The Microfoundations of Government Responsiveness (RESPONSIVENESS)

Project leader: Christian Göbel

Project funds: 1,292.440 Euro (funded by the European Research Council)

Project period: 2016 - 2021


China's success story of the past three decades is seen as an anomaly. Market-based reforms have generated an economic system that can hardly be described as socialist anymore, but the Communist Party of China remains in power. Although social unrest is on the rise, the CCP enjoys the consent of the overwhelming majority of its people. Most agree that China's economic performance is the key to solving this apparent puzzle, but how can extraordinary high rates of public support be maintained in a country where income inequality is so extreme? We believe that the answer to this question lies in the responsiveness of China's authoritarian one-party regime to popular demands and grievances, a capability that has so far been attributed only to democratic regimes. We further believe that the rapid improvement of e-participation, the opportunity to evaluate public services on the Internet, has greatly facilitated regime responsiveness – China's score in the United Nations e-participation index is higher than the European average. We suggest, however, that as the government increasingly calibrates public policy towards satisfying the demand of China's netizens, the "technologically illiterate" are forced to express their demands in public protests and other forms of social unrest. The proposed project sheds light on the intended and unintended consequences of enhanced e-participation in China by exploring which social interests China's rulers incorporate into public policy making, and how these decisions influence the propensity of particular social groups to voice their demands by either participating online or taking to the streets. By exploring the "complex system" in which online complaints, social unrest and public policy interact, the project provides insights into the micro-foundations of regime responsiveness in China. It thereby increases our knowledge of how the CCP seeks to defer the antagonism that prompted the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria.

Engineering a Trustworthy Society: The Evolution, Perception and Impact of China’s Social Credit System (ENGINEERING)

Project leader: Christoph Steinhardt

Project funds: 1,887,444 Euro (European Research Council Consolidator Grant)

Project period: 2021 bis 2026


The Social Credit System (SCS) is an ambitious social engineering project by the Chinese state with the goal of creating a more trustworthy society. It collects information from all citizens, businesses and organizations and seeks to steer behavior through incentives and penalties. The SCS challenges long-standing scholarly assumptions regarding the role of the state in managing social and economic exchange. It has become a central component of the system of governance the Chinese government promotes as a viable alternative to liberal democracy. Thus far, the SCS is a work in progress and displays substantial regional variation. The ENGINEERING project will trace the SCS’s evolution and regional variation, its perception by the Chinese public, as well as its social, political and cultural impacts. It will thereby help to evaluate which of its objectives the Chinese state achieves and which unintended consequences this novel governance instrument might bring about.