“Governing the Empire: Meritocracy and Patronage in Imperial China” by Peng Peng
November 10, 2021 @ 9:00 am – 10:00 am JST
Author: Peng Peng (Duke)
Abstract: Conventional wisdom says autocrats pack bureaucracies with either loyalists or competent officials. However, political survival depends on both governance and coercion. Whereas autocrats use meritocracy to deliver governance, they use patronage appointments for coercion. Therefore perceived conflict risk determines appointment patterns in authoritarian regimes. I construct a dataset of 12,000 prefect appointments within Imperial Chinese bureaucracy from 1644 to 1723. Using both logistic regressions and OLS analysis, I find that the emperors sent meritocratically selected officials to interior areas and kept them away from prefectures where domestic conflicts broke out. This article demonstrates how autocrats balance competence and loyalty in bureaucracy, contributing to regime stability. It also sheds light on our understanding of state building and formal institutions in authoritarian regimes.