Authoritarian Gridlock? Understanding Delay in the Chinese Legislative System

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28 Scopus citations


Legislative gridlock is often viewed as a uniquely democratic phenomenon. The institutional checks and balances that produce gridlock are absent from authoritarian systems, leading many observers to romanticize “authoritarian efficiency” and policy dynamism. A unique data set from the Chinese case demonstrates that authoritarian regimes can have trouble passing laws and changing policies—48% of laws are not passed within the period specified in legislative plans, and about 12% of laws take more than 10 years to pass. This article develops a theory that relates variation in legislative outcomes to the absence of division within the ruling coalition and citizen attention shocks. Qualitative analysis of China’s Food Safety Law, coupled with shadow case studies of two other laws, illustrates the plausibility of the theoretical mechanisms. Division and public opinion play decisive roles in authoritarian legislative processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1455-1492
Number of pages38
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number9
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • China
  • National People’s Congress
  • authoritarian
  • gridlock
  • institutions
  • legislature
  • power sharing
  • responsive authoritarianism


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