In This Review

Patronage and Power: Local State Networks and Party-State Resilience in Rural China
Patronage and Power: Local State Networks and Party-State Resilience in Rural China
By Ben Hillman
Stanford University Press, 2014, 216 pp.

Hillman has deciphered “the unwritten rules of Chinese officialdom” over the course of ten years of fieldwork in southwestern China. Patronage lubricates the rigid gears of government so that bureaucrats and their friends can get things done. Upper levels of government shower grants, subsidies, and incentive payments on favored officials in townships and villages; local officials skim, bribe, and use favoritism to cultivate popular support. The results include land grabbing, pollution, and failed infrastructure projects, but also economic dynamism and the mostly peaceful resolution of local conflicts, since the losers in power struggles can always hope for a future spot at the trough. The area Hillman studied was poorer and more ethnically diverse than most parts of China, but his insights apply to local governments throughout the country and to higher levels of politics, as well. The practices he describes are so entrenched that even President Xi Jinping’s muscular anticorruption campaign might not uproot them. It is debatable whether they contribute to the resilience of the regime, as Hillman argues, or whether they serve to hollow out the state’s authority.