Patronage and Power: Local State Networks and Party-State Resilience in Rural China

Patronage and Power: Local State Networks and Party-State Resilience in Rural China

Ben Hillman

Language: English

Pages: 216

ISBN: 0804789363

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Power and Patronage examines the unwritten rules and inner workings of contemporary China's local politics and government. It exposes how these rules have helped to keep the one-Party state together during decades of tumultuous political, social, and economic change.

While many observers of Chinese politics have recognized the importance of informal institutions, this book explains how informal local groups actually operate, paying special attention to the role of patronage networks in political decision-making, political competition, and official corruption. While patronage networks are often seen as a parasite on the formal institutions of state, Hillman shows that patronage politics actually help China's political system function. In a system characterized by fragmented authority, personal power relations, and bureaucratic indiscipline, patronage networks play a critical role in facilitating policy coordination and bureaucratic bargaining. They also help to regulate political competition within the state, which reduces the potential for open conflict. Understanding patronage networks is essential for understanding the resilience of the Chinese state through decades of change.

Power and Patronage is filled with rich and fascinating accounts of the machinations of patronage networks and their role in the ruthless and sometimes violent competition for political power.











remembered something he had forgotten to say previously and tried to shout it in Chinese over the din. The others at the meeting simply ignored him. The position of the party secretary was also sometimes weakened by the application of “regional avoidance” (地区回避 diqu huibi) policy—an ancient Chinese political practice designed to prevent the concentration of administrative power in the hands of local power brokers. This means that party secretaries usually serve five-year terms in townships where

emerges is one of a highly contested local state in which complex webs of interests compete for access to state power. However, even though the pervasive influence of patronage networks appears to have hollowed out the local state, this does not mean that local state authority has been paralyzed or that the local state is merely an arena in which informal groups compete for spoils. As will be seen, in a bureaucratic environment characterized by a fragmentation of authority and the absence of rule

became aware that political decision making, particularly at the county and prefectural level, was governed by an unwritten set of rules rooted in loyalty, obligation, self-protection, and mutual self-interest. In Poshan Prefecture and Laxiang County, and to a lesser extent in the townships, I observed that officials above a certain rank were typically associated with at least one local power broker working at a senior level in the local state hierarchy. These power brokers provided a range of

Prefecture and Laxiang County local politics had become a spoils system. And the spoils were distributed via patronage networks. Just as it was impossible to be a serious player in local politics without forming an alliance with a powerful patron, it was extremely difficult to be a serious player without observing the informal rules of spoils politics. Spoils were the currency of patronage. And patronage was essential for political survival. A local official whom I have known for more than a

for the governance of Chinese society, see Bakken, The Exemplary Society. 17. “Building the New Socialist Countryside” was a slogan launched in 2006 as part of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan in 2006. The slogan represented the party center’s renewed focus on rural livelihoods and agriculture as a counterweight to urbanization and industrialization. Some analysts have charged that the “new socialist countryside” is merely a slogan; however, since its launch there has been a noticeable increase in

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