Working Papers

Return to Sender: China’s Hukou System and the Global Financial Crisis

How do authoritarian regimes survive economic crises? Contrary to modernization theory, analyses show that economic growth aids regime survival, while regimes are much more likely to end during crises. For example, why did the global financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession not generate the political instability in China that many predicted? China’s success was partly due to its long-term strategy of managed urbanization and migration paired with a short-term economic stimulus. These factors combined to structure, disperse, and reduce discontent generated by the Great Recession. Fearing instability and unrest among newly unemployed migrant workers along the coast, the regime sought to encourage employment in the interior. Along with its household registration (hukou) system, the fiscal stimulus facilitated stability by providing channels for those negatively affected by the crisis to return to the countryside and smaller cities in the interior, dispersing discontent. While the fiscal stimulus continued the regime’s pro-rural, pro-interior development policy, at the height of the crisis, the regime also vastly expanded loans to urban industries in contrast to its general move away from urban bias. The analysis demonstrates the utility of in-depth investigation of the threats that regimes face and their policy responses to those threats.

The Political Economy of Nationalist Protests in China: A Subnational Approach
with Jessica C. Weiss

Why do some cities take part in waves of nationalist protest but not others? Nationalist protest remains an important but understudied topic within the study of contentious politics in China, particularly at the subnational level. Unlike other protests, nationalist mobilization is both more clustered in time and geographically widespread, linking citizens across different cities against a common target. Although the literature has hotly debated the degree of state-led and grassroots influence on Chinese nationalism, we argue that it is the interaction of citizen propensity to mobilize and local government insecurity that explains the occurrence of nationalist protest. Analyzing an original dataset of 377 anti-Japanese protests across 208 of 287 Chinese prefectural cities, we find that both state-led patriotism and the availability of collective action resources were positively associated with nationalist protest, particularly “biographically available” populations of students and migrants. In addition, the government’s role was not monolithically facilitative. Government fears of social unrest shaped the local political opportunity structure, with anti-Japanese protests less likely in cities with larger populations of unemployed college graduates and ethnic minorities, and more likely in cities with established leaders.

Managing Urbanization: Experimentation in China’s Migration Policies

The Chinese regime’s household registration (hukou) system limits and constrains migration to manage this population imparting a second-class status to migrants. This paper documents experimental local variation in China’s hukou system to improve our understanding of its political, economic, and demographic consequences. Describing a new dataset on relaxation of the policy for small and medium cities in select counties in 10 provinces, the paper finds that in outlying regions, reform boosts total population growth. Yet in regions directly under provincial capitals, hukou reform slowed the growth of these regions. Results are confirmed using patterns captured in satellite imagery of nighttime lights. This discrepancy points to the importance of key cities for local elites and the political tradeoffs that they face over issues and space.

Citizen Loyalty, Mass Protest, and Authoritarian Survival (with Beatriz Magaloni)


A copy of my CV is here.

Jeremy Wallace
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science
The Ohio State University

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