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Abstract

China has experienced an unprecedented expansion of social welfare benefits in the absence of substantive political reform. Despite the expansion of welfare benefits, access to such benefits varies widely between and within provinces in China. What explains the disparity in the provision of welfare benefits? What is the political mechanism behind the selective distribution of benefits in China? Building upon theories of authoritarian survival and redistribution, this dissertation argues that in non-competitive authoritarian regimes like China, the selective provision of welfare benefits is closely associated with the need to secure regime survival. In other words, the selective distribution of benefits is used to target and buy-off individuals perceived to be potential opponents to the regime for the purposes of maintaining regime stability. By studying the subnational variation of provincial urban pension coverage and the individual reception of pension benefits in rural China, I find that local governments expand pension coverage in order to preempt political insurgencies that may arise from China's economic transition to a market economy. I further find that specific attributes of collective incidents or unrest provide a signaling mechanism for the threat to regime stability, prompting government concessions in the form of welfare benefits. Finally, I also offer an argument about how the process of setting up these welfare institutions to combat social discontent has affected the generation of social capital, and explain how this may in turn affect the regime's ability to secure political survival.

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