- Varieties of Governance in China: Migration and Institutional Change in Chinese Villages by Jie Lu
The introduction of Village Committee Elections (VCEs) in rural China since the 1980s is one of the most influential changes after China fully embraced market-oriented reforms. The effectiveness of this grassroots democracy, however, has always been doubted by scholars of China due to dramatic differences in the quality of governance in villages across the county. A visitor may admire well-maintained paved roads in one village, but soon gets disappointed by the muddy trail full of livestock excrement in another village. Why do institutions that follow the same design vary significantly? Why do some village committees with publicly recognized authority based on democratic elections perform more effectively in sustaining local governance and providing public services, while in some other places the committee proves to be dysfunctional and the residents never trust local cadres and would rather seek help from indigenous clan organizations? Indeed, what are the underlying factors that drive such differences? Varieties of Governance in China: Migration and Institutional Change in Chinese Villages provides a unique view to examine varied performance and effectiveness of different types of institutions, convincingly revealing that rural-urban migration coupled with other conditions in the transition from agrarian to industrial societies constitutes the main reason behind villagers’ choices in institutions and the varied quality of local governance in rural China.
The book is organized into eight chapters including an introduction (chapter 1), a conclusion (chapter 7) and an [End Page 228] epilogue (chapter 8). After stating the scope and methods in chapter 2, the author’s detailed exploration evolves logically in the following four chapters. Chapter 3 documents the history of indigenous relation-based institutions in rural China and how such institutions’ performance has been affected by the changing socioeconomic and political environments, especially after China’s reforms in the 1980s as more and more peasants moved to cities to seek opportunities. This significant but unevenly distributed migration toward cities created communities with varied settings for the practice of different institutions. Chapter 4 focuses on the provision of local public goods as a key indicator of the quality of local governance in rural China, testifying the to varied effects of migration on the practices of different institutions. Chapter 5 and 6 incorporate both survey data and case studies to confirm the significant impact of migration toward the cities on the social foundations of rural governance. These micro-level evidences reveal that the cityward migration has transformed rural environments in China and villagers seek more effective institutional alternatives to handle a variety of issues, such as conflict resolution and disaster relief. In the epilogue, it is impressive to see the author does not merely satisfy with pointing out the causes behind the phenomenon, but offers valuable advice for policymakers to tackle the challenges.
The author is ambitious, aiming to “establish a coherent framework that can help us effectively understand rural China’s varieties of governance” (p. 3). He notices the coexistence of a variety of institutions of local governance in Chinese villages and constructs a pair of major concepts as the foundation of his discussion: indigenously cultivated relation-based institutions (such as clan/lineage organizations, [End Page 229] usually adopted by close-knit communities that trace roots from traditional China) and rule-based institutions (such as VCEs imposed by the government). Based on the 2008 National Village Survey, the 2008 Asian Barometer Survey Mainland China Survey, and a number of case studies, Lu’s findings are quite revealing. In villages with a very low level of outward migration, indigenous relation-based institutions are more likely to be preferred, which have been embedded in the well-maintained, close-knit social environment and supported by powerful social sanctions and thus can effectively address the problems of collective action and accountability. When outward migration increases to a medium level, the effectiveness of these indigenous institutions is weakened and imposed rule-based institutions are more likely to be favored. In both close-knit and loosely coupled communities, quality governance is...