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Political Competition and Two Modes of Taxing Private Homeownership: A Bourdieusian Analysis of the Contemporary Chinese State

Abstract

In 2011, two Chinese municipalities, Chongqing and Shanghai, enacted a property tax on rich homeowners. However, the two municipal governments sharply diverged in their designs of the tax and the justifying frames used. Whereas Chongqing explicitly framed the tax as a redistributive measure targeting the economic elite, Shanghai framed it as an ad hoc technical intervention in the housing market that would antagonize no one. This article explains how the only two Chinese cities that introduced this unconventional tax ended up enacting the tax in such different ways. In doing so, this article proposes a theoretical framework synthesizing two main pillars of Bourdieu’s state theory – a conceptualization of the state as a field of competition, and a careful consideration of the symbolic dimension of state power. The political competition in which the top leaders of the two municipalities were engaged drove them to enact the tax. The positions these leaders occupied in the field of competition shaped their specific strategies of accumulating competition-specific capital, getting their capital noted and recognized by other players in the field, and theatricalizing their capital-seeking acts as serving some universal interest. These dynamics gave rise to divergent styles of enacting the tax.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Information related in this paragraph is based on a synthesis of the following primary policy documents, newspaper articles and interviews: http://www.dengji.org/html/ztzl/fcszxgz/14/12/582.html, accessed on Jan 3, 2017; http://www.dengji.org/html/ztzl/fcszxgz/14/12/580.html, accessed on Jan 3, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/xxgk/zcfg/dcs/201101/t20110127_305661.html, accessed on Jan 3, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/ssxc/szpd/fcs/node5348/201101/t20110127_305663.html, accessed on Jan 4, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/xxgk/zcfg/dcs/201101/t20110131_305708.html, accessed on Jan 6, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/xxgk/zcfg/dcs/201202/t20120207_389412.html, accessed on Jan 6, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/ssxc/szpd/fcs/node5348/201101/t20110127_305664.html, accessed on Jan 9, 2017; http://sh.bendibao.com/news/2015114/147594.shtm, accessed on Jan 6, 2017; http://finance.sina.com.cn/g/20100306/01477511339.shtml, accessed on Feburary 13, 2017; http://finance.qq.com/a/20100307/000376.htm, accessed on February 13, 2017; http://www.gov.cn/gzdt/2011-01/11/content_1781907.htm, accessed on July 28, 2017; http://companies.caixin.com/2011-11-14/100325931.html, accessed on August 12, 2017; http://finance.ifeng.com/news/house/20100408/2020166.shtml, accessed on February 13, 2017; http://finance.qq.com/a/20101007/001606.htm, accessed on March 1, 2017; interviews #16, #24, #26, #35, #39, #40, #44, and #46.

  2. 2.

    For data on the revenue, spending and deficits of China’s provincial-level governments, see http://yss.mof.gov.cn/zhuantilanmu/sjyjsgkzl/, accessed on October 12, 2017.

  3. 3.

    For other theorists emphasizing competition among state actors, see, for example, Skocpol (1992) and Lachmann (2010).

  4. 4.

    Information related in this paragraph is based on a synthesis of the following primary policy documents and interviews: http://www.dengji.org/html/ztzl/fcszxgz/14/12/582.html, accessed on Jan 3, 2017; http://www.dengji.org/html/ztzl/fcszxgz/14/12/580.html, accessed on Jan 3, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/xxgk/zcfg/dcs/201101/t20110127_305661.html, accessed on Jan 3, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/ssxc/szpd/fcs/node5348/201101/t20110127_305663.html, accessed on Jan 4, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/xxgk/zcfg/dcs/201101/t20110131_305708.html, accessed on Jan 6, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/xxgk/zcfg/dcs/201202/t20120207_389412.html, accessed on Jan 6, 2017; http://www.tax.sh.gov.cn/pub/ssxc/szpd/fcs/node5348/201101/t20110127_305664.html, accessed on Jan 9, 2017; http://sh.bendibao.com/news/2015114/147594.shtm, accessed on Jan 6, 2017; interviews #18, #21, #22, and #46.

  5. 5.

    See the appendix for a complete list of interviews.

  6. 6.

    The methodological exemplar which guided my mode of research is Dingxin Zhao’s study of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 (Zhao 2001), a series of hugely complex, multifaceted and opaque political events. When analyzing the interviews and documents he collected, Zhao states his methodological procedure as follows: “I compared different accounts within the same source or/and across different types of data…… I sometimes followed the account of my informants or of the secondary nongovernmental sources, sometimes followed the Chinese government account or/and semi-official sources from China, and sometimes adopted bits and pieces of accounts from each of the sources. Sometimes, I followed none of them. Instead, by reading between the lines in all the materials, I constructed a picture or captured a social mood that was not clear in any one of the sources.”

  7. 7.

    However, it should also be noted that interviewing the key actors would not necessarily make it easier for researchers to ascertain their motivations (see, for example, Jerolmack and Khan 2014).

  8. 8.

    Interview #40.

  9. 9.

    https://www.bbc.com/zhongwen/simp/mobile/focus_on_china/2012/12/121224_cr_zuoganjueqiao_bypeiminxin.shtml, accessed on December 16, 2017.

  10. 10.

    Mao himself, of course, has used mass mobilization to undermine his political competitors, which is often offered as one of the explanations of the origins of the Cultural Revolution (MacFarquhar and Schoenhals 2009). This is one of the reasons many commentators labeled Bo Xilai a neo-Maoist.

  11. 11.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/07/world/asia/in-rise-and-fall-of-chinas-bo-xilai-a-ruthless-arc.html, accessed on November 12, 2017; http://asahichinese.com/article/series/boxilai/AJ201207180001, accessed on November 12, 2017; https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07SHANGHAI771_a.html, accessed on November 29, 2017.

  12. 12.

    Interviews #24, #40, and #42.

  13. 13.

    Interview #40.

  14. 14.

    Interviews #6, #16, #26, and #32.

  15. 15.

    Interviews #17, #25, #29, #30, and #37.

  16. 16.

    Lou, Jiwei. 2017. Commencement Speech. The School of Economics and Management. Tsinghua University. http://www.aisixiang.com/data/105464.html, accessed on September 5, 2017.

  17. 17.

    Ibid.

  18. 18.

    Jia, Kang. 2016. Taxation on Real Estate Property is Key to Building Modern Fiscal Institutions. http://www.hljsfgj.com/news/5/95.html, accessed on March 16, 2017.

  19. 19.

    Lou, Jiwei. 2014. To Deepen Fiscal Reforms and Build Modern Fiscal Institutions. http://politics.people.com.cn/n/2014/1020/c1001-25866975.html, accessed on September 8, 2017.

  20. 20.

    Jia, Kang. 2015. Taxation on Real Estate Property Could Adjust the Social Wealth Gap. http://www.caijingmobile.com/detail/203327.html, accessed on March 16, 2017.

  21. 21.

    Interviews #25 and #37.

  22. 22.

    Interview #37.

  23. 23.

    http://finance.sina.com.cn/china/hgjj/20070930/07064030635.shtml, accessed on February 13, 2017; interviews #30 and #37.

  24. 24.

    See, for example, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/10/world/asia/bo-xilai-an-ambitious-chinese-party-chief-admits-failure.html, accessed on October 6, 2017; https://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/CLM38AM.pdf, accessed on October 6, 2017; https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304432704577349881382051876, accessed on September 27, 2017; https://www.cnn.com/2012/03/16/world/asia/florcruz-xilai-china/index.html, accessed on October 6, 2017.

  25. 25.

    Interviews #7, #8, #16, #25, #29, #35, and #44.

  26. 26.

    Interviews #37 and #39.

  27. 27.

    https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07SHANGHAI771_a.html, accessed on November 29, 2017.

  28. 28.

    Interview #37.

  29. 29.

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/08/08/the-chongqing-model-worked, accessed on August 27, 2017.

  30. 30.

    http://www.chinanews.com/gn/2011/08-19/3268777_3.shtml, accessed on November 25, 2017.

  31. 31.

    https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%94%B1%E7%BA%A2%E6%AD%8C%E3%80%81%E8%AF%BB%E7%BB%8F%E5%85%B8%E3%80%81%E8%AE%B2%E6%95%85%E4%BA%8B%E3%80%81%E4%BC%A0%E7%AE%B4%E8%A8%80, accessed on October 6, 2017.

  32. 32.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/apr/22/red-songs-chinese-cultural-revolution, accessed on October 7, 2017; https://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/03/world/la-fg-china-red-20110604, accessed on October 7, 2017; https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/southwestern-chinese-city-leading-red-revival/2011/06/25/AGkh8JnH_story.html, accessed on October 7, 2017.

  33. 33.

    The question of “whether people’s participation in such practices were motivated by genuine support of the state or forced” is beside the point, since all political acts are necessarily performative and contextual (Butler 2015). There is no “genuine support of the state” independent of concrete political performances in concrete contexts. What matters is that as long as people were mobilized to participate in such embodied political performances, they were part of the spectacle that demonstrated support of the state, and their political subjectivity was shaped and reshaped by the spectacle.

  34. 34.

    http://cn.reuters.com/article/idCNChina-2745620081103, accessed on October 4, 2017.

  35. 35.

    http://blog.dwnews.com/post-208902.html, accessed on October 4, 2017.

  36. 36.

    https://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2012/04/12/bo-xilais-gift-to-chongqing-a-legal-mess, accessed on October 9, 2017.

  37. 37.

    http://opinion.people.com.cn/GB/12088857.html, accessed on October 9, 2017.

  38. 38.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/in-chongqing-bo-xilais-legacy-and-popularity-endure/2012/05/22/gIQATcVUhU_story.html?utm_term=.33b2698513ed, accessed on October 15, 2017; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-24177264, accessed on October 15, 2017; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-politics-chongqing/in-chongqing-bo-xilais-support-endures-in-face-of-beijings-new-assault-on-his-legacy-idUSKBN1AB0FW, accessed on October 15, 2017.

  39. 39.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304432704577349881382051876, accessed on October 29, 2019.

  40. 40.

    Interview #37.

  41. 41.

    Ibid.

  42. 42.

    Interview #16.

  43. 43.

    Interview #7.

  44. 44.

    Interviews #24 and #30.

  45. 45.

    http://finance.sina.com.cn/g/20100306/01477511339.shtml, accessed on February 13, 2017; http://finance.qq.com/a/20100307/000376.htm, accessed on February 13, 2017.

  46. 46.

    http://news.focus.cn/cq/2010-03-16/879498.html, accessed on July 18, 2017.

  47. 47.

    http://www.gov.cn/gzdt/2011-01/11/content_1781907.htm, accessed on July 28, 2017; http://companies.caixin.com/2011-11-14/100325931.html, accessed on August 12, 2017.

  48. 48.

    http://cpc.people.com.cn/GB/64093/64102/11410015.html, accessed on March 4, 2017.

  49. 49.

    “High-value property” is defined as property whose unit price is twice or higher the average unit price of all the new properties in the central urban districts sold in the previous two years.

  50. 50.

    Interview #46.

  51. 51.

    Interview #16.

  52. 52.

    Interview #43.

  53. 53.

    Interview #27.

  54. 54.

    Interviews #24, #27, and #35.

  55. 55.

    Interview #46.

  56. 56.

    http://misc.caijing.com.cn/chargeFullNews.jsp?id=112635945&time=2013-03-31&cl=106, accessed on March 8, 2017.

  57. 57.

    Interview #35.

  58. 58.

    http://finance.people.com.cn/GB/70846/16520362.html, accessed on June 6, 2016.

  59. 59.

    http://www.xinhuanet.com//18cpcnc/2012-11/15/c_113700308.htm, accessed on October 25, 2019.

  60. 60.

    Interviews #24, #40, and #42.

  61. 61.

    Interviews #29 and #35.

  62. 62.

    Interview #39.

  63. 63.

    Ibid.

  64. 64.

    Interview #28.

  65. 65.

    Interview #37.

  66. 66.

    Interviews #12 and #37.

  67. 67.

    Lou Jiwei was a long-time technocrat working in the Ministry of Finance who eventually became the Minister of Finance. Note that between 2007 and 2013 Lou Jiwei no longer worked in the Ministry of Finance, but was appointed chairman of the China Investment Corporation. The fact that Lou was heavily involved in pushing the initiative forward even without having any official capacity to do so showed three things: first, Lou was passionate and committed to the initiative; second, much of the communication with Shanghai took place privately rather than officially; third, politics at the elite level did not map neatly onto elites’ official capacity.

  68. 68.

    Interview #37.

  69. 69.

    Ibid.

  70. 70.

    Interview #39; similar accounts were also given by interviews #24, #30, and #40.

  71. 71.

    Interview #25.

  72. 72.

    Interview #24.

  73. 73.

    Interview #37.

  74. 74.

    Interview #40.

  75. 75.

    This was the case especially because since 2011, a policy has been in place in Shanghai that if a household owns more than two properties, it could not purchase another.

  76. 76.

    Interview #24.

  77. 77.

    Interviews #39 and #42.

  78. 78.

    Interview #40.

  79. 79.

    Interview #42.

  80. 80.

    http://finance.ifeng.com/news/house/20100408/2020166.shtml, accessed on February 13, 2017.

  81. 81.

    http://finance.qq.com/a/20101007/001606.htm, accessed on March 1, 2017.

  82. 82.

    http://finance.sina.com.cn/china/dfjj/20101009/21018752297.shtml, accessed on March 1, 2017.

  83. 83.

    http://business.sohu.com/20100409/n271403343.shtml, accessed on March 1, 2017;http://finance.sina.com.cn/g/20100408/21067713953.shtml, accessed on February 13, 2017; http://finance.sina.com.cn/g/20100409/02177714854.shtml, accessed on February 13, 2017; http://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/20100409/22137722392.shtml, accessed on August 9, 2017.

  84. 84.

    http://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/20100519/22317967934.shtml, accessed on February 15, 2017;http://finance.sina.com.cn/china/dfjj/20100514/02027933028.shtmlhttp://finance.sina.com.cn/china/dfjj/20100514/02027933028.shtml, accessed on February 13, 2017;http://finance.sina.com.cn/china/dfjj/20100513/07387926955.shtml, accessed on February 15, 2017http://finance.sina.com.cn/china/dfjj/20100513/07387926955.shtml; http://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/20100514/01367932723.shtml, accessed on February 15, 2017.

  85. 85.

    http://finance.sina.com.cn/g/20100609/05008085320.shtml, accessed on February 19. 2017;http://finance.sina.com.cn/china/dfjj/20100612/01488108288.shtml, accessed on February 19. 2017; http://finance.sina.com.cn/china/dfjj/20100625/22118182821.shtml, accessed on February 19. 2017; http://finance.sina.com.cn/g/20100626/03348184031.shtml, accessed on July 24, 2016.

  86. 86.

    http://news.qq.com/a/20101008/000407.htm, accessed on March 1, 2017;http://misc.caijing.com.cn/chargeFullNews.jsp?id=110539888&time=2010-10-10&cl=106, accessed on March 8, 2017.

  87. 87.

    Interview #18, emphasis added.

  88. 88.

    Interview #19.

  89. 89.

    Interview #22.

  90. 90.

    Interviews #21, #23, and #41.

  91. 91.

    Whereas Shanghai never publicized how much money was collected from this tax, it was estimated that in the first year roughly 90 million yuan (about 13 million USD) was collected (Hou et al., 2014: 46), which equaled 0.03% of Shanghai’s total fiscal revenue in 2011.

  92. 92.

    http://taizhou.house.qq.com/a/20130320/000006_1.htm, accessed on March 29, 2017; http://finance.sina.com.cn/china/dfjj/20130423/150415250464.shtml, accessed on April 1, 2017.

  93. 93.

    Interviews #25 and #35.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by a summer research grant from the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. I would like to thank Cihan Tugal and Yuan Shen for their constant inspiration, guidance and support throughout the research process. Bai Gao, Ya-Wen Lei, Shiding Liu and Pengfei Ni helped me develop connections during the fieldwork. Finally, I would also like to thank Monica Prasad, Christopher Muller, Orlando Patterson, Ya-Wen Lei, Simon Sihang Luo, Zoe Mengyang Zhao, Marion Fourcade, Mary Shi, Neil Fligstein, Laura Enriquez, Jocelyn Viterna, David Brady, Lantian Li, Thomas Fang Peng, and the Theory and Society reviews and editors for their comments on previous drafts.

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Appendix: List of Interviews

Appendix: List of Interviews

Date Number Location Interviewee
Stage 2
July 14, 2016 1 Beijing Policy researcher in the Ministry of Finance
July 14, 2016 2 Beijing Former journalist specializing in fiscal policy
July 15, 2016 3 Beijing Former journalist specializing in fiscal policy
July 16, 2016 4 Beijing Professor at the Central University of Finance and Economics
July 18, 2016 5 Beijing Professor at the Central University of Finance and Economics
July 19, 2016 6 Beijing Former staff member in the State Council’s Development Research Center
July 19, 2016 7 Beijing Former journalist specializing in fiscal policy
July 20, 2016 8 Beijing Policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
July 21, 2016 9 Beijing Policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
July 22, 2016 10 Beijing Middle-ranking official in the National Development and Reform Commission
July 26, 2016 11 Beijing Former high-ranking official in the State Administration of Taxation
July 26, 2016 12 Beijing Former middle-ranking official in Haidian District’s local taxation bureau
July 26, 2016 13 Beijing Journalist specializing in fiscal policy
July 29, 2016 14 Beijing Middle-ranking official in the State Administration of Taxation
July 29, 2016 15 Beijing Former researcher at the Peking University – Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy
December 21, 2016 16 Chongqing Professor at the Chongqing University
December 26, 2016 17 Beijing #6 reinterviewed
January 5, 2017 18 Shanghai Taxpayer
January 5, 2017 19 Shanghai Someone who avoided the tax by faking a divorce
January 6, 2017 20 Shanghai Researcher at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University
January 7, 2017 21 Shanghai Real estate broker
January 8, 2017 22 Shanghai Real estate broker
January 8, 2017 23 Shanghai Real estate broker
Stage 4
May 28, 2017 24 Beijing #8 reinterviewed
May 30, 2017 25 Beijing Former high-ranking official in the Ministry of Finance
May 31, 2017 26 Beijing Former high-ranking official in the State Administration of Taxation
June 6, 2017 27 Beijing Professor at the Peking University
June 8, 2017 28 Beijing #6 reinterviewed
June 9, 2017 29 Beijing Former journalist specializing in fiscal policy
June 13, 2017 30 Beijing Former policy researcher in the Ministry of Finance
June 13, 2017 31 Beijing Former journalist specializing in fiscal policy
June 13, 2017 32 Beijing Journalist specializing in fiscal policy
June 14, 2017 33 Beijing Journalist specializing in fiscal policy
June 15, 2017 34 Beijing Staff member at the Peking University – Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy
June 16, 2017 35 Beijing #9 reinterviewed
June 19, 2017 36 Beijing Professor at the Peking University
June 27, 2017 37 Beijing Former high-ranking official in the State Administration of Taxation
June 29, 2017 38 Beijing Professor at the China University of Political Science and Law
July 3, 2017 39 Shanghai Professor at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics
July 4, 2017 40 Shanghai Policy researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences
July 5, 2017 41 Shanghai Senior analyst at a real estate consulting company
July 12, 2017 42 Shanghai Journalist specializing in fiscal policy
July 17, 2017 43 Chongqing Policy researcher at the Chongqing Academy of Social Sciences
July 18, 2017 44 Chongqing Professor at the Chongqing University
July 18, 2017 45 Chongqing Middle-ranking official in the Chongqing Bureau of Finance
July 19, 2017 46 Chongqing Staff member in one of Chongqing’s local bureaus of taxation

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Zhang, Y. Political Competition and Two Modes of Taxing Private Homeownership: A Bourdieusian Analysis of the Contemporary Chinese State. Theor Soc 49, 669–707 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-020-09395-0

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Keywords

  • Taxation
  • State
  • Bourdieu
  • China
  • Chongqing model