Grad. Students Feature Stories

Exploring the Institutional Changes of Democratic Institutions in China



Almost all dictatorships establish pseudo-democratic institutions, such as election, legislature and party.  Recent studies suggest that these institutions may incur democratization, while also probably consolidate authoritarian rule by providing political support information, co-opting allies and opponents as well as signaling strength.  Therefore, research is needed to explore the double-edged sword of democratic institutions in authoritarian states.


In recent years, as one of the most resilient authoritarian regimes, China has been advocating its governance mode at an unprecedented level, and claimed that American democracy is not Coca-Cola. China has also established pseudo-democratic institutions in rural areas, which facilitates public goods provision and local cadre accountability on one hand, but impairs the state infrastructure power on the other hand.  My dissertation explores how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has reshaped grassroots democracy with the aim of maintaining absolute leadership.


Adopting a mixed research method, this research demonstrates that by layering party’s dominance on democratic procedures, the ruling party has converted decentralized democracy to consolidated democracy, from empowerment logic to control logic.  Specifically, party’s cadre selection institution has been layered on democratic election; party’s mass line strategy has been layered on democratic deliberation; party’s discipline norms have been layered on democratic supervision.


This study contributes to the debate surrounding the role of democratic institutions in authoritarian states by emphasizing the relationship between institutions rather than the design and elements of a single institution.  This research is also helpful for understanding the resilience of authoritarian regimes from a grassroots perspective.



Dr. MA Ming

Graduate of the PhD programme of the Department of Government and International Studies. His research focuses on local governance.