Elite Cleavage and the Rise of Capitalism under Authoritarianism: A Tale of Two Provinces in China

Qi ZHANG, Dong ZHANG, Mingxing LIU, Victor SHIH

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


A great challenge for capitalist development under authoritarian regimes is to effectively constrain predatory behavior. Beyond existing frameworks of the dictator’s time horizon and institutionalized power sharing, we introduce an alternative perspective—elite cleavage. We argue that the systematic vulnerability of marginalized local cadres motivated them to ally with grassroots constituents and protect local economic interests in order to increase the odds of political survival. Difference-in-Differences (DID) analysis of counties in two Chinese provinces shows that the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution created a moment of political decentralization which enabled marginalized local elites to protect local entrepreneurs against national-level radical policies, resulting in much more vibrant private economic activities in some regions. Further empirical evidence shows that elite cleavages formed in the 1940s had a long-lasting impact on economic performance in the reform era.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1010-1023
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number3
Early online date1 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numerical results in the article are available in the JOP Dataverse (https://dataverse.harvard
An online appendix with supplementary material is available at https://doi.org/10.1086/711131.


  • authoritarian politics
  • capitalism
  • China
  • Cultural Revolution


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