Time Is Power: Rethinking Meritocratic Political Selection in China

Yu Zeng, Stan Hok Wui Wong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Whether local officials in China are promoted on a meritocratic basis has been the subject of long-standing debate. Merit is commonly gauged by a leader's ability to deliver local GDP growth. Although some find economic performance to be a strong predictor of the career success of local leaders, we argue that the existing measure, which focuses on the promotion outcome of a single career step, is problematic because the career success of individual local leaders is seldom determined by a single promotion, or the lack thereof. We propose an alternative measure that is more suitable for China's political context: the length of time until promotion. Analysing the time it takes to gain promotion for four types of local leaders, we find that good economic performance is associated with a shorter time until promotion. However, the cumulative time-reducing effect of economic performance is far from significant, as it is generally insufficient to help local leaders overcome the age ceiling for promotion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalChina Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • cadre management
  • cadre training
  • Chinese politics
  • economic performance
  • meritocracy
  • political selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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