Vacancy Chains as Strategy: Inter-Organization Mobility of Political Elites in Reform China

88 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2022 Last revised: 6 Dec 2023

Date Written: September 14, 2022


Questions of career advancement and success have long occupied scholars of the Chinese state. Most work on political mobility in China views mobility from the perspective of the individual. It imagines a pool of officials who are at risk of moving up a status hierarchy of positions and the goal is to explain why some succeed and others fail. We develop a complementary account that views mobility not from the perspective of the individual, but from the perspective of the organization trying to fill positions. Such a perspective does more justice to the bureaucratic nature of the Chinese party-state in which hiring is centrally coordinated by high-level elites in the CCP. Focusing on the organization directs our attention to the strategies behind personnel management. We argue that those strategies can be studied through an analysis of vacancy chains. Drawing on a novel dataset of more than 2,500 inter-organizational transfers derived from the CVs of more than 4,000 political elites included in the Chinese Political Elite Database, we show that between 1977 and 2012 elites whose transfers are embedded in long vacancy chains are more successful than those whose transfers occur in isolation. In addition, we demonstrate that this career boost occurs after their involvement in vacancy chains and that it is stronger for younger elites than for older ones. We contend that these findings are the result of a strategy of organizational sponsorship pursued by the CCP that results from efforts to integrate the increasingly decentralized Chinese state.

Keywords: organizational mobility, careers, vacancy chains, Chinese state, elites

Suggested Citation

Jia, Shilin and Rhor, Benjamin, Vacancy Chains as Strategy: Inter-Organization Mobility of Political Elites in Reform China (September 14, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Shilin Jia (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Benjamin Rhor


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