Working Paper
Saul Wilson and HOU Li. Working Paper. “Fencing Off: Trading Institutional Constraints for Institutional Autonomy”.Abstract
Politicians impose constraints on their own power in efforts to consolidate power.  In the literature on institutional constraints, leaders constrain their own power in exchange for support from the masses or capitalists, or to protect against future policy changes.  In this article, we explore why municipal governments sometimes constrain their power over urban development, the key locus of municipal power (and municipal officials’ personal rents) in rapidly urbanizing China.  We contend that officials in the municipality seek to constrain their power in order to increase their autonomy against meddling from above.  They are able to wrest autonomy by framing their institutional innovations as good governance reforms.
Saul Wilson. Working Paper. “The Making of the Landless Landlord Peasant: Government Policy and the Development of Villages-in-the-City in Shanghai and Guangzhou (2021)”.Abstract
China's rapid urbanization has generated a substantial population of "landless peasants," villagers whose farmland has been fully expropriated.  The fate of these "landless peasants" has varied greatly from locale to locale.  In many cities, they have become wealthy urban landlords; in others, they have been pushed aside in the urbanization process.  When they have become urban landlords, they have often done so through the formation of village collective shareholding corporations and villages-in-the-city (also known as "urban villages" 城中村), which have in turn provided housing for many migrant workers.  Comparing Guangzhou, with its many villages-in-the-city and powerful village collectives, to Shanghai, with far fewer villages-in-the-city or village collectives, this paper argues that the radically different distributive policies adopted by these two cities stem from their divergent conceptions of urbanization.  Shanghai persisted in implementing Mao-era policies in which urbanized villagers were granted urban jobs and converted to urban citizens even when the government no longer had jobs to grant, while Guangzhou quickly adapted to the more market-oriented economy of the Reform Period.  These strategies for urbanizing villagers proved amply elastic over time, reflecting the ability of changing leaders and their changing preferences to make real change on the ground, even in the face of the constraints imposed by local traditions and path dependencies.
Saul Wilson. Working Paper. “Taking the Mayor’s Measure: Personnel Changes Associated with Turnover in Chinese Municipal Leadership (2018)”.Abstract

Quantitative research on Chinese municipal governments tends to focus on the purportedly uniform, performance-based promotion incentives faced by top leaders—Party Secretaries and Mayors—effectively ignoring constraints from the complicated apparatus of municipal government and the possibility that they might exhibit personal policy preferences. This project takes a step backward to characterize the importance and nature of the top leadership in Chinese municipalities, with a particular focus on personnel management in municipal government agencies. Drawing on a dataset of party and government personnel from Fujian province, I show that, until about 2010, leaders of municipal bureaucracies were appointed and removed in a relatively stable pattern, and much of the time they were serving party secretaries or mayors who did not appoint them. Since 2010, however, personnel management has become less routinized, and as a result, agency leaders are increasingly serving under the top leadership who appointed them to their post.

CHEN Hao, Saul Wilson, XU Changxin, Cheng Cheng, and WANG Yuhua. Submitted. “Dethroning the Mao-Era Elite: Using Organizational Histories to Illuminate Cadre Management (2021)”.Abstract

Using a novel dataset of cadres at the central and local levels, we show that the most lasting, thoroughgoing personnel changes in the PRC’s history occurred at the start of the reform era. Whereas discussions of momentous personnel changes in China tend to gravitate towards the Cultural Revolution, Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, and a litany of Mao-era purges, the long-term effects of these events on the composition of bureaucratic leadership pale in comparison to those undertaken at the start of the reform era. Most notably during the 1982–1984 administrative reforms, the newly installed reformist leadership at the center undertook a wholesale transformation of the Chinese political elite, ushering out Mao-era elites and replacing them with younger, professionalized cadres. We are able to show this early and extensive departure of Mao-era elites from leadership positions using a novel dataset of over 70,000 bureaucrats. Gleaned from organizational histories and yearbooks, this new dataset extends from the central level to the township level and from the founding of the party to the present, opening the door to much deeper insights into temporal and geographic variations in cadre management.

Saul Wilson and CHEN Min (Translator). 2021. “The Sequencing of Property Rights and Planning Powers: Implications for Urban Redevelopment in China and the U.S. 辨析产权与规划权力的关系——中国控规与美国区划法的比较研究.” 国际城市规划 Urban Planning International, 1. Publisher's VersionAbstract

While similar to American zoning in many technical aspects, Chinese detailed control plans play a substantially different role in the distribution of property rights. Whereas American zoning was invented long after privately held property was widespread, and hence represented a diminution of extant property rights, Chinese detailed control plans clarify what property rights the state will sell to developers. As a result, the American zoning regime is more tolerant of developers seeking changes to zoning, while the Chinese system generally sees such behavior as an effort to get discounted access to state resources. Nonetheless, developers in both countries seek to influence planning restrictions: American developers do so through open negotiations with local governments, while Chinese developers are forced into more surreptitious lobbying. In the long run, inflexible planning restrictions make it very hard for anyone but the government to legally undertake even the smallest urban redevelopment projects in China; on the other hand, the state is able to get a higher share of land use value. Hence, while Chinese detailed control plans may formally resemble American zoning, they perform different functions with sharply different implications for urban development and redevelopment. 


HOU Li 侯丽 and Saul Wilson. 12/2019. “Innovation and Evolution of Planning Decision-Making Institutions: A Comparison of Shanghai and Shenzhen City Planning Commissions 地方规划决策制度的创新与演进——以上海和深圳的规划委员会制度为例.” 城市规划学刊 Urban Planning Forum, 253, Pp. 87-93.Abstract

As the Chinese land development system became marketized in the 1980s and 1990s, local governments and their urban planning agencies came under increasingly untenable pressure as they both imposed and modified detailed planning restrictions. As a result, many cities restricted the broad discretionary authority granted under national law through reforms to both technical guidelines and decision-making institutions. The Chinese planning literature tends to focus inordinately on technical guidelines, but in practice even the best technical guidelines leave significant room for discretion. Hence this paper focuses on the reforms to decision-making institutions adopted in Shanghai and Shenzhen, especially the appointment of expert members to city planning commissions. Although their reforms varied in logic and depth, both cities chose to borrow the authority of planning experts to deflect responsibility for planning decisions away from the planning bureau. In doing so, they reinforced control over planning decisions by the planning bureau, but did nonetheless expand participation in planning. Most importantly, by creating clear procedures for plan adoption and modification and incorporating voices outside the planning agency, these reforms substantially increased the barriers to corruption or technically flawed plan modifications.

改革开放以来伴随着土地市场 化进程不断深入,地方政府与城市规划 职能管理部门在详细规划决策上面临着 越来越大的外界压力。通过技术规范与 制度约束,中国规划体系自计划经济传 统时期延续下来的较大的自由裁量权不 断受到挤压。以往的研究较为关注通过 规划的技术规范增强规划的刚性,然而 各地在诠释国家技术标准和强制性内容 上仍然拥有较大的灵活变通能力。尝试 通过追溯 1980 年代以来上海和深圳两地 规划决策制度的变迁,尤其是如何通过 规委会制度创新引入专家决策,从而总 结规划自由裁量权在地方分配与再分配 的逻辑与发展历程。尽管深沪两地规划 制度决策制度创新的程度和逻辑各不相 同,但在借助规划专家巩固规划专业权 威、促进审批程序规范透明上具有共通 性,并且两种制度设计都有效提高了控 规变更的技术和政治门槛。


Saul Wilson and Zhang Xiaorong. 6/2019. “Village Reconstruction in Rural China: The Importance of Being Urban.” China Quarterly, 238, Pp. 438-460. Publisher's VersionAbstract


Using examples from village reconstruction programs in rural China, we show that local cadres often prioritize project visibility over publicized policy goals.  Rather than emphasizing land reclamation (or rural welfare) as central policies and the academic literature do, cadres and the projects they designed tended to focus on projecting an image of urban, wealthy villagers.  Where such image-driven behavior is most deleterious to villagers, it can evince opposition.  We observe that some areas avoid conflict by making these projects voluntary or adjusting projects to local conditions.  However, we provide a case study of a village with strong village leadership, showing that contrary to recent claims that village cadres are increasingly impotent, some maintain the authority to override widespread objections from villagers.