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Local Democratization, Governance, Citizen Empowerment, and Regime Legitimacy in China

Final Report Summary - LOCALDEMOCRATIZATION (Local Democratization, Governance, Citizen Empowerment, and Regime Legitimacy in China)

Funded by the FP7 people action's Marie Curie (MC) fellowship, Dr Deyong Ma joined the China policy institute of the school of contemporary Chinese studies (SCCS), University of Nottingham on 25 March, 2010, and assumed the position of MC fellow. The school provided a shared office, computer, and other accessories, and arranged for Dr Ma an academic English course provided by CELE, University of Nottingham in order to improve his English. Meanwhile, Dr Ma carried out a literature review on local governance and local democratisation in China as well as in other countries and formulated research hypotheses with Dr Zhengxu Wang, the executive manager of the project. During this period, Dr Ma also contacted a number of Chinese local government officials to set up the fieldwork plans.

By July 2010, Dr Ma had completed the planning stages for the fieldwork including the interview protocol and questionnaire for the survey, and received positive responses from several local governments. From July 2010 to Oct. 2011, Dr Ma went to China three times to undertake the fieldwork. These research sites covered different socioeconomic development levels and geographic locations from eastern developed suburbs of big cities to western less developed rural areas. Eventually, more than 50 local cadres at different local government levels were interviewed, as well as 2,612 villagers and 343 members of staff or officials working in township government responded to a survey questionnaire. The samples collected through fieldworks met the lowest numerical requirement for statistical analysis though further fieldwork needs to be done if a more reliable analysis and result is desired. The research team then processed the data using statistical software service provisioning system software (SPSS) in the following months and wrote research papers.

Using this first-hand data and information collected from fieldwork, the research team has completed the drafts of three articles, all written both in English and Chinese. The first paper entitled 'Political legitimacy, governance, and democratic values: Institutional innovations and their consequences at township-level in China' was published in social science in China (restricted version), a leading journal which only higher level party's and governmental officials in China are allowed to read. In this article, the researchers investigated the political consequences of democratisation at township level through three aspects, i.e. political legitimacy, government performance and citizen's democratic aspiration. The researchers found that most institutional innovations and local democratisation that emerged from the late 1990's in rural China had little impact on government legitimacy or the quality of governance as perceived by the citizens at the local level or the central level, except for one, The direct election model. They found, however, that The direct election model had positive effects such as promoting certain democratic values among the citizens, improving local government legitimacy and government performance. The second paper was entitled 'sources of legitimacy of local government in rural China: will institutional innovations help sustain the one-party rule?' This analyses the legitimacy of China's township-level governments, and how it is affected by recent political reforms at local level. In the third paper, the researchers reviewed the history of democratisation at town level since late 1990's, and introduced changes in the Chinese communist party (CCP)'s selection and appointment system of town level leading cadres through the innovative institution named 'open nomination and direct election (ONDE: ????)' and other similar ones. Two dimensions, competition and participation, were used to examine whether the institutional innovations such as ONDE had made any progress on China's democratisation. Based on empirical studies, the authors estimated the trends and prospects of China's democratic development at local level and its implications for China's overall regime transformation.

It is confidently expected that the academic output from the project will help to enhance the research capacity of the school of contemporary Chinese studies of Nottingham University and support its further development as a world-leading centre for teaching and research on contemporary China. These research outputs also provide the EU and European countries with comprehensive and informative knowledge on the most recent developments in China's local democratisation, hence, they will be helpful for governments, international organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including the European Union (EU), United Nations (UN) agencies, and United Kingdom (UK) governments in making relevant policies on China.

In order to disseminate the research results and collect responses and comments, the research team attended various academic conferences or seminars held in UK or China in the past two years. The information regarding these conferences is listed in section two.

The first two articles written in Chinese have been submitted to leading Chinese academic journals and one has been published in 2011 (mentioned above). At the moment, the research team is busy revising the English-version articles and plan to submit to leading academic journals within the current year. Since the research topic is sustainable and a follow-up investigation is worth doing in five years' time, Dr Ma is planning to seek new research funding and to continue doing this research after his going back China.

In general, the project has gone well as planned. The cooperation between researchers has been cooperative and productive. Further collaboration is highly likely. However, it is perhaps worth mentioning here, that though the work on the project has gone well and been productive, the amount of research funding (€12,000) provided by MC actions, to be used for fieldwork, attending conference and other academic activities, is quite limited. As the project is an empirical study which is based on a large number of survey samples, at least €20,000 has been spent in order to complete the fieldwork even though researchers have been extremely prudent in all of the associated research costs. Therefore, the researchers suggest that MC actions should in the future consider differentiating the funding allocation according to the type of research.