The American authors of this valuable study benefited from their collaboration with a number of scholars at Chinese universities and think tanks. They set out to demonstrate that even within China’s closed regime, it is possible to advance transparency and public participation, often through small experiments that are subsequently scaled up. Why would an authoritarian party permit such changes? That is the puzzle of the book’s title. According to the authors, the central state does so to reduce corruption and improve compliance with its policies at the local level. But the authors worry that under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party is backpedaling on earlier reforms and instead favoring “coercive, top-down approaches.” Xi’s anticorruption campaign is a case in point. The authors skillfully blend the latest statistics on corruption with illuminating case studies to argue that enlisting the Chinese public to monitor the bureaucracy would yield better results than continuing the current heavy-handed crackdown that targets corrupt individuals one at a time.
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