China's grassroots politics is changing — and political scientist Melanie Manion has a front-row seat.
The highly accomplished scholar of Chinese politics and the political economy of good governance is completing a book, Information for Autocrats: Representation in Chinese Local Congresses for Cambridge University Press.
"The book investigates the new congressional representation unfolding in townships and counties across China," Manion says. "I find that the preferences of ordinary Chinese at the grassroots significantly influence who gets elected to local congresses and what those congresses then do — basically, they work to provide geographic constituencies with local public goods."
To gather her evidence, Manion collaborated with Chinese colleagues at the Research Center on Contemporary China at Peking University to survey 5,130 township, county, and municipal congressmen and women across three provinces.
"The responsiveness of the local congresses to solve constituent problems results from new institutional arrangements that have developed in China in recent decades," Manion says. "The question is whether these incentives to respond to the preferences of ordinary citizens in turn strengthen authoritarianism, and if so, how? In answering these questions, I place in perspective the new politics of Chinese congressional representation, reconsider the Chinese model of 'authoritarian resilience' and contribute to a growing literature on the comparative politics of authoritarianism."
Manion balances a demanding research program that engages materials in English and Chinese, service on college committees, and compassionate and dedicated advising for numerous graduate students. She is the recipient of numerous research awards, including grants from the National Science Foundation, Fulbright Foundation and University of Wisconsin–Madison Graduate School.
In June, the journal China Quarterly, published an article on local congressional representation in China. Another on Chinese local congresses is forthcoming in the journal Comparative Political Studies.
Manion is known across campus for the quality of her advising and the lengths to which she routinely goes on behalf of her graduate students. She received the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award in 2011, as well as the 2013 College of Letters and Science Academic Advising Award.
Manion is also well-known for her research on corruption. In 2004, Harvard University Press published her book Corruption by Design. She also wrote Retirement of Revolutionaries in China and co-edited Contemporary Chinese Politics: New Sources, Methods, and Field Strategies.
In the La Follette School classroom, Manion teaches a course on the political economy of corruption and good governance.
"Interest in corruption — the abuse of public power for private gain — has been increasing around the world," Manion says, "largely due to the increasing availability (and acceptability) of cross-national measures of corruption. Economists, political scientists and policy analysts have examined corruption empirically in statistical analyses that attempt to sort out systematically its underlying causes."
"Most of the seminar has a policy orientation," she notes. "We consider the state of our cumulative knowledge on corruption as a policy issue that demands action within countries and globally by a wide range of players."
Manion also frequently teaches the Workshop in International Public Affairs in which students conduct policy analyses and research projects for clients that include the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. Government Office of South Asia Policy, the Global Livingston Institute, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "These projects are an excellent example of the Wisconsin Idea to the entire globe," Manion says. "Policymakers seek us out as clients and value our students' perspectives on important issues in international public affairs."