Manipulation without Resistance: Consensus Elections in Rural China

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The Chinese Communist Party has been increasing its control over village elections since the early 2010s, yet this move has not triggered any widespread popular resistance. Drawing on ethnographic evidence from village elections held in 2017 in a county in Hunan province, I conceptualize a form of electoral manipulation I term “consensus elections,” in which the Party engineers a pre-electoral consensus with ordinary villagers on whom to select while deterring challenges from village elites. Consensus elections are rooted in the Chinese political elites’ ideal that favours electoral participation over competition. While participation increases regime legitimacy, competition threatens regime authority. Propaganda promoting this electoral ideal shapes the views of ordinary villagers, laying a basis of legitimacy on consensus elections. The villagers embraced voting as being oriented by a unitary common interest and developed a cynicism whereby campaigning was equated with corruption. Comparison of the processes involved in engineering consensus elections in five villages suggests popular support for such elections. Whereas popular resistance was mounted against the lack of participation, popular complicity helps the Party to deter challenges from village elites. Consensus elections have facilitated the fall of Chinese village elections without undermining the Party's legitimacy, but consensus elections will also encourage more political challenges from village elites through non-institutionalized channels.

Original languageEnglish
JournalChina Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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