Dissertation (book project): Governance in Authoritarian Settings: A Comparison of Governance of Chinese Counties. Link

Abstract: What determines governance quality in authoritarian settings? The existing literature on governance concentrates on democratic governance and provides no ready answer. By focusing on the world’s largest authoritarian country, China, this study delineates an authoritarian model of governance quality. In the model, I argue that in order for good governance to occur, an authoritarian government must have both the ability and the desire to govern well, and the current authoritarian government in China has both. Specifically, its ability to govern well comes from 1) its sovereignty within the territory, 2) its fiscal resources, and 3) its party-state structure blended with decentralization, term and age limits, and performance-based promotion. Its desire to govern well comes from 1) the regime’s need for political legitimacy; 2) good governance as an important source of political legitimacy; 3) the decay of alternative sources of legitimacy; 4) the double uncertainty of authoritarian politics that compels leaders to be highly active in delivering good governance. I formulate and test key hypotheses with a variety of original datasets. The Chinese County Governance Data are collected from county government websites. The data on county-level public opinion are constructed through Multilevel Regression and Poststratification (MRP) based on the 2010 Chinese General Social Survey and the 2000 national census data. County leader characteristics are collected from Database of Local Officials. The empirical analysis generally supports the model. My study reveals an authoritarian logic of governance which centers on the party state’s top-down control and the regime’s insecurity about its political legitimacy. My study also suggests that China’s model of governance is not shared by most authoritarian countries today.

Journal Articles:

Zhou, Yingnan Joseph, Wenfang Tang, and Xuchuan Lei. 2019. “Social Desirability of Dissent: An IAT Experiment with Chinese University Students." Journal of Chinese Political Science. 1-26. Link

Abstract: Researchers have been wary about social desirability of approval in authoritarian countries, namely, the tendency for people to overreport their regime support. Few have studied the social desirability of dissent, the reverse tendency for people to underreport their regime support. This paper argues that social desirability of dissent exists among Chinese university students because 1) the Chinese government has loosened its control on speech, 2) Chinese university students experience peer pressure to be aloof from the government, 3) blatant propaganda gives regime supporters a negative image, and 4) open expression of regime support may associate one with the infamous Fifty Cent Party. We conducted an implicit association test (IAT) among 306 Chinese university students and found distinct social desirability of dissent among them. We also found that the effect of social desirability of dissent is stronger among firm regime supporters identified by the IAT than among weak supporters.

Ou Yang, Ray and Yingnan Joseph Zhou, “Economic Evaluations and Political Support in Authoritarian Countries: A Comparative Viewpoint.” Asian Survey 59 (4): 738-768. Link

Abstract: Economics matters for the political survival of democratic leaders. This economic voting insight has spawned voluminous studies about democratic politics but has been under-appreciated among scholars of authoritarian politics. This article argues that people's economic evaluations not only influence their political trust in authoritarian countries, but that this influence is stronger there than it is in democratic countries. This is because (1) authoritarian governments have performance-based legitimacy, whereas democratic governments have procedure-based legitimacy; (2) the power concentration in authoritarian countries increases clarity of responsibility, which people need to give credit or assign blame; and (3) authoritarian governments have more control of the economy—and more control implies more responsibility. To test our theory, we compare two pairs of countries: authoritarian China and Vietnam, and democratic Taiwan and South Korea. Our regression analysis draws on data from the Asian Barometer Survey (III) and finds substantial support for our theory.

Zhou, Yingnan Joseph and Shuai Jin. 2018. “Inequality and Political Trust in China: The Social Volcano Thesis Reexamined.” Forthcoming, The China Quarterly (236). Link

Abstract: The social volcano thesis states that the rising inequality in China threatens regime stability. This idea, although widely held in the media and in academia, receives scant positive evidence but much negative evidence. Two primary pieces of negative evidence are that the Chinese people trust the central government and that they are highly tolerant of inequality. This paper discusses the shortcomings of the negative evidence and reexamines the thesis in a rigorous and direct way. Our multilevel analysis shows that provincial inequality has negative effects on individuals’ trust in the local government but not in the central government, and this negative effect holds for both the rich and the poor. Because distrust in the local government implies distrust in the central government, we conclude that a social volcano exists.

Zhou, Yingnan Joseph. 2018. "How Does Voting in Village Elections Influence Democratic Assessment in China?" Journal of Chinese Political Science 23 (2):151-175. Link

Abstract: How does voting in village elections affect one’s assessment of China’s democracy? In a time when a majority of the Chinese people believe that China is a democracy, this question has important implications for the prospects of bottom-up democratization. Village elections may play a positive role if they can bring people to realize that China is not a democracy. By contrast, village elections may play a negative role if they reinforce the belief that China is already a democracy. Using the China data of the ABS II, I show that voting in village elections does lead to more negative democratic assessment, but this does not imply a positive role of village elections for bottom-up democratization, because the negative effect of voting is only detected in elections of poor quality. In free and fair elections, voting has no influence.

Zhou, Yingnan Joseph, and Ray Ou-Yang. 2016. "Explaining High External Efficacy in Authoritarian Countries: A Comparison of China and Taiwan." Democratization 24 (2):283-304. Link

Abstract: We examine the puzzling phenomenon that authoritarian governments are perceived to be more responsive than democratic governments. By comparing China and Taiwan by both large-N statistical analyses and in-depth case studies, we show that the answer lies in the differences between democratic and authoritarian institutions. First, failing to elect one’s preferred candidate in democracies predisposes voters to critical assessment of government responsiveness. There is no such predisposition in authoritarian countries where elections are nonexistent or nominal. Second, elections incentivize democratic leaders to over-respond to certain groups. There is no such mechanism in authoritarian countries. Third, the solid and clear legitimacy established by electoral victories shield democratic leaders from particularistic demands made through unconventional channels. Without such legitimacy, authoritarian leaders are compelled to cement legitimacy by increasing responsiveness.

Book Chapters:

Jin, Shuai and Yingnan Joseph Zhou 2018. “Economic Inequality and Authoritarian Legitimacy: The Case of China” Forthcoming, in Inequality and Democratic Politics in East Asia, eds. Chong-Min Park and Eric M. Uslaner. 116-137, New York, NY: Routledge.

Abstract: This paper studies how economic inequality in Chinese provinces affects citizens’ trust in the central and provincial governments. Our multi-level analysis finds that living in more unequal provinces makes one less trusting of both the central and the provincial governments and that this negative effect holds for both the rich and the poor. The similar effects of inequality on the rich and the poor indicate that the Chinese citizens do not consider inequality purely in self-interested terms. Our findings also suggest that economic inequality hurts regime legitimacy in China.

Tang, Wenfang, Joseph Yingnan Zhou, and Ray Ou Yang 2016. “Political Trust in China and Taiwan.” In Populist Authoritarianism: Chinese Political Culture and Regime Sustainability, by Wenfang Tang, 74-99. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Abstract: Why does the authoritarian regime in China enjoy high levels of political trust than many democratic regime? We identify five determinants of political trust in the existing literature: political participation, political mobilization, economic satisfaction, internal efficacy, and Confucian values, external efficacy. We compare China and Taiwan using data from the Asian Barometer Survey and the World Value Survey. We find that the political trust in authoritarian China is much higher than that in democratic Taiwan. We also find that external efficacy account for the gap in political trust more than the other four determinants. We use two-stage least square (2SLS) model to establish the causality from external efficacy to political trust.

Under Review:

Zhou, Yingnan Joseph. "An Authoritarian Undercurrent in the Post-Materialist Tide: The Rise of Authoritarianism among the Younger Generation in China".

Abstract: Do the young people in China support democracy? The literature of political socialization, modernization theory, and political culture imply that the younger generations have great democratic potential because of their higher levels of education and economic security and therefore a desire for self-expression, participation, and democracy. In this study, we challenge this optimistic assessment of younger generations’ democratic potential. We argue that such a monotonic prediction might be simplistic and fail to take into account the impact of political contexts during socialization on individuals’ political attitudes. Examining the case of China, we find that the younger generation coming of age under the Xi Jinping administration has a stronger authoritarian orientation, lower demands on the Chinese government, and more satisfaction with government performance than proceeding generations.

Zhou, Yingnan Joseph. "Do People in Authoritarian Countries Have Lower Standards when Evaluating Their Governments? An Anchoring Vignettes Approach".

Abstract: Why do people in authoritarian countries think more positively of their governments than people in democratic countries? Existing research suggests three explanations: 1) people in authoritarian countries lie; 2) people in authoritarian countries are indoctrinated; and 3) authoritarian governments have better performance than their democratic counterparts. In this study, I examine a fourth explanation--people in authoritarian countries apply lower standards and give better evaluations for worse government performance. To test it, I apply the anchoring vignettes method developed by King et al. (2004) to original data collected from China, Vietnam, Russia, Mexico, and the US, and from the cities of Beijing and Taipei. I find that people in authoritarian countries do use lower standards when reporting political trust and government responsiveness, but the lower standards are likely to be caused by sustained and fast economic growth instead of authoritarianism.

Zhou, Yingnan Joseph. “Is China a Deviant Case? A Societal-Level Test of the Modernization Theory.”

Abstract: Some view China as a deviant case to the modernization theory. This view is based on two observations. First, the Chinese middle class shows no distinct democratic orientations. Second, one’s trust in the CCP regime rises as he or she gets financially better off. However, I argue that the modernization theory by its nature is a societal-level theory, and it has not yet been tested at the societal level in China. In this paper, I undertake this task by examining the relationship between a province's economic development and its political trust in the central government and its tolerance of public criticism of the government. The two provincial-level variables are estimated by Multilevel Regression and Poststratification (MRP) using data from China Survey 2008, CGSS 2010, 2012, 2013, and the 2010 National Census. I find substantial support for the modernization theory.

Working Projects:

Zhou, Yingnan Joseph and Shuai Jin. "A Blessing or A Curse? A Multilevel Study of Ethnic Heterogeneity and Political Trust in China."