Farmland and Fraud: Land Rents and Vote Buying in China’s Village Elections



Susan Whiting, Associate Professor of Political Science, Adjunct Associate Professor of Law and International Studies, University of Washington

Date and Time

March 7, 2018 4:45 PM - 6:00 PM



Open to the public.

RSVP required by 5PM March 07.


Philippines Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

While much of the existing literature examines vote buying in the context of party systems, including both competitive and hegemonic party systems, this talk, based on a study coauthored by Professor Susan Whiting, addresses vote buying in a context in which no political party effectively structures electoral competition—village elections in China. This study argues that the lure of non-competitive rents explains variation over time and space in the phenomenon of vote buying. It tests this hypothesis, derived from an in-depth case study, in a separate sample of 1200 households in 62 villages in five provinces, using villagers’ reports of vote buying in elections and survey data on land takings as an indicator of available rents. While the literature views the introduction of elections as increasing accountability of village leaders to voters, vote buying likely undermines accountability. This study suggests that the regime has tolerated vote buying as a means of identifying and coopting influential economic elites in rural communities.

Susan Whiting is Associate Professor of Political Science and Adjunct Associate Professor of Law and International Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.  She specializes in Chinese and comparative politics, with particular emphasis on the political economy of development.  Her first book, Power and Wealth in Rural China: The Political Economy of Institutional Change, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2001.  She has contributed chapters and articles on property rights, fiscal reform, governance, contract enforcement and dispute resolution to numerous publications. She has done extensive research in China and has contributed to studies of governance, fiscal reform, and non-governmental organizations under the auspices of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Ford Foundation, respectively.  She, along with colleagues in the law school, is participating in a project on access to justice and legal aid provision in rural China.  Professor Whiting’s current research interests include property rights in land, the role of the courts in economic transition, as well as the politics of fiscal reform in transition economies. Among her courses, she teaches Comparative Politics, Chinese Politics, Qualitative Research Methods, and Law, Development, & Transition, a course offered jointly in the Department of Political Science, the Jackson School of International Studies, and the Law, Societies and Justice Program.

This event is part of the 2018 Winter Colloquia; An Expanding Toolkit: The Evolution of Governance in China

China has undergone historic economic, social and cultural transformations since its Opening and Reform. Leading scholars explore expanding repertoires of control that this authoritarian regime – both central and local – are using to manage social fissures, dislocation and demands. What new strategies of governance has the Chinese state devised to manage its increasingly fractious and dynamic society? What novel mechanisms has the state innovated to pre-empt, control and de-escalate contention? China Program’s 2018 Winter Colloquia Series highlights cutting-edge research on contemporary means that various levels of the Chinese state are deploying to manage both current and potential discontent from below.