In this blog from The China Quarterly Editorial Team, we preview a new article from political scientist Melanie Manion, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which challenges the current conventional wisdom that China’s people’s congresses are largely honorific bodies with little policy impact. Rather, local congress delegates play an essential advocacy role, bringing the concerns of their constituents to the attention of government officials. Using groundbreaking and fascinating original survey and interview data from over 5,000 congress delegates, Manion reveals not only that the role of delegates has changed, but also that their perception of their role has also changed.

Those roles and perceptions vary depending on the jurisdictional level: township delegates have a greater sense of a popular mandate than do county delegates, who in turn sense more of a mandate than do municipal delegates. Popularly elected local congresses in particular now work as substantively representative institutions: their members view themselves and act as “delegates.” This congressional representation is typically expressed as a variant of pork-barrel politics: parochial activity by delegates to deliver targeted public goods to the geographic constituency.

Manion describes this congressional representation as authoritarian parochialism, and explores the institutional arrangements and regime priorities that shape it. Some of these elements are common to single-party dictatorships, while others are unique to China.

“Authoritarian Parochialism: Local Congressional Representation in China” is published in the latest volume of The China Quarterly.

To mark its publication, free access is offered to three articles in The China Quarterly archive that complement Manion’s piece and map the changing role of the people’s congress:

Kevin J. O’Brien (1994). Agents and Remonstrators: Role Accumulation by Chinese People’s Congress Deputies.

Young Nam Cho (2002). From “Rubber Stamps” to “Iron Stamps”: The Emergence of Chinese Local People’s Congresses as Supervisory Powerhouses.

Melanie Manion (2008). When Communist Party Candidates Can Lose, Who Wins? Assessing the Role of Local People’s Congresses in the Selection of Leaders in China.

Access to the selected articles is free until the 31st of August, 2014.

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