1996) and Beyond Beijing: Liberalization and the Regions
in China (Routledge, 1997). Dali L. Yang, Department of Political Science, University of Chicago, 5828 South
University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA; email:
We wish to thank Mike Albertus, Huayu Xu and several anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. The authors
gratefully acknowledge the following organizations for their support of the surveys on which our study is based: the British SPF
Programme, the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore, the Ford Foundation, PKU-Lincoln Center for Urban
Development and Land Policy, the Fundamental Research Funds for Central Universities and Renmin University of China. All
mistakes are solely our own.
1 The Journal of Peasant Studies has devoted several issues to the ‘global land grab’ – an ongoing transfer of agricultural land from
subsistence farmers to corporations in the developing world, usually with the assistance of local governments. See, e.g. Ito et al.
(2014); Lavers (2012); White et al. (2012).
2 Abravanel and Busch (1975); Gamson (1968); Muller et al. (1982); Seligson (1980).
3 On inequality and political trust, see Anderson and Singer (2008); Uslaner and Brown (2005). On corruption and political trust,
see Anderson and Tverdova (2003); Chang and Chu (2006); Morris and Klesner (2010).
4 Pharr (1997) and Jennings (1998) observe the opposite trend in Japan and the United States, respectively – that is, citizens’ trust
in the central government appears to be declining more rapidly than that in local government.
5 Following China’s city-classification system, these are, respectively, cities with populations over one million, between 500,000
and one million, and fewer than 500,000.
6 We focus on local government officials rather than village cadres because the latter’s ‘land management’ responsibilities do not
include village-initiated land requisition. Village cadres may assist local governments in land requisition efforts, but are forbidden
by law from directly leasing land to urban users. Only local government officials are authorized to initiate the transfer of village
collective land. All land takings, moreover, must be approved at the county level or higher (Hsing, 2010; Lin, 2007; Zhu and
Prosterman, 2007).
7 To use Easton’s (1975) influential distinction, we gauge ‘specific support’ for government instead of assessing ‘diffuse support’ for
the regime.
8 Kennedy (2009, p. 523); Li (2010, pp. 295–6). Kennedy’s survey asks respondents: ‘Do you believe the national leadership is
acting in your interest?’ Li asks if respondents think that government leaders ‘(1) put their own interests before those of farmers;
(2) do not care whether farmers will agree when they make policies; and (3) care primarily about the powerful and rich and
neglect the interests of ordinary people’.
9 Due to the political sensitivity of requisition efforts in some villages, we were unable to interview more than 90 villagers in three
cities (Yueqing, Dongguan and Zhongshan). Had we been able to carry out all these interviews, the revealed average political trust
in these areas might have been even lower; thus our sample may have captured less of the variation in political trust than would
have been the case had all the interviews been conducted.
10 We chose these provinces by dividing the country into six geographical regions and randomly selecting one province from each.
We then divided the counties in each province into five strata based on their per capita industrial output; we randomly selected
one county from each stratum. Townships in each of these 30 counties were stratified according to per capita income. We
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
selected two townships in each, and then repeated the process at the village level to result in 120 villages. Forces beyond survey
teams’ control – including flooding in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake – prevented them from reaching all selected
villages, resulting in 117 villages in the final sample.
11 See Michelson (2012) for a discussion of recent policies aimed at improving the welfare of elderly rural residents.
12 In separate regressions (the results of which we do not report here) we also tested for the possibility of an interactive effect
between dispossession and media exposure. The interaction terms were insignificant for both central and local government trust.
Exposure to party-state propaganda does not appear to condition rural residents’ response to losing their land.
13 A two-tailed t-test rejects the null hypothesis that villages with and without collective incidents report the same average trust gap
(p<0.01). We can also reject the hypothesis that petitioning and non-petitioning villages are characterized by the same trust gap,
albeit at a lower level of confidence (p<0.10).
14 Due to the availability of only a very limited number of village-level variables, we are unable to run regressions controlling for
various related factors. The possibility of endogeneity also exists (Li, 2008; 2013).
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... He compares China with other post-communist cases, focusing on incomplete reform of property rights and decentralization, although this comparative framework is not carried through in his empirical analysis of land and mining. Moreover, Pei ([56]: 19) argues that "crony capitalism in noncommunist societies… [is] qualitatively different." This claim misses the connection between state officials and private developers in allocating land and mining rights in cases like Mexico and India, specifically, and throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America, more broadly [28]. ...
... Even for those rural land right holders who welcome land takings, justice claims center on the share of the full land value they receive and their place in the process [33]. Both Cui et al. [19] and Whiting [88] provide evidence that experience with grievances over land is negatively associated with trust in local government, an issue surprisingly understudied in democratic cases. ...
What do studies of land rights in China contribute to the broader discipline of political science? First, the Chinese case challenges orthodox theories of secure, private property rights as a prerequisite for growth and sheds light on the distinctly fiscal roots of urban bias, a phenomenon pervasive in countries making the transition from agriculture to industry. Second, studies of land grabbing in the Chinese case provide a basis for comparisons of state-society relations in authoritarian vs. democratic regimes. While democratic institutions create more openings for aggrieved actors to organize and shape policy, ordinary citizens in both authoritarian and democratic regimes use protest in order to capture a greater share of rents from land. Third, land grabbing exacerbates inequalities; research on the Chinese case in comparative context shows that exclusionary modes of land ownership and limits on full social and political citizenship are mutually reinforcing across all types of regimes.
... LEPH is the only formal public participation method in Chinese land expropriation. The mass incidents stemming from land expropriation have declined the political trust in rural China (Cui et al., 2015). Re-strengthening farmers' trust in the local government is among the purposes of central government's promotion of participation in land expropriation. ...
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Although public hearings have been introduced into Chinese land expropriation as an important democratic supervision and conflict resolution mechanism for more than 15 years, there is a dearth of research into its qualities. Taking the farmers’ satisfaction with the public hearings as the critical quality indicator, this article analyzes the dilemma of this special institution in Chinese land expropriation. Process tracing is employed to analyze the design defect of the public hearing institution. Farmers’ satisfactions with the public hearings are measured by a questionnaire, and the factors are examined by a structural equation model based on the theories of expectancy disconfirmation and procedural fairness. It is concluded that the distorted procedure and the inconsiderate arrangement affect farmers’ perceived procedural fairness and decrease their satisfaction with hearings. In order to solve the dilemma of public participation in land expropriation, the relevant authorities should start from the source of affecting farmers’ satisfaction.
... China is not an exception. Land issues alone make up 65% of all "mass incidents" in China and 75% of all petitions filed by Chinese rural residents (Cui et al. 2015). ...
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Local governments’ failure to provide proper compensation for rural residents’ land rights has been one of the main sources of political conflict in rural China. Previous literature has focused on why local governments use different means to compensate for land-losing rural residents. Yet, the question of who local governments prioritize when providing compensation for dispossessed land rights has not been fully examined. Employing the data from the China Household Income Survey (2013), I show that local states are more likely to provide compensation, either a cash payment or access to social insurance, to land-losing rural residents who stay in the township. Land-losing rural residents who live outside the township, to the contrary, are less likely to be compensated for their land rights by local states. Drawing on the China General Social Survey (2010), I suggest that the disadvantage of out-migrants stems from their lowered levels of political participation. The findings from this article imply that internal migrants in China are discriminated against not only in the destination localities but also in their home localities.
... Since reform and opening up, the participation of Chinese people in political affairs has been expanding and deepening constantly, with the development of economic society and modernization (Cui et al., 2015). China has emerged as a global economic powerhouse and has become one of the most stable regimes in the world. ...
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There is a strong ongoing debate about the impact of trust and political knowledge on institutionalized political participation. Based on social exchange theory, this study examines the roles of social trust, political trust, and political knowledge on citizen voting in grassroots elections by using logistic regression. The logistic regression analysis of this study shows that social trust, political trust, and political knowledge have significantly positive effects on the likelihood of voting in grassroots elections in China. More importantly, it finds that the level of citizens’ political knowledge can positively moderate the relationship between political trust and the likelihood of citizen voting in grassroots elections. “Political knowledge” can be regarded as a kind of political self-education for citizens. In view of this, trust and political knowledge can be seen as vital preconditions for citizen voting in grassroots elections. This study suggests that the government should pay more attention to the positive roles of trust and political knowledge in promoting political participation and democracy construction at the grassroots level.
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The land expropriation policy of Merging Villages & Living Together (MVLT) in rural areas has intensified conflicts due to insufficient financial compensation and "demolishing old houses before building new ones". The current research rarely includes farmers, governments at all levels, the strength of policy tools, and policy perceptions into a unified quantitative research framework.This paper adopts the institutional credibility theory, incorporates the policy instruments of higher-level governments, administrative instruments of lower-level governments, and farmers' credibility of policies into a unified accounting framework, constructs a conflict stress index, evaluates the role of each subject's characteristics, policy perceptions, and policy instruments in the process of conflict generation and resolution, and analyzes the ways of conflict resolution from the perspective of different stakeholder games. The analysis framework are verified by using the case study of MVLT policy in Shandong Province, China.The results show that the credibility of the policy is influenced by individual characteristics and varies significantly. The administrative means and different combinations of the lower level government can significantly improve the success rate of policy implementation. The highest value of the conflict index was observed when the administrative instruments reached the maximum value without marginal increase in farmers' credibility for policy implementation and improvement were made.
I study the political consequences of state expropriation of agricultural land in rural China by using national individual-level panel data for the period 2010-2018. Comparing outcomes before and after expropriation with changes among individuals not experiencing expropriation, I find that having one’s land expropriated decreases individuals’ trust towards local government officials, and increases the incidence of having conflicts with local government officials. I also provide evidence that the adverse political impacts can be mitigated by better local governance, undertaking projects with public benefits, and ex-ante non-agricultural employment.
While corruption of different types has been shown to lower popular political trust in democratic regimes, evidence from non-democracies remains inconsistent. In some post-Soviet countries, for instance, widespread bribery and nepotism in the government co-exist with enduring popularity of top political leadership. Drawing on an unusually nuanced dataset from Russia (N = 2,350), we show that, in general, encounters with corruption in the public sector are associated with citizens’ lower trust of their government. At the same time, we theorize two caveats that attenuate this relationship, contributing to inconsistent findings in previous studies. First, we find that the negative association between corruption and political trust is significantly weaker when such corruption is beneficial to ordinary people. Second, citizens tend to “penalize” local rather than central government officials, which, we argue, is a result of top leaders’ ability to manipulate public discourse around corruption.
Previous studies have shown that Chinese citizens are overall optimistic about their economic opportunities and tolerate the high levels of inequality in their society. This paper conducts a random survey experiment in China to examine whether the established views on fairness and inequality change after the respondents receive the general information on national wealth concentration or the customized information on one's household income ranking. We find that either type of information leads respondents to view society as less fair than they had initially believed. The information on the wealth concentration also increases public concern about social inequality. Neither information leads the respondents to think that government should play a more significant role in reducing inequality. A lower level of trust in the local government induced by the two types of information may partially explain this lack of demand for government intervention. From a policy perspective, the findings of this paper suggest that with the potential impact of information about income distribution that exists, inequality and fairness concerns are issues that China will need to address.
Purpose Total farmland value exceeds its value in agriculture but is not directly perceptible to villagers in China. Thus, the exceeded part is often neglected when discussing farmer’s land transaction decision. This study aims to revisit the question about how land titling project affects farmer’s land renting-out and investigate how this unobservable land value would distort the intentional effects of land titling. Design/methodology/approach This paper first modifies a two-period model by incorporating the unobservable part of land value into the farmers’ leasing decision problem. Following the implications from the theoretical analysis, this study then exploits the difference-in-differences and the triple-differences approach to confirm the distorting effects that are resulted from the unobservable land value. Findings The modified theoretical model of this study reveals that land titling would encourage farmers to rent out land when the unobservable land value is predicted to be low but discourage farmers’ willingness to rent-out when this value is predicted to be high. The core reason for this significant conclusion lands in the uncertainty of the unobservable land value. Empirical analysis then provided two evidences for this presumption. Furthermore, this study also gave a disproof of the argument that the uncovered discouraging effect is due to a stronger endowment effect. Originality/value This paper contributes to the literature by highlighting the unobservable land value in the farmers’ land-related decisions. This part of land value is always neglected in previous discussions about the land tenure system, but it would cause distorting effects especially in regions without private land ownership.
Thanks to a series of new central government policies culminating with the massive 2008 economic stimulus package, state-society relations in rural China seem to have recovered significantly from damage sustained from the 1990s to early 2000s. Evidence I present in this chapter from two surveys—one conducted in 2002 and the other in 2010—reflect a dramatic turnaround in rural state-society relations after President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao assumed China’s top two leadership positions in March 2003. This leadership transition was accompanied by a sea change in policy that shifted attention and resources to China’s villages as part of the larger effort to “construct a harmonious society” (goujian hexie shehui, 构建和谐社 会). Since 2004, every “No. 1 Central Document” (zhongyang yihao wenjian, 中央一号文件), the CCP’s key statement setting policy priorities and providing policy guidance nationwide, has had a rural focus.1 At the Fourth Plenary Session of the Sixteenth Chinese Communist Party Central Committee in 2004, Hu Jintao introduced the concept of “two directions” (liang ge quxiang, 两个趋向), which in 2005 he elaborated by explaining that China has moved beyond a primary stage of economic development in which “agriculture supports industry” (nongye zhichi gongye, 农业支持工业) and has reached a new stage of economic development in which “industry regurgitates nourishment back to agriculture and cities support villages” (gongye fanbu nongye, chengshi zhichi nongcun, 工业反哺农业、城市支持农村).2.
While voluminous studies have attributed the continuing decline of institutional trust to political corruption, the link between corruption and institutional trust in Asia has yet to be explored systematically. Testing the effect of corruption on institutional trust is theoretically important and empirically challenging, since many suggest that contextual factors in Asia, such as political culture and electoral politics, might neutralize the negative impact of corruption. Utilizing data from the East Asia Barometer, we find a strong trust-eroding effect of political corruption in Asian democracies. We also find no evidence that contextual factors lessen the corruption-trust link in Asia. The trust-eroding effect holds uniformly across all countries examined in this study and remains robust even after taking into account the endogenous relationship between corruption and trust.
It is argued that the dynamics of the rural reform cannot be fully appreciated without reference to the catastrophic famine which followed the Great Leap Forward in 1959-61. This furnished the crucial historical motives for dismantling the rural collective institutional structure in post-Mao China two decades later. The success of this reform process depended on the initiative of tens of millions of ordinary Chinese who did not intend to make reform, but who did so anyway in response to vivid memories of the famine. After an overview of events leading to the famine and a look at its differential regional impact, four chapters focus on the legacy of the famine for rural policy and institutional change. Then, the evolution of state-society relations under the reforms is explored. Finally, the momentous consequences of the famine are again underlined, pointing out the political nature of institutional change.
How can the poor and weak ‘work’ a political system to their advantage? Drawing mainly on interviews and surveys in rural China, Kevin O'Brien and Lianjiang Li show that popular action often hinges on locating and exploiting divisions within the state. Otherwise powerless people use the rhetoric and commitments of the central government to try to fight misconduct by local officials, open up clogged channels of participation, and push back the frontiers of the permissible. This ‘rightful resistance’ has far-reaching implications for our understanding of contentious politics. As O'Brien and Li explore the origins, dynamics, and consequences of rightful resistance, they highlight similarities between collective action in places as varied as China, the former East Germany, and the United States, while suggesting how Chinese experiences speak to issues such as opportunities to protest, claims radicalization, tactical innovation, and the outcomes of contention.