Are Street-Level Bureaucrats in China Hardnosed Cops or Consultants? An Institutional Account of Policing Behavior in Autocracy

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-244
Journal / PublicationJournal of Contemporary China
Issue number116
Online published12 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


Chengguan (城管) is part of the stability maintenance regime specializing in civil law enforcement in China. Many protests today have occurred in reaction to Chengguan harsh enforcement rather than police action. Using survey data (n = 1,721) from China, the authors found both severity and leniency in Chengguan law enforcement. The authors also found that Chengguan enforcement styles are largely conciliatory rather than legalistic, and that Chengguan officers are more likely to be harsh during politically important periods than during politically unimportant periods. The authors explain the temporal variation in Chengguan severity and leniency with three institutional factors of autocracy: resource constraints, upward accountability, and the politics of ritual events. This study offers a new account of law enforcement in China.

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