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Ling Zhu

Ling Zhu

Spring 2016 Graduate Fellowship Recipient
Stanford Center for International Development (SCID)


Ling Zhu is a PhD student in sociology, and is also pursuing a master degree in statistics. Her research interests fall in two major fields: the organizational structure of Chinese political institution and its influence on socio-economic development in China, and social stratification, income inequality and intergenerational mobility in China and US. Currently, her research investigates the institutional logic in Chinese bureaucracy that enables Chinese local governments to play a significant role in promoting regional development, while at the same time maintains the central government’s political control. In particular, she asks who, local political leaders or non-leader officials, are more influential in promoting economic growth in Chinese local governments. Her earlier studies analyze income returns to Party membership in China and its variation between 1988 and 2010. She is also working on a project about intergenerational occupation reproduction in the United States and how it relates to occupational gender segregation in the US between 1972 and 2010.

Fellowship research abstract

Boosting China’s Economic Growth: The Influence of Local Non-leader Bureaucrats

It is widely acknowledged that Chinese local governments have played a crucial role in boosting China’s long-lasting economic development. Far from clear, however, is the institutional logic in the Chinese bureaucracy that sustains such development. Prior studies suggest that local political leaders, who have political clouts and access to market resources, contribute to the long-lasting economic development because their career mobility is determined by their economic performance. However, this seemingly compelling proposition is challenged by the fact that local political leaders are highly mobile and their average tenure is barely over three years, which allows them limited time to exert actual influences. In one of my current working papers, I use the difference in difference model to analyze the relationship between the spatial transfer of county-level political leaders and economic development in Jiangsu Province between 1992 and 2007. I find that local political leaders, regardless of their strong political clout, have limited impact on regional economic development. Considering the small impact of local political leaders, I propose that local non-leader bureaucrats, who have few chances of career mobility and constitute stable local structures in each jurisdiction, should be the actual forces that promote economic development. This proposed study asks whether local non-leader bureaucrats are more influential than local political leaders on economic development, how they are incentivized, and how they interact with each other to exert influences. This question is important because it not only sheds light on how Chinese bureaucracy promotes regional development, but also provides insights to how organizations can be structured to tackle the efficiency control dilemma.