Jieun Kim

PhD Candidate

University of California, Berkeley

Welcome! I am a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. I study local government accountability and transparency with a focus on Chinese politics. My dissertation, Local Government Accountability in China: The Center, Local Networks, and the Courts, examines how various political actors strengthen or weaken local government accountability in China.

My research has been supported by the Center for Chinese Studies (CCS), Center for the Study of Law and Society, and Institute for International Studies (IIS) at UC Berkeley, and the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies (KFAS).

Please find my CV here. You can reach me at kimjieun@berkeley.edu.


  • Chinese Bureaucracy
  • Formal Modeling
  • Accountability and Transparency
  • Law and Politics


  • PhD Candidate in Political Science

    University of California, Berkeley

  • MA in Political Science, 2016

    University of California, Berkeley

  • BA in Political Science, 2013

    Seoul National University


Title: Local Government Accountability in China: The Center, Local Networks, and the Courts
Committee: Sean Gailmard (Co-Chair), Kevin O’Brien (Co-Chair), Peter Lorentzen & Rachel Stern

My dissertation examines how various political actors strengthen or weaken local government accountability in China. The first chapter focuses on the central government’s role in crafting policy guidelines that shape local governments’ incentives for implementation. I bring attention to the central leaders’ frequent use of ambiguous policy guidelines during decentralized policy experimentation and explain why. The second chapter explores bottom-up forces in China, devoting attention to one substantive policy area, the Open Government Information (OGI) initiative. I examine how city leaders’ embeddedness in local networks, assessed based on their career trajectory, affects their implementation of government transparency. The third chapter turns to horizontal dynamics between local governments and the courts. I evaluate the impact of the courts’ jurisdiction reform, in particular, centralizing jurisdiction of administrative litigation cases, on local government interference with court decisions in the OGI litigation.

Chapter 1. Do at Your Own Risk: A Model of Delegation with Ambiguous Guidelines

In the process of decentralized policy experimentation, the Chinese leaders have often provided ambiguous policy guidelines to their local agents. While ambiguity can give local agents flexibility in policy implementation, it can also induce their self-censorship behavior by making them unsure about the boundaries of discretion. Incorporating both perspectives, this article proposes a formal model that analyzes a situation in which ambiguity permits more policy choices for certain types of local agents while constraining options for others. The model shows that ambiguity induces only the competent type of local agents—or those who are confident in producing good outcomes—to initiate a “gray-area policy” at their own risk, while deterring the incompetent type from doing so. I illustrate the model with the case of the state-owned enterprise reform in China. The argument is broadly applicable to interactions between any upper- and lower-level actors in bureaucratic hierarchy.

Chapter 2. Local Embeddedness and City Leaders’ Incentives for Government Transparency in China

What explains the variation in local government transparency in authoritarian regimes? I examine how city leaders’ embeddedness in local networks, assessed based on their career trajectory, affects their implementation of government transparency. I find that embedded leaders (“insiders”) perform worse on proactively disclosing government information but perform better on responding to citizens’ information disclosure requests, compared to non-embedded leaders (“outsiders”). I argue that while embedded leaders might not bother proactively to disclose information that would embarrass local influentials, they still endeavor to fulfill disclosure requirements upon requests, in part owing to their affinity to the local population. I rely on an original dataset of prefectural-level cities’ annual OGI reports between 2008 and 2016 as well as interviews with government officials and policy experts in China.

Chapter 3. Centralizing Jurisdiction of Administrative Litigation and Judicial Independence in China In progress.

Working Papers

Closing Open Government: Grassroots Policy Conversion of China’s Open Government Information Regulation and Its Aftermath
Jieun Kim, Rachel Stern and Benjamin Liebman

How and when do opportunities for political participation through courts change under authoritarianism? Although China is better known for tight political control than for political expression, the 2008 Open Government Information (OGI) regulation ushered in a surge of political-legal activism. We draw on an original dataset of 57,095 OGI lawsuits, supplemented by interview data and government documents, to show how a feedback loop between judges and court users shaped possibilities for political activism and complaint between 2008 and 2019. In contrast to the conventional explanation that authoritarian leaders crack down on legal action when they feel politically threatened, we find that courts minted, defined and popularized new legal labels to cut off access to justice for the minority of super-active litigants whose lawsuits had come to dominate the OGI docket. This study underscores the power of procedural rules and frontline judges in shaping possibilities for political participation under authoritarianism.

Understanding Experimentation and Implementation: A Case Study of China’s Government Transparency Policy
Jieun Kim and Kevin O’Brien

Using the case of China’s Open Government Information (OGI) policy, we reconcile two competing images of Chinese local governance: the positive image of decentralized policy experimentation that has contributed to adaptability and the resilience of the regime, and the negative image of policy misimplementation, including “uneven implementation” across regions and “selective implementation” of some measures but not others. In doing so, we recount the history of the OGI policy, tracing two decades of experimentation from Premier Zhao Ziyang’s first mention of government transparency in 1988 to the passage of national legislation in 2008 and over a decade of nationwide implementation since then. While its history, at least at first glance, conforms to the familiar storyline of nimble experimentation and problematic implementation, we demonstrate that the pattern of central-local interactions in the realm of OGI is most clearly related to the nature of OGI as a top-down initiative designed to monitor local officials and has little to do with reliably “successful” or “unsuccessful” phases in the Chinese policy process.

Resistance or Calling on the Big Brother? A Model of Local Protests in Authoritarian Regimes
Dogus Aktan and Jieun Kim

Recent scholarship suggests that protests in authoritarian regimes do not necessarily reflect regime weaknesses, because they provide central leaders with information about misconduct by local officials. However, such alliances between protesters and central leaders do not always appear. To explain when and how protesters successfully sound “fire alarms” that are heeded by the Center, we develop a formal model and argue that protesters do so only when their interests are sufficiently aligned with the leaders’ interests. We illustrate the model with the case of China, revisiting the “rightful resistance” thesis in the literature. Implications of this model are broadly applicable to any situation that involves the principal-agent relationship and a third party.

  • Presented at the 2020 SPSA Annual Meeting


PS 3: Introduction to Empirical Analysis and Quantitative Methods
    Undergraduate-level course, UC Berkeley, Fall 2017
    Graduate Student Instructor for Professor Jason Wittenberg
    Lecture Syllabus, Section Syllabus
    Teaching materials

PS 232A: Formal Models of Political Science
    Graduate-level course, UC Berkeley, Spring 2020
    Graduate Student Instructor for Professor Andrew Little
    Lecture Syllabus
    Teaching materials