Community, leadership, and mass-elite relations: an investigation into political leadership in the chinese villages in the reform era



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What is the role of political leadership in the mechanisms that bind general masses and political elites behind a certain policy program? And what factors account for the changes in political leadership? The mechanisms connecting citizens and elites are crucial for regime stability. The malfunction of such mechanisms, for instance, the absence of citizen-elite agreement on policy issues, or low levels of public trust in elites, undermines political support and legitimacy of the existing regime. Focusing on rural communities in China, this dissertation attempts to examine how leader-follower relations in the grassroots communities influence mass-elite interactions, and how the community contextual factors shape those leader-follower relations. Existing studies tend to focus on the patron-client connections between peasant villagers and local officials, but largely to the neglect of other kinds of social relations. Based on fieldwork interviews and panel survey data from China, I show that informal social relations, like leadership, have a significant impact on mass-elite opinion connections and public trust in local elites. By leadership or leadership relations, I refer to the mutuality of leader-follower connection that is based on either authoritative or non-authoritative, but largely non-coercive influence by both sides. An element of non-authoritative quality that binds a group of people (i.e. followers) behind a leader is especially important. For this reason, leadership tends to be significant in a local community setting, such as in a village, that is thick with interpersonal relations. My study finds how formal elections and leadership relations in local communities co-determine the direction of opinion influence between the local elite and ordinary citizens, and how leadership facilitates citizens? belief that their local leaders are trustworthy. Further, my analysis shows that as market activities and state control penetrate into village communities, leadership relations themselves undergo changes in that the contextual factors of the rural community have tremendous predictive power on human networks within the community. These changes imply that the political and economic reforms in the Chinese countryside have important consequences regarding local political leadership as well as mechanisms that bind masses and elites together.