Collective action improves elite-driven governance in rural development within China

Yurui Li, Xiaofei Qin, Abigail Sullivan, Guangqing Chi, Zhi Lu, Wei Pan, Yansui Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Rural areas are at the forefront of achieving sustainable development goals, and elite actors tend to be the most influential local decision-makers in rural development. Nevertheless, improving the effectiveness of governance by elites and avoiding or redressing “elite capture” remain key challenges for sustainable rural development globally. This research integrates a large-scale quantitative dataset consisting of 604 villages in seven counties of Jiangsu province in China with qualitative data from eight villages in three out of the seven counties to examine whether and how collective action mediates the correlation between rural elites and rural development. Our quantitative analysis using multiple regression and path analysis indicates that collective action is a mediator, but it is more influential in linking governing elites than in linking economic elites with rural development. Our case studies with interviews further illuminate that collective action fuels rural development by improving resource reallocation and resource-use efficiency with the participation of both elites and non-elites. Innovative collective action designs that leverage a reputation effect to foster reciprocity norms promote the participation of elites while discouraging elite capture. Additionally, this research contributes to longstanding debates in commons governance about the role of authority interventions: we find evidence justifying the benefits of authority in catalyzing and sustaining collective action while also corroborating the critical role of democratization in improving rural governance by elites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number600
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Psychology
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)

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