Social Indicators Research

, Volume 129, Issue 3, pp 1171–1191 | Cite as

How Political Turbulence Changes Disincentives of Environmental Protection: Evidence from the Crime Crackdown in Chongqing

  • Juncheng Feng
  • Kezhong Zhang
  • Jiangnan ZhuEmail author


Institutional disincentives often discourage major actors, such as politicians, corporate leaders, and the public, from taking practical steps to protect the environment in China. By using the crackdown on crime in the Chinese megacity of Chongqing as a case study, we argue that despite the strength of these disincentives, they are nevertheless highly susceptible to changes in the macro political environment, which can temporarily alter the regular preference order of these major political-economic actors and reduce industrial pollution. We employed the difference-in-differences approach and observed that the quality of surface water in Chongqing improved during the anticrime campaign because of reduced industrial wastewater discharge. However, after the campaign, the political atmosphere relaxed and the surface water quality declined. These findings suggest that reforming the institutions that shape the incentives of the major actors in environmental protection is critical to improving environmental protection in the long term.


Institutional disincentive Crime crackdown Difference in differences Surface water quality Business-government connections 



This research is part of the Ministry of Education of Humanities and Social Science Project (No. 13YJCZH038). It is also funded by the Seed Funding of the University of Hong Kong (No. 201209159003). The authors thank Ting Gong, Yijia Jing, Huihua Nie, Shunfeng Song, Peng Wang, Kaifeng Yang, Lihua Yang, Qijing Yang, Ray Kin-man Yep for valuable comments. We also thank our anonymous interviewees for sharing information with us. Mengyao Wang, Siqin Kang, Hiu Ching Emily Kwok, Xiaoming Zhong, and Juan Wang also offered excellent assistance to this research.


  1. Ai, C., & Norton, E. C. (2003). Interaction terms in logit and probit models. Economics Letters, 80, 123–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aidt, T., Veiga, F., & Veiga, L. (2011). Election results and opportunistic policies: A new test of the rational political business cycle model. Public Choice, 148(1), 21–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cai, F., Du, Y., & Wang, M. (2008). Changes in economic development and internal driving factors in reducing energy consumption and emissions. Economic Studies, 60, 4–11. (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  4. Cao, S., Lv, Y., Zheng, H., & Wang, X. (2015). Research of the risk factors of China’s unsustainable socioeconomic development: Lessons for other nations. Social Indicators Research, 123, 337–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chen, G., & Li, S. (2012). Exchanges between government officials, terms of office and anti-corruption. World Economy, 2, 120–142. (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  6. Desai, U. (Ed.). (1998). Ecological policy and politics in developing countries: Economic growth, democracy, and environment. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  7. Detken, C., & Gärtner, M. (1993). Are German unions rocking the economy? A reappraisal of the supply-side political business cycle. Applied Economics, 25(10), 1345–1353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eaton, S., & Kostka, G. (2014). Authoritarian environmentalism undermined? Local leaders’ time horizons and environmental policy implementation in China. The China Quarterly, 218, 359–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fewsmith, J. (2010). Bo Xilai takes on organized crime. China Leadership Monitor, 32, 1–8.Google Scholar
  10. Golden, D. G., & Poterba, J. M. (1980). The price of popularity: The political business cycle reexamined. American Journal of Political Science, 24(4), 696–714.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Huang S. (2014). Chinese companies caught falsifying environmental data. China dialogue. Accessed 9 Jun 2015.
  12. Konisky, D. M. (2007). Regulatory competition and environmental enforcement: Is there a race to the bottom? American Journal of Political Science, 51(4), 853–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Landry, P. (2008). Decentralized authoritarianism in China: The communist party’s control of local elites in the Post-Mao Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Li, Y. W., Miao, B., & Lang, G. (2011). The local environmental state in China: A study of county-level cities in Suzhou. The China Quarterly, 205, 115–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Liu, N. N., Lo, C. W., Zhan, X., & Wang, W. (2015). Campaign-style enforcement and regulatory compliance. Public Administration Review, 75(1), 85–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Nie, H., & Li, J. (2006). Government-business collusion and economic development. Economics (Quarterly) (in Chinese), 6(1), 75–90 (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  17. Nie, H., Jiang, M., & Wang, X. (2013). The impact of political cycles: evidence from coal-mine accidents in china. Journal of Comparative Economics, 41, 995–1011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nordhaus, W. D. (1975). The political business cycle. The Review of Economic Studies, 42(2), 169–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Oates, W. E., & Schwab, R. M. (1988). Economic competition among jurisdictions: Efficiency enhancing or distortion inducing. Journal of Public Economics, 35, 333–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pan, J. (2013). Measuring the goals and incentives of local Chinese officials, working paper. Accessed 18 Oct 2015.
  21. Tilt, B. (2007). The political ecology of pollution enforcement in china: A case from Sichuan’s rural industrial sector. The China Quarterly, 192, 915–932.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Tong, Y. (2007). Bureaucracy meets the environment: Elite perceptions in six Chinese cities. The China Quarterly, 189, 100–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Van Aken, T. (2015). Actions speak louder than words: A political economic take on campaign-style enforcement. Public Administration Review, 75(1), 96–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wang, P. (2013). The rise of the red mafia in china: A case study of organised crime and corruption in Chongqing. Trends in Organized Crime, 16(1), 49–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wang, P. & Xu, C. (2014). Research on the comprehensive evaluation of China’s environmental health, 2003–2010. Social Indicators Research, 1–13.Google Scholar
  26. Wang, F., Wu, L., & Yang, C. (2010). A study of the driving factors behind the carbon emissions in economic development in china. Economic Studies, 2, 123–136. (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  27. Wedeman, A. (2005). Anticorruption campaigns and the intensification of corruption in China. Journal of Contemporary China, 14(42), 93–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wedeman, A. (2012). The double paradox of rapid growth and rising corruption in China. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Yee, W. H., Lo, C. W. H., & Tang, S. Y. (2013). Assessing ecological modernization in china: Stakeholder demands and corporate environmental management practices in Guangdong province. The China Quarterly, 213, 101–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Zhang, X., Ortolano, L., & Lü, Z. (2010). Agency empowerment through the administrative litigation law: Court enforcement of pollution levies in hubei province. The China Quarterly, 202(June), 307–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Zheng, S., Kahn, M. E., Sun, W., & Luo, D. (2013). Incentivizing China’s Urban Mayors to Mitigate Pollution Externalities: The Role of the Central Government and Public Environmentalism. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working paper no. 18872. Accessed 17 May 2015.
  32. Zhou, X. (2011). Authoritarian regime and effective governance: The institutional logic of state governance of contemporary China. Open Times, 10, 67–85. (in Chinese).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public Economics, School of EconomicsXiamen UniversityXiamenChina
  2. 2.Department of Public Finance, School of ManagementHuazhong University of Science and TechnologyWuhanChina
  3. 3.Department of Politics and Public Administration, Faculty of Social SciencesThe University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong

Personalised recommendations