Authoritarian regimes are typically thought of as centralized. In some ways, however, China's is not. Landry's analysis provides a new key to understanding some of the Chinese regime's main achievements and failures. The ruling Chinese Communist Party assigns extensive power to mayors and party secretaries in 700-odd municipalities, the level at which most of the functions of local government are performed. Landry's rigorous research and ingenious data analysis (which make for heavy reading) show for the first time how much budgetary and political authority these local lords command, even as the system of promotion incentives under which they work keeps them responsive to central priorities. When Beijing signals that economic growth and social stability are the keys to advancement, that is what Beijing gets, no matter the cost to the environment or human rights. This book focuses on the distribution of power and gives less attention to how local officials are tasked and evaluated. This latter piece of the puzzle will be necessary in order to understand why there is so much variation in local officials' governing behavior and career strategies.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.