The politics of introducing direct township elections in China

Lianjiang LI*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

68 Citations (Scopus)


Based on archival sources and interviews, this article relates the untold story behind several township elections. It shows that these experiments were largely the result of a discursive opening on expanding grassroots democracy, and efforts by local leaders to promote their careers by taking the lead in initiating electoral reforms. It suggests that over two decades of post-Mao reform may have encouraged a belief among some local officials that history is on the reformers' side. It also suggests that the current cadre management system may enable mid-level leaders to introduce political reforms at a lower level without seeking prior approval from their superiors. The article argues that succession politics may re-open the door for further electoral reform and that the international community can offer protection to local initiatives by pressing the Chinese government to improve its human rights record.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-723
Number of pages20
JournalChina Quarterly
Early online date30 Sept 2002
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

For generous financial support, I would like to thank the Asia Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Baptist University. I would also like to acknowledge a grant from the Research and Writing Initiative of the Program on Global Security and Sustainability of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. For helpful comments on earlier drafts, I thank Kevin O'Brien, Li Fan, Baogang He and Yongnian Zheng.


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