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

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

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

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


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.


One of the biggest puzzles about contemporary China is how the partystate has held together after more than three decades of rapid social and economic change. While analysts continue to question the state’s capacity to maintain growth and stability without deeper political reform, in recent years the authoritarian state has looked increasingly resilient, even in the face of rising inequality, increasing numbers of social conflicts, and widespread official corruption. Developments in China continue to defy theories of political change, especially the conventional wisdom that sustained and rapid economic growth will lead to pressures for political liberalization and democratization. Indeed, previous models of political development appear less and less useful for our understanding of politics in China today.

One of the ways scholars have attempted to better understand political developments in contemporary China has been to study patterns of governance at the grassroots. Studying China’s local politics took on special importance following the collapse of totalitarian rule and the dismantling of the centrally planned economy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As part of the administrative and economic reforms adopted during this period, local governments acquired much greater powers over their territories.

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