I am a scholar of local politics in China and Taiwan, and seek to understand the behavior of local officials as domestic public servants and as actors in international relations. My research on local governance and public service provision has been published in China Quarterly and Governance. My new work focuses on subnational diplomacy, and in particular on the role that state and local officials play in the complicated relationships between the U.S., China, and Taiwan. My work on U.S.-Taiwan subnational engagement has appeared in Pacific Review, and I am currently working on a book project (with Kyle Jaros) on U.S.-China subnational diplomacy in an era of rising great power competition.
“Direct Election, Bureaucratic Appointment, and Local Government Responsiveness in Taiwan”
Does local democracy induce better service to citizens? While elected officials can be punished at the ballot box if they fail to address citizens’ needs, appointed bureaucrats may have policy knowledge that enables them to better serve citizens. Employing a multimethod design, this paper uses variation in local political institutions in Taiwan to assess the relative merits of direct election and bureaucratic appointment for local government responsiveness. While democratic institutions are often thought to induce responsiveness, I find that in Taiwan, with its historically strong bureaucracy and relatively new democratic institutions, the picture is somewhat more complicated. Elected and appointed officials face different incentives that motivate the latter to respond more quickly and effectively to online requests for help.
“Paradiplomacy as a Response to International Isolation: The Case of Taiwan”
- Winner, best paper award, APSA Conference Group on Taiwan Studies (2022)
Although the importance of non-state actors in international relations is now widely acknowledged, formal state-to-state ties remain an essential measure of a state’s strength in the international community. When traditional components of sovereignty are eroded, what options remain open to states seeking to forestall international isolation? Drawing on a case study of Taiwan, this paper explores the potential and the pitfalls of using paradiplomacy as a substitute for traditional diplomacy. I argue that Taiwan uses paradiplomacy for three primary purposes: as a ‘hedge’ against weakness in the central-level US-Taiwan relationship; as a tool for developing long-term relationships with rising political stars; and as a performative strategy for asserting Taiwan’s statehood by showing others that it acts like a state. While paradiplomacy enables Taiwan to strengthen ties to US policymakers, these efforts have become increasingly complicated as mainland Chinese influence on local US politics increases. This paper thus sheds light on paradiplomacy in the US-Taiwan relationship, but also on the ways in which American federalism can complicate US foreign policy toward East Asia.
“Ethnic Identity and Local Government Responsiveness in Taiwan” (with John Chung-En Liu)
Countless studies have shown that local officials are less responsive to ethnic minority citizens. Surprisingly, we find no similar pattern of discrimination by Taiwanese local officials. In an online contacting experiment, we send citizen service requests to the websites of 358 township and district chiefs, randomly varying the name of the putative citizen to reflect an indigenous or an ethnically Chinese identity and collecting data on officials’ responses. We find that officials are equally responsive to both identities. Drawing on in‐depth interviews and nonparticipant observation in government service centers, we attribute this surprising finding to institutional elements of Taiwan’s local bureaucracy that limit the impact of individual‐level bias. However, our research provides preliminary evidence that local governments are generally less responsive in indigenous areas. While clearly defined procedures may prevent discrimination against indigenous individuals, interregional differences in local state capacity can nonetheless produce unequal experiences with local governance.
“More than Multiple Choice: A Toolbox for Incorporating Clickers into Political Science Courses” (with Bridget Black)
“Active learning” strategies—peer instruction, simulations, hands-on activities, and the like— improve student performance and engagement. However, instructors often struggle to incorporate these techniques into their courses. Doing so can be especially difficult in large lecture courses, where the number of students makes activities time-consuming and unwieldy. Student response systems (SRS, or “clickers”) provide useful tools for incorporating active learning techniques into political science courses regardless of size. While prior research has shown that clickers improve student engagement and mastery of course content, these tools remain underutilized in the political science classroom. Drawing on existing research, an original survey of faculty who use clickers, and our experience using clickers in multiple undergraduate courses, this article aims to provide a “toolbox” of clicker-based techniques and activities that political science faculty can use to align their courses with educational best practices. We offer suggestions for using clickers to implement these best practices, as well as to teach some of the specific concepts and skills that political science courses frequently cover. Finally, we describe some of the challenges that faculty face when they incorporate student response systems, and provide suggestions for addressing them.
“Innovators and Implementers: The Multilevel Politics of Civil Society Governance in Rural China” China Quarterly 233 (March 2018): 22-42.
Early literature on China’s civil society focused on organizations’ autonomy from the state. However, the precise ways in which these organizations are dependent on the state—and on individual officials—are less well understood. I argue that NGOs depend on different types of officials whose career incentives vary, with significant implications for relationships with non-state actors. One set of officials, innovators, seek rapid promotion and use civil society partnerships to gain higher-level attention. Their career goals lead them to provide support for NGOs, but excessive reliance on innovators can force organizations to stray from their mission and weaken their longterm position in a given locality. A second set of officials, implementers, seek stability and security. Cognizant of the risks of partnering with non-state actors, these officials are sometimes forced by their superiors to engage with NGOs but see little personal benefit to doing so. These findings suggest the importance of China’s multilevel political structure for state-society relations.
“Which Public? Whose Goods? What We Know (And What We Don’t) About Public Goods in Rural China” China Quarterly 228 (December 2016): 881-904.
What have we learned from a decade of research on public goods provision in the Chinese countryside? This review article surveys the large literature in political science, economics, and Chinese area studies. It describes the three dominant types of explanations for variation in the quality of public goods: local elections, social sanctioning, and economic policies. It then argues that these findings are plagued by a set of common problems. Scholars mean different things when they use the term “public goods,” making their findings difficult to compare. Furthermore, the most common measures of public goods ignore the ways in which local officials manipulate statistics to enhance their career prospects, and the interconnected nature of geographic-administrative units in the Chinese state. I suggest some ways to address these problems, and make recommendations for new directions in research on the topic.
Responding to China’s Rise: US and EU Strategies (coedited with Vinod Aggarwal). Springer, 2014.
In this edited volume, essays by leading Chinese, European, and American academics test the relevance of the dominant theories of international relations—realism, liberalism, and constructivism—to the Sino-American and Sino-European relationships. We also engage the dominant Chinese approaches to international relations—the concept of the “peaceful rise” and the notion of Chinese exceptionalism—and suggest some surprising points of commonality between these ideas and Western theories of international relations.