My first book, Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism: The Politics of Property Rights Under Reform, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.

Land reforms have been critical to the development of Chinese capitalism over the last several decades, yet land in China remains publicly owned. The book explores the political logic of reforms to land ownership and control, accounting for how land development and real estate have become synonymous with economic growth and prosperity in China. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and archival research, the book tracks land reforms and urban development at the national level and in three cities (Dalian, Harbin, and Changchun) in a single Chinese region (the Northeast, or dongbei). I find that the initial liberalization of land was reversed after China's first contemporary real estate bubble in the early 1990s and that property rights arrangements at the local level varied widely according to different local strategies for economic prosperity and political stability. In particular, the author links fiscal relations and economic bases to property rights regimes, finding that more "open" cities are subject to greater state control over land.
You can find reviews of the book in Perspectives on Politics, the China Quarterly, and the China Journal.
I was fortunate to discuss my book with Jeremy Wallace at the Chinalab Podcast.

A new book looks at state-business relations in authoritarian Asia, examining contemporary China under the Chinese Communist Party, Malaysia under the United Malay National Organization, and Indonesia under Suharto’s New Order. The book, Precarious Ties: Business and the State in Authoritarian Asia (Oxford University Press, 2023) is the centerpiece of this research agenda. The book answers a series of theoretical questions about the delicate relationship between capitalists and autocrats. What strategies do authoritarian political elites adopt to manage the business class? What kinds of strategies succeed, for example by securing political stability and economic growth, and what kinds fail, either by stymieing economic growth or by generating regime instability?

The book draws on archival research, interviews, and several original datasets to first elaborate two ideal typical models of state-business relations under authoritarianism, and, second, explain why relations appear closer to one pattern or another. The two ideal typical models are mutual alignment, whereby an authoritarian regime organizes its institutions and/ or informal practices to serve the productive interests of business, i.e. to induce capitalists to invest in growth and development, and mutual endangerment, whereby economic elites and political elites are mutually entwined in corrupt dealings and invested in perpetuating each other’s dominance primarily because the loss of power on one side would bring about the demise of the other. Both forms of state-business relations would be described as “cooptation,” but, I argue, they produce vastly different outcomes with regard to both economic growth and political stability. I explain the development of one model over another by looking to the legitimacy of the capitalist class and the regime’s control over financial resources.

I have presented some of the material from the book in various fora. 

At the Harvard Asia Center in fall 2018, and you can listen here. 

At the Stanford Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law in fall 2020, here.


"China's Political Economy and International Backlash: From Interdependence to Security Dilemma Dynamics." International Security. Vol. 47, no. 2 (Fall 2022). (with Margaret M. Pearson and Kellee S. Tsai).

"The Rise of Mafia-Like Business Systems in China." China Quarterly. (forthcoming, online first here). (with Hao CHEN)

"Going Out or Opting Out? Capital, Political Vulnerability, and the State in China's Outward Investment." Comparative Politics Vol. 54, no. 3 (April 2022, online here.)

"The Rise of the Investor State: State Capital in the Chinese Economy." Studies in Comparative and International Development. (September 2020). (with Hao CHEN)

Rithmire, Meg. "Land Institutions and Chinese Political Economy: Institutional Complementarities and Macroeconomic Management.Politics & Society 45, no. 1 (March 2017): 123–153.

Rithmire, Meg. "China's 'New Regionalism': Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy." World Politics 66, no. 1 (January 2014).

Rithmire, Meg. "Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China." China Quarterly, no. 216 (December 2013): 872–895.

Other Publications

"Party-State Capitalism in China." Current History 120 no. 827. (September 2021): 207-213. (with Margaret Pearson and Kellee S. Tsai).

"The Resurgent Role of the State in China's Economy: Experimentation, Domestic Politics, and U.S. Policy." Policy Paper prepared for Penn Project on the Future of U.S.-China Relations. (Spring 2021).

"China Gambles on Modernizing Through Urbanization.Current History 116, no. 791 (September 2017): 203–209. (with Kristen Looney)

*Kristen Looney and I wrote this essay to be an accessible and comprehensive piece for scholars and non-scholars alike on the institutions that structure Chinese capitalism, including those governing land, capital, and labor.

Book Chapters

with Margaret M. Pearson and Kellee S. Tsai. "How does Party-State Capitalism in China interact with Global Capitalism?" Chap. 27 in The China Questions 2: Critical Insights into U.S.–China Relations, edited by Maria Adele Carrai, Jennifer Rudolph, and Michael Szonyi, 250–257. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2022.

"Will Urbanization Save the Chinese Economy or Destroy it?" Chap. 16 in The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power, edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.

"Local States of Play: Land and Urban Politics in Reform-Era China." In Inside Countries: Subnational Research in Comparative Politics, edited by Agustina Giraudy, Eduardo Moncada, and Richard Snyder. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Working Papers

Party-State Capitalism in China (with Margaret Pearson and Kellee S. Tsai)

Abstract: The "state capitalism" model, in which the state retains a dominant role as owner or investor-shareholder amidst the presence of markets and private firms, has received increasing attention, with China cited as the main exemplar. Yet as models evolve, so has China's "state capitalism." We argue that a resurgent party-state, motivated by a logic of political survival, has generated political-economic dynamics that better resemble "party-state capitalism" than familiar conceptualizations of state capitalism. We demonstrate this by examining three prominent manifestations of China's unique model: party-state encroachment on markets; a blending of functions and interests of state and private ownership; and politicized interactions with foreign capital. Nevertheless, there remain deficits in the party-state's hold over capital, some of which themselves result from Beijing's logic of control. By probing the comparative and historical context of this evolution of China's model, we suggest directions for further inquiry on the consequences of party-state capitalism.