Citizen Compliance and State Legitimacy in Rural China

Lily Tsai, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
April 14, 2010, 4:10-5:30 p.m.
124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 200-North

About the Seminar

In consolidated democracies, democratic decision-making processes and positive citizen evaluations of procedural justice are robustly correlated with higher levels of citizen compliance with state authority. Citizens who participate in the selection of government officials and who believe that government officials solicit and incorporate citizen input in their decision making are more likely to abide by those decisions.

Preliminary findings from a recent survey show, however, that in the case of rural China, well implemented local elections are robustly correlated with lower levels of citizen compliance. In this seminar, Professor Tsai proposes a model of populist authoritarianism in which “discriminate noncompliance” with state policies and regulations is an informal but legitimate form of political participation. In this context, local elections in the absence of other democratic institutions may increase levels of “indiscriminate noncompliance,” making governance more costly for the state.

About Lily Tsai

Lily Tsai is an associate professor of political science at MIT. Her research focuses on issues of accountability, governance, and state-society relations. Her first book, Accountability Without Democracy: Solidary Groups and Public Goods Provision in Rural China (Cambridge Studies on Comparative Politics, Cambridge University Press, 2007), uses a combination of original survey data and in-depth case studies to examine the ways in which informal institutions provided by social groups can substitute for formal and bureaucratic institutions to hold local officials accountable for governmental performance and public goods provision. Tsai has also published articles in The American Political Science Review, The China Quarterly, and The China Journal. She is currently working on a project about citizen compliance and state authority in nondemocratic systems.

Tsai is a graduate of Stanford University, where she graduated with honors and distinction in English literature and international relations. She received a M.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University in 2004. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright program and the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.

Democracy Seminars Series

The Democracy Seminar Series brings distinguished speakers to Harvard Kennedy School for the academic year address critical challenges facing democratic governance.

Chinese Lanterns