Academic journal article China: An International Journal

The Promotion Logic of Prefecture-Level Mayors in China

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

The Promotion Logic of Prefecture-Level Mayors in China

Article excerpt


Leadership research is a very important component of China Studies. With Deng Xiaoping's decentralisation strategy, sub-national governments were delegated broad economic powers, and the role of local leaders became more prominent. (1) These new circumstances have prompted observers to note that "in some senses, real politics in China is local politics". (2) Yet these powerful leaders do not operate without constraints. They are appointees by nature, (3) and their political promotion is subject to the will of their superiors. Most previous studies have concentrated on the analysis of national and provincial leaderships. Important as they are, their limited scope leaves many questions unanswered regarding the political elite in the country as a whole. Some systematical studies on the political mobility of local leaders have been published, (4) but few pay attention to the mobility of mayors. (5) By focusing on mayors of prefecture-level cities (diji shi), this article seeks to fill this vacuum. (6)

Cities and Mayors in China

According to the Organic Law of the Local People's Congresses and Local People's Governments of the PRC (Difang geji renmin daibiaodahui he defang geji renminzhengfu zuzhifa), (7) there are three types of cities in Mainland China. The first is a directly-controlled municipality (a municipality directly under the central government, zhixia shi), which is a city having a status equal to that of a province (shengji shi). The second is a city divided into districts (though directly-controlled municipalities are also divided into districts); in reality, this type includes prefectural- and sub-provincial-level cities (fushengji chengshi and diji shi) while the term "prefecture" is never mentioned in the organic law. The third is a city that is not divided into districts; this includes all sub-prefecture-level cities (fudiji chengshi) and county-level cities (xianji shi).

The bureaucratic-ranking structure of cities is much more sophisticated in practice than in theory. There are five levels of hierarchy for Chinese cities: (1) directly-controlled municipalities, as described above; (2) sub-provincial-level cities, which are prefecture-level cities ruled by provinces but administered independently with respect to economy and local by-law; (8) (3) prefecture-level cities, which are administrative divisions ranked below provinces but above counties in China's administrative structure; prefecture-level cities form the second level of the administrative structure (alongside prefectures, leagues and autonomous prefectures); since the 1980s, prefecture-level cities have mostly replaced the prefecture administrative unit (diqu xingshu); (9) (4) sub-prefecture-level cities, which are county-level cities with powers approaching those of prefecture-level cities; (10) and (5) county-level cities, which are the county-level administrative unit of Mainland China.

Due to these different ranks, the rank of mayor also varies in the political hierarchy. Mayors of directly-controlled municipalities enjoy a status equivalent to governors of provinces, while mayors of sub-provincial-level cities have a political status similar to a vice-governor. The same logic applies to mayors of prefecture-, sub-prefecture-, and county-level cities.

To make the comparison more effective, this article focuses exclusively on mayors of prefecture-level cities, and does not include cities at different bureaucratic levels, as existing studies have done. (11) Prefecture-level cities suitable for quantitative study numbered 268 as of 1 January 2006.

Existing Explanations for Political Promotion

There are three approaches to explain the career mobility of Chinese political elite. The first one is a theory based on guanxi (connections), factionalism, localism and/or family background. Although people have defined the concept of factionalism differently, (12) they all agree that the faction could be an independent variable to explain political mobility. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.