China and Inner Asia
Amherst College, United States
Can local leaders effectively advocate for their community’s interests in a Leninist system? Theoretically, party cadres ought to both explain policies to the masses and communicate local concerns to higher levels of the party-state. In China, scholars have examined whether village leaders can act as representatives of local interests, but most research assumes that village leaders’ preferences for public policy are similar to those of other villagers. However, I find that village leaders’ potential to represent villagers’ preferences is limited because of a gap in leaders’ and villagers’ views of the role of the state in public goods provision, laying the foundation for future conflict between villagers and leaders. Through analysis of my original survey data of villagers and village leaders in three Chinese provinces, I find that village leaders tend to be more critical of state policy, but less demanding, than villagers from the same locality. My findings suggest that village leaders’ lower expectations for the state are due, in part, to their greater sensitivity to the constraints that limit state action, such as budgetary considerations. I also test whether my findings extend to local elites in China more broadly using data from the Asia Barometer. This gap in the preferences of local leaders and their communities suggests a lesser-known area of social conflict and calls into question the potential of local leaders to express the demands of their communities to higher levels of government.