Andrew C. Mertha - Assistant Professor of Political Science, Washington University
Scholars and policy makers often focus on the more formal and mechanical trappings of democracy to measure a country’s political pluralization. In the case of China, this leads to a discussion over whether democratization in China is a top-down, elite-driven process or whether it is best explained by the growth in village-level elections over the past decade. Professor Mertha’s research suggests that by focusing on this dichotomy, we may be missing out on an extremely important aspect of political liberalization unfolding before our eyes. He draws on recent changes in hydropower policy making in which there has been a dramatic, substantive shift in the quantitative and qualitative nature of political participation by actors hitherto forbidden from shaping the policy process: NGOs, the media, and disgruntled segments of state and society. I look at three cases, one of which signals a dramatic victory of hydropower dam opponents (Dujiangyan/Yangliuhu), one of which demonstrates the utter failure of the opposition movement (Pubugou, Hanyuan county), and a third, more typical case in which these two forces are entering their fourth year of struggle over the outcome of the policy (the Nu River Project). These three cases help explain what accounts for variation in outcomes: policy entrepreneurship, media framing, and connecting to a larger audience to expand the sphere of conflict.