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Signal Left, Turn Right: Central Rhetoric and Local Reform in China

Political Research Quarterly, June 2013

44 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2007 Last revised: 5 Jul 2013

Haifeng Huang

University of California, Merced

Date Written: December 26, 2011


How have local officials in China been able to break through central policy restrictions in a unitary and authoritarian political system? Why is China’s official discourse in the reform era often so conservative and unfavorable to reform? I argue the two issues are components of a signaling game between China’s central government and local officials, in which local officials know that the center may be reformist, but the reformist center imitates the rhetoric of a conservative center in order to control the pace of local liberalization. The result is a gradualist reform of “signaling left and turning right”, with glaring incongruity of speech and actions in the process.

Keywords: post-communist reform, rhetoric, signaling, propaganda, decentralization, local reform

Suggested Citation

Huang, Haifeng, Signal Left, Turn Right: Central Rhetoric and Local Reform in China (December 26, 2011). Political Research Quarterly, June 2013. Available at SSRN: or

Haifeng Huang (Contact Author)

University of California, Merced ( email )

Merced, CA
United States

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