Testing the “China Model” of Meritocratic Promotions: Do Democracies Reward Less Competent Ministers Than Autocracies?

Don S. Lee, Paul Schuler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Proponents of the “China Model” suggest that autocracies, particularly in East Asia, reward competence more than democracies. However, a competing literature argues that autocracies are less likely to reward competence because autocrats fear that competent officials could challenge for power. We argue that autocracies do not fear technical competence; they fear political competence. As such, autocracies may promote ministers with technical competence but punish the politically competent. Democracies, by contrast, place a premium on political competence when deciding whom to promote. We provide the first test of this theory on how ministerial behavior is rewarded using a unique data set of political performance and promotions in nine East Asian countries. Our findings show that autocracies promote officials with technical competence as long as the ministers limit their political behavior. In democracies, parliamentary and presidential democracies promote those displaying political competence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-566
Number of pages36
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • East and Southeast Asia
  • cabinet ministers
  • comparative regime types

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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