Institutional Bindingness, Power Structure, and Land Expropriation in China

Meina Cai, Xin Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
276 Downloads (Pure)


The prevailing argument that quasi-democratic institutions in authoritarian regimes improve governance outcomes hinges on the presumption that institutions empower non-state actors and constrain the discretionary power of ruling elites—a concept we call “institutional bindingness.” However, institutions are not always binding, and the degree of institutional bindingness varies across contexts. This article examines the bindingness of village elections in China. Through the lens of land expropriation in peri-urban villages and using survey data, we find that institutional bindingness—operationalized in terms of the power structure within village leadership—strongly shapes the processes and outcomes of land expropriations and therefore the quality of village governance. Moreover, village power structure depends on political bargaining between ordinary villagers and local states. Our findings contribute to the understanding of quasi-democratic institutions in authoritarian regimes by explicitly examining how institutional bindingness affects governance outcomes and how bindingness is endogenously determined.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-186
Number of pages15
Early online date3 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


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