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2013 events

The Rule of Mandates: How China Governs

Dr. Mayling Birney, Assistant Professor, Department of International Development, LSE

Research seminar

4-6pm, Wednesday 13 November

Room K-1.14, King's Building, Strand Campus

All are welcome to China Institute research seminars - no need to register


Authoritarian regimes are commonly distinguished by who governs.  Here I argue that more attention should be brought to distinguishing how they govern, at the least because this affects political stability.  First, drawing upon primary research on China, I propose an original theory of how authoritarian regimes may govern systematically yet unlawfully, using what I call a rule of mandates.  A rule of mandates constitutes governing with priorities, as opposed to governing with laws (as under rule of law) or governing arbitrarily (as under rule of man).  Second, I show that the rule of mandates buttresses stability, by curtailing the unwanted effects of the regime’s own laws where they threaten key priorities.  Analyzing survey and interview data, I demonstrate that it reduces implementation of China’s national law requiring village elections in those places where the law might destabilize.  Nevertheless I consider whether the rule of mandates meta-institution undermines longer-term stability.


Mayling Birney is a Lecturer in the LSE Department of International Development, and a comparative political economist with a special expertise in China.  She is currently finishing a book about China’s distinctive form of authoritarian governing, in which she highlights its consequences for stability, justice and reform.  Prior to arriving at LSE, Dr. Birney was a fellow and lecturer at Princeton University; and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a major think tank in Washington DC.  She previously served as a Legislative Aide in the United States Senate. She holds a PhD in Political Science from Yale University, an MSc in Economics from LSE, and a BA in Government from Harvard University.

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