Political economy of village governance in contemporary China
Rural development and transformation in post-Mao China is one of the most remarkable scenarios in transition countries. With the dismantlement of collectivized farming and the rural reforms since the late 1970s, villages have become diverse in terms of institutional structure. In some villages, one or a few cadres still dominate decision making over public affairs, while, in others, villagers actively participate in the decision making in one way or another. How do the different institutional structures of villages influence governance performance in terms of providing public goods and services? Do the villages with more peasant participation in decision making over public affairs have better performance than those with less peasant participation?
This analysis is aimed at an initial answer to the questions by engaging in empirical, in-depth case studies in contemporary rural China. With the help of four Chinese scholars, I identified four villages with different institutional structures as cases for this project. I have examined and compared the four communities" governance performance in providing roads, primary schools, land allocation, and fiscal management. The findings suggest that the villages with more villager participation in decision making have better performance in providing public goods and services. The implication of the study for rural development in transition societies is to encourage peasants' participation and to draw upon their capabilities and local knowledge. The empirical data for the study rely on my field research of six months in the four communities in 2004. The methods of collecting the data include interviews with villagers and cadres as well as extensive field observations and archival research.