A research project lead by Prof. Dr. Thomas Heberer and Prof. Dr. Gunter Schubert, Christian Göbel, M.A. and Anja Senz, M.A. – Participation, Regime Legitimacy and Social Stability: Institutional Effects of Village and Urban Elections in China
Sponsored by the [German Research Association]
This project revolved around the issues of participation, elections, legitimacy, and social stability in rural and urban areas in China. It was jointly conducted by Prof. Dr. Thomas Heberer (University of Duisburg-Essen) and Prof. Dr. Gunter Schubert (University of Tuebingen). Whereas Schubert has focused on rural areas, Heberer has concentrated on urban neighbourhood communities.
This project attempted to identify the impact of rural and urban elections and community-building on political communication and political participation. It focused on the changing attitudes of the local population and local cadres and their effect on China’s political system, on political legitimacy, trust and social stabilization. It has been carried out with colleagues of two Chinese partner institutes. Between 2002 and 2005 field surveys were conducted in three rural (Guangdong, Jiangxi, Jilin) and three urban areas (Shenyang, Chongqing, Shenzhen) based on in-depth interviews of ordinary residents and local officials.
One intention of the research project was to examine the political awareness of urban and rural citizens and officials in terms of participation and elections. The pivotal question was how institutional change is reflected in the minds of the people concerned? Not only according to the political leadership but also to many social scientists, village and more recently urban elections are crucial for the political reform agenda and for a “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Major research questions were: Are we right in the assumption that this “local democracy” prescribed from above will transcend the institutional restrictions set by the authorities? Will it dynamically reinforce tendencies of social pluralization which have evolved during the reform process?
Furthermore, the project was focusing on the issues whether an enhancement of participation reinforces trust into the political authorities and therefore legitimacy and social and political stability.