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Getting Ahead in the Communist Party: Explaining the Advancement of Central Committee Members in China

Joint work with Victor Shih (Department of Political Science, Northwestern University) and Mingzing Liu (China Institute for Educational Finance Research, Peking University)

Are authoritarian leaders mainly preoccupied with promoting regime-wide interests or with maintaining power vis-a-vis other leaders? In this paper, we show that even a relatively institutionalized and homogeneous regime like China is simultaneously preoccupied with meritocratic and clientelistic considerations. We make use of a new biographical database of Central Committee (CC) members and a previously overlooked feature of CCP reporting to test hypotheses about how Communist Party elite were ranked throughout the reform period. We analyze these data with a novel multi-level Bayesian model of ranks that can estimate individual-level correlates of ranks that are only partially observed. We find that educational qualifications and provincial revenue collection played substantial roles in elite ranking in the reform era, while provincial economic growth did not. Factional ties with various top leaders and princeling status helped officials climb higher in the CCP elite throughout the reform period. Going beyond simple labels of the CCP regime as meritocratic? or clientelistic,? Our findings suggest that both regime strengthening tendencies and elite rivalries drove political advancement.