Internal Government Assessments of the Quality of Governance in China

Authoritarian governments produce internal assessments of the quality of governance that allow them to identify and address brewing problems before they threaten regime stability. This paper provides a theory of how the information necessary to produce such assessments is gathered. The empirical focus of the paper is on China, which is used to illustrate how information-gathering channels in communist autocracies differ from those used in electoral autocracies. In particular, petitions rather than elections function as the main channel for gathering information on popular perceptions about governance problems in communist autocracies. The paper argues that information compiled through the analysis of petitions is valued in China because it allows the leadership to identify problems with policy implementation; to track corruption; and to monitor the level of popular trust in the regime. Therefore, petitions serve as a barometer of public opinion regarding governance problems. The paper is based primarily on archival sources and on internal-circulation (neibu) materials collected in China.