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Academic Publications & Working Papers

“Dual Mandates in Chinese Congresses: Information and Cooptation,” with Melanie Manion and Hongshen Zhu, Issues & Studies, 58 (1), March 2022.

Survey data suggest that a high proportion of Chinese congress delegates sit concurrently in two or more congresses. While dual mandates are not unusual in democracies, the literature has failed to notice their existence in China, let alone theorize or analyze them. We turn to the political science literature on assemblies under authoritarianism to guide our analysis of survey data for 3,008 county congress delegates, half of whom are concurrent ones. We show that dual mandates amplify some voices and not others in ways consistent with two perspectives in the literature. Dual mandates amplify information from citizens at the grassroots upward toward governments: More delegates with deep community roots representing poor, rural, remote districts sit concurrently in county and lower-level congresses. Dual mandates also coopt influential groups posing a potential challenge to ruling party power: They amplify the influence of private entrepreneurs, more of whom sit concurrently in county and prestigious higher-level congresses.

“Taking a Chance on China: African Student-Entrepreneurs in Greater Zhejiang Province,” Global Networks, 2024. 

Driven by macro-level investment and strategic competition, engagement between China and African countries has expanded significantly in recent years, giving rise to increased migration flows between the two regions. Wary of Beijing's growing influence on the continent, Western scholarship and media often portray China as extractive and neo-colonialist, whereas Africa and Africans are depicted as passive and lacking agency. This study examines an important yet understudied group operating at the crux of contemporary Sino–African relations that challenges these assumptions: young, African student-entrepreneurs studying and working in China. Drawing on data from 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with African student-traders, as well as Chinese university administrators, students, and officials, this study finds that African student-traders have developed a set of strategies that allow them to navigate, exploit and reconfigure Chinese structures as they pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations, suggesting that the Sino–African relationship is far from one-sided.

“Protest and Repression in China’s Digital Surveillance State,” Journal of Information Technology and Politics, 2024.

Autocrats around the world are making unprecedented investments in new, digital surveillance technologies to monitor their societies as well as to identify and repress pockets of dissent. Using an original dataset of local procurement of digital surveillance technologies, merged with micro-data on collective action events, I examine the logic and motivation for the digital surveillance build-up in China, the bellwether of digital dictatorships. I find that localities do indeed tend to allocate increased spending for digital surveillance in response to high volumes of collective action. Why citizens protest appears to be of less concern: protest claims do not have a significant impact on digital surveillance spending. However, how citizens protest makes a great deal of difference: more violent protests prompt significantly higher levels of investment in digital surveillance. This study's findings have important implications for understanding autocrats’ evolving strategies of control in the digital age.

“Crisis and Correction: Do Government Rectification Efforts Restore Citizen Trust After Governance Failure?,” with Melanie Manion and Hongshen Zhu, Revise and Resubmit, Political Behavior.

In a substantial literature on trust in government, the impact on trust of governance crises and government efforts to fix its mistakes is understudied and unmeasured. We analyze a cycle of crises and contribute a theory of heterogeneous response to correction efforts. We study this in China, an authoritarian state with high trust in government. We leverage the occurrence of two exogenous shocks—a vaccine crisis and a subsequent government correction effort—with administration of a face-to-face, nationally representative survey in 2018. We theorize that response to government correction efforts depends on prior exposure to similar governance failures. Using days from the crisis as an instrument, we find that: (1) the more salient the crisis, the lower the trust in government; and (2) government correction increases trust for citizens experiencing the 2018 crisis as an isolated occurrence but not for those who experienced a similar crisis and correction in 2016.

State Repression and Selective Violence: Communal Canteens and the 'Collective' Memory of China's Great Famine,” Revise and Resubmit, China Quarterly. 

Mao’s violent collectivization and forced labor campaigns during China’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) led to the deaths of as many as 45 million people in what is widely regarded as the worst famine in human history. Drawing on a corpus of over 300 interviews with survivors of the Famine, I use a mixed-methods approach to examine the impact of mass state violence on how people speak about a repressive state that remains in power. Exploiting variation in county-level mortality rates, I find that exposure to state violence impacts how respondents recall their famine experiences: interviewees exposed to more intense levels of state violence do not voice more explicitly negative attitudes towards the state, but do express more implicitly negative attitudes. Furthermore, I use the establishment and subsequent dissolution of communal canteens—a key repressive institution in which the state functioned as the sole distributor of food during a time of extreme scarcity—as an analytical lever to show that while most people are not willing to express grievances directly against a state that perpetrated mass violence, they readily express both implicit and explicit negative political attitudes in the context of a long-dead institution.

“The Officers Next Door: The Spatial Dimensions of Local Policing Under Autocracy,” with Hongshen Zhu, Under Review.

For ordinary citizens, the local police represent the most common and recognizable face of coercive state power, yet, we have little systematic knowledge about how everyday, street-level policing impacts citizen’s political attitudes and behaviors in modern autocracies. We study these relationships in the context of contemporary China, a high-capacity authoritarian state that, in recent years, has invested heavily in developing its domestic security apparatus. Drawing on literatures that emphasize the physical and spatial dimensions of autocratic power, we propose that citizens living geographically closer to police stations will be both more exposed to, and reminded of, police violence, incompetence, or malfeasance--issues endemic to local policing in many autocratic states. As a result, they will be less likely to trust and participate in community political institutions. Using data from a recent nationally-representative, probability sample survey and highly precise, geo-referenced information on the location of police stations, we find evidence to support our theory: citizens who live closer to police stations (1) feel less safe, (2) express lower levels of trust in community political institutions, and (3) participate less in neighborhood political affairs. Our findings indicate that the growing investment in the physical police state may further exacerbate local information capture and the alienation of citizens from the system.

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