Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 629–657 | Cite as

Outspoken Insiders: Political Connections and Citizen Participation in Authoritarian China

  • Lily L. Tsai
  • Yiqing Xu
Original Paper


Few political systems are completely closed to citizen participation, but in nondemocratic systems and developing democracies, such participation may come with risks. In these contexts where fear and uncertainty may be high, why do some citizens still take action and make complaints to authorities? The resource mobilization model identifies the importance of time, money, and civic skills as resources that are necessary for participation. In this paper, we build on this model and argue that political connections—close personal ties to someone working in government—can also constitute a critical resource, especially in contexts with weak democratic institutions. Using data from both urban and rural China, we find that individuals with political connections are more likely to contact authorities with complaints about government public services, despite the fact that they do not have higher levels of dissatisfaction with public service provision. We conduct various robustness checks, including a sensitivity analysis, and show that this relationship is unlikely to be driven by an incorrect model specification or unobserved confounding variables.


Authoritarianism Complaint making State-society relations Political connections Political participation Resource model 



We are grateful for the comments provided by Jean C. Oi, Yuen Yuen Ang, Erik H. Wang, the participants of workshops at the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University and the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. We are also grateful to the anonymous referees and the editors of Political Behavior. Thanks to My Seppo and Blair Read for valuable editorial assistance. The authors bear sole responsibility for any errors. The China Public Governance Survey (CPGS) was conducted by Unirule Institute of Economics, a Beijing based think-tank, and HorizonKey, a survey company. The China Rural Governance Survey (CRGS) was conducted by the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The authors appreciate the assistance of these organizations in providing the data. The views expressed in this paper, however, are the authors’ own.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments of comparable ethical standards.

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9416_MOESM1_ESM.docx (71 kb)
Online Appendix 1 (DOCX 71 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

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