The Calculus of Lawmaking

Wei Cui (University of British Columbia)

Abstract: We present a novel theory regarding when Chinese politicians choose to make law, and test the theory using a unique dataset on statutes, formal regulations, and informal policy directives adopted by 31 provinces and 49 cities during the 2000-2014 period. Contrary to conventional assumptions, we argue that parliamentary bodies in China are not designed to exercise independent constraints on the executive, but are intended to coordinate with political leaders to enact policy, much in the way their counterparts in majority-controlled parliamentary democracies do. Because the Chinese government does not need to enact formal law to pursue policy, however, formal legislative or rulemaking procedures are followed only when rule permanence, interagency coordination, symbolism, and/or political dominance are desired. Further, the distinction between legislation and the (far less costly) adoption of formal regulations has mainly to do with public symbolism. In light of this theory, we present evidence that provincial politicians in China are more interested in legislative symbolism than city (and national) politicians, and highlight other empirical regularities in subnational lawmaking by analyzing both (a) the determinants of the frequency of the adoption of formal legal rules and (b) policy priorities in legislative or rulemaking activities.