Authoritarian Parochialism: Local Congressional Representation in China

This paper draws on evidence from loosely structured interviews and data from original surveys of 5,130 delegates in township, county, and municipal congresses to argue that congressional representation unfolds as authoritarian parochialism in China. It makes three new arguments. First, popularly elected local congresses that once only mechanically stood in for the Chinese mass public, through demographically descriptive and politically symbolic representation, now work as substantively representative institutions. Chinese local congressmen and women view themselves and act as “delegates,” not Burkean trustees or Leninist party agents. Second, this congressional representation is not commonly expressed in the quintessentially legislative activities familiar in other regime types. Rather, it is an extra-legislative variant of pork barrel politics: parochial activity by delegates to deliver targeted public goods to the geographic constituency. Third, this authoritarian parochialism is due to institutional arrangements and regime priorities, some common to single-party dictatorships and some distinct to Chinese authoritarianism.