Revolution through Representation: The Origins of Chinese Democracy

Arturas Rozenas (NYU)

May 7, 2024, 11:30–12:30


Room Auditorium 4 (First floor - TSE Building)

IAST General Seminar


The conventional wisdom says that representation pacifies politics by replacing bullets with ballots. We contest this claim by highlighting how institutionalized congregation enables the representatives to exercise their collective power, making the threat of a revolt more credible and raising the risk of revolution. Using the case of China at the end of the Qing dynasty, we show how territorial representation increased the corporate power of the elite and engendered revolution. Analyzing county level data on representation and revolutionary rebellions, we show that counties that obtained better representation in the newly formed Provincial Assemblies in 1909 were more likely to stage a rebellion against the Qing during the 1911 Revolution. Representative institutions involve a trade-off between effective administration and the risk of political conflict, which may explain why the adoption of such institutions is not universal despite their purported benefits.