East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

May 5 Workshop


East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society Presents


“The Political Logic of Authoritarian Anticorruption: Theory and Evidence from China”

(Co-authored with Junyan Jiang)

Yan Xu

PhD Student, Department of Political Science

University of Chicago


4:30-6pm, Tuesday

May 5, 2015

Pick Lounge, 5828 South University Ave.


Why do autocrats launch anticorruption campaigns when they have in part relied on the distribution of rents and privileges to sustain their rule? Under what circumstances do they intensify antigraft enforcement, and who do they target in those campaigns? We argue that anticorruption initiatives in authoritarian regimes can serve two functions that are crucial for political leaders’ survival: containing mass discontent from below and eliminating political challenges from within the ruling elites. Our theory predicts that (1) anticorruption enforcement in authoritarian regimes should intensify when the regime faces deficit in political legitimacy, and (2) autocrats would adopt a biased form of enforcement in which they protect officials in their own faction and target disproportionately at those that belong to their rivals’. We test our predictions using both aggregate data at the national level and a new dataset that contains the universe of leading Chinese officials at city and provincial levels between 2000 and 2012. We find that at the aggregate level anticorruption effort intensifies when the regime’s economic performance deteriorates. At the individual level, we find that clients of the incumbent power holders are significantly less likely to be investigated but, conditional on investigation, receive lengthier sentences. Those affiliated with the incumbents’ political rivals, however, are disproportionately targeted. The factional bias is more severe among those potential targets who are younger and more politically promising. Finally, we find that the recent anticorruption initiatives by Xi Jinping has led to a significant centralization of power within a smaller inner circle.


Workshop website: http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/eastasia/

Student coordinator: Wen Xie (wxie@uchicago.edu)

Faculty sponsors: Dali Yang, Dingxin Zhao and Zheng Michael Song


This presentation is sponsored by the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences and Center for East Asian Studies. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance please contact the student coordinator in advance.

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