The book shows a very comprehensive picture of how the NPC works in China. The author modelled the authoritarian representation as a tradeoff between information and attention. This gives rise to a representation system called representation within bounds, meaning that the NPC works only for areas that the autocrats have weak or no policy preferences. The author examined this model from four perspectives: function, representation, influence, selection and rents. The findings are quite interesting.
Why do autocrats want a representation system? The previous ideas are to coopt the opposition party and to share power among the factions. They cannot accommodate to the Chinese context. The author puts forward an information hypothesis that the autocrats need information about the mass from the representation system.
Do proposals of deputies have some policy influence? YES, but only in not sensitive areas.
Do the proposals in NPC represent the policy preference of the constituent? YES, but also only in not sensitive areas.
Do deputies represent constituent in China? NO, but deputies who put forward more proposals are more likely to be reelected. Plus, interestingly, there is a socialization process for the “elected” deputies: deputies are trained to raise proposals that are within bounds.
What incentivize the deputies’ loyalty? Rents. The book does not show a very clear financial returns, but argues that the returns are mainly reputation boost.
So far, the model seems quite reasonable, but what shows the good training of the author is his following discussion that examines the model from the evolution of the NPC. Through the lens of “critical junctures”, the author shows that the evolution is linked to the revolutionary capacity of the population, and largely depends on the persuasion of individual leaders. This part puts the model into the context and gives a very solid picture of how exactly this representation system is over time.
The next question is how generalizable this model can be. In the conclusion part, the author briefly examined this model in Vietnam and Cuba and showed a similar situation. Several predictions about China and this authoritarian representation system are made as well in conclusion.
To recap, this is a very impressive work. It requires time, energy and belief to start a topic like the NPC. At least I would be terrified by the sight of the so limited source of valid data on this. Besides, this book is a good example of putting all these different methodologies, from the most classical to the fancies, to real use. The discussion on the limitations of all findings also shows the rigorous training of the author. The book reads very smoothly, while the smoothness does not cover the obvious difficulty during the exploring process.