AbstractSocial mobility is important for political stability--this is true for both democratic and authoritarian countries. In an authoritarian country like China, where political legitimacy increasingly relies on the performance of governance and economic development, the government seems to have a stronger interest in engineering social mobility to maintain political stability. Does increased social mobility contribute to authoritarian resilience? I leverage the hukou (household registration) reform in China since the 1980s as an identification strategy to study the effect of social mobility on citizens’ political attitudes. I argue that first, hukou status is an important yet understudied factor for defining social mobility in the Chinese context. Taking advantage of the China General Social Survey (CGSS) 2010 data, I find that, through changing hukou status from rural to urban, ordinary Chinese citizens believe that they have achieved upward mobility; moreover, changing hukou status from migrant (non-local) to resident (local) has a dampening effect on citizens’ perceived prospect of upward mobility. Second, I argue that social mobility, defined by hukou status changes, has a significant yet heterogeneous effect on citizens’ trust in government. Specifically, I find that among the CGSS respondents, the rural-to-urban hukou status change increased one’s trust in the central government, while the migrant-to-resident hukou status change increased one’s trust in the local government. I further find that citizens who have experienced the rural-to-urban hukou status change are more likely to tolerate or support government intervention in migration. This study highlights the importance of social mobility in the Chinese authoritarian regime. It also sheds a new light on the sources of political support and the role of hukou in shaping social mobility in China.
SubjectsHukou, Social mobility, Regime support, Trust in government, China
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