Meritocracy or Factionalism in China: Social Network Analysis of Chinese Official Promotions

The tournament competition hypothesis is a prevailing explanation regarding China’s economic rise. It theorizes the existence of a meritocratic system that favors local leaders who are able to promote faster growth, thus leading to able officials being selected to manage the economy. This summer, we worked with Professor Fubing Su to study the core piece of the tournament competition: official promotion. We look into the possibility of factional politics, a contrasting argument against the meritocratic view. To test these two competing hypotheses, this project builds a database of politburo standing committee members and provincial government officials, including biographical information and all positions throughout their careers. This will allow us to code officials’ career path (promotion or demotion) and their network/factional ties.

The first step of our research is data collection. We updated biographical information of current provincial government officials to a database compiled in the past decade. We identified the names of these officials and located their full biographies on, a popular website in Chinese. Then we followed a system of codifications to enter all relevant information into the database and checked the accuracy of our codings after the first few trials to make sure that all information followed standard formats.   

We conducted our research remotely and were able to meet regularly online using Wechat. But it also had some downsides. China’s strict covid policy demanded all international travelers to be quarantined in hotels for two weeks. Unfortunately, one of us was locked in this regime for almost two months because her tests were unclear. This impaired the progress of our projects because hotel networks were poor and access to google platforms, where our collaborated project was stored, was restricted. Thanks to Professor Howlett and Alix, we were given an extension to continue our work. We aim to cross-check all entries again for standardization and to run our Rstudio codes to identify all network ties between politburo standing committee members and provincial leaders afterwards. This would complete all tasks in our original proposal.