Political trust in China: evidence from water consumption in Shanghai
AffiliationResource Management and Geography
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr Nahui Zhen
This thesis aims to understand political trust in China through the lens of fresh water consumption in Shanghai. Research on political trust suffers from a case-selection bias. Most of the studies on political trust focus on liberal democracies and this problematizes the generalisability of those findings. In order to broaden the evidence and to test the relevance of existing theories of political trust in a different political context, this thesis answers three questions: 1. what is the influence of demographic factors on political trust? 2. what is the relationship between risk perception and political trust? and 3. what other factors help explain political trust? It answers these questions through an investigation of people’s trust in water management institutions in Shanghai, which grounds the analysis in a specific risk that requires people to trust in public authorities. A combination of qualitative (semi-structured interviews) and quantitative (questionnaire survey) methods is used, supported by secondary data collection. This thesis finds that that some of the explanations of political trust in democratic regimes also apply in China, but with some subtle differences. Demographic factors have a slightly different effect in China: more educated people and people with urban hukou tend to be less trusting than people with less education and rural hukou, while other individual characteristics, such as age, gender, and household income do not have significant influence on political trust. Risk perception and political trust are statistically correlated and seemingly bidirectional, but the association is moderated by some factors. The main difference between people who trust and distrust the government is whether they perceive the existing risks are reasonable and attribute those risks to the fault of the government. Another key finding of this thesis is that for various reasons political trust may not be a meaningful concept for many people in China, at least with respect to water consumption in cities.
Keywordspolitical trust; water consumption; risk perception; demography; China
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