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Political Science
Project Proposal

Collective Leadership and Intra-Elite Dynamics in China: A Case Study of Provincial Leaders

Political Science and Asian Studies
Fubing Su (Political Science)

Project Description

The Chinese state is autocratic but, as a communist country, its political structure is inevitably shaped by the communist ideology of equality and collectivism. One prominent example is the collective leadership principle. In theory, the communist party committees at different levels run their jurisdictions as collectives, each leader holding main responsibilities in separate issue areas. This project seeks to explore how collective leadership works in practice and examines the causes and consequences of this institution. We will build a large dataset about provincial level officials in China. By utilizing the vast amount of online information about provincial leaders’ activities and speeches, the project answers these questions

  • What is the ideological and organizational basis of collective leadership? 
  • Do empirical facts support this principle? 
  • Is there regional variation? How to explain the varied implementation? 
  • How does the varied implementation affect public policies in these regions? 

This project asks an important question in the field of political economy. The remarkable economic growth and political stability in China have puzzled many mainstream economists and political scientists. The answer, according to some political economists in recent years, lies in China’s meritocratic state. Recent scholarship has revealed how Chinese officials are recruited and promoted to the top levels. One weakness of the current literature is its assumption of homogeneity of all officials at the same level. Our project fills in a gap in the literature by examining the intra-elite dynamics in China. The intra-elite dynamics should open up some new inquiries into the meritocratic state hypothesis.

Anticipated Project Activities

This is a brand new project. The student will have the chance to experience all stages of a social scientific research, including:

  • Literature review. The student will use google scholar and other tools to locate relevant articles and books. These researches will be critically reviewed. 
  • Theoretical development. Some testable hypotheses with regard to the causes and consequences of collective leadership will be proposed.
  • Data preparation. The student will use online sources to collect activities and speeches of provincial level officials. Some variables will be defined and the information is coded accordingly. 
  • Regression analyses. The student will conduct regression analysis to identify factors that explain the regional variation in terms of collective leadership implementation. In addition, some public policy variables will be selected to examine the consequences of such variation.

Preferred Student Qualifications and Skills

  • Ability to work with Chinese language as well as Chinese online media.
  • Background in political science or social sciences, particularly training in literature review.
  • Comfort with quantitative methods; care and patience with data entry and cleaning. 
  • Knowledge and experience with STATA or SPSS.

Anticipated Follow-up Teaching/Professional Activity for Student

The student will present the findings at the Ford symposium in the fall semester. If the student can continue to work on the project after the summer, it is possible that there will be enough interesting and stable results to be presented in some professional conferences, such as American Political Science Association annual meeting, Midwest Political Science Association annual meeting, and various China-related conferences. The student is also welcome to develop this project into a senior thesis. Finally, if the student can make enough contribution, a co-authored paper may be published later.

Project Location

Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY

Project Duration

Six weeks

Project Start Date

May 30, 2017

Project End Date

July 11, 2017