On Feeding the Masses: An Anatomy of Regulatory Failure in China (Cambridge University Press, 2017)


On Feeding the Masses explores why China’s food safety system is failing despite concerted state efforts to reform its regulatory framework.  Rather than pointing to lack of state capacity, level of economic development, or corruption, the study seeks to gain analytical leverage from the often cited but understudied notion that China’s scale lies at the core of its governance challenges.  The “politics of scale” framework introduced in the book identifies three major sources of conflict in large-scale polities: (1) because scale is a social construct, regulators find it challenging to define the scale – national, provincial, municipal, county, or township - at which a problem is likely to emerge and be effectively resolved; (2) each scale of government operates according to multidimensional logics (temporal frames; types of knowledge; institutional preferences; and managerial styles) that make it difficult to coordinate governance across scales; and (3) scale externalities – decisions at one scale of governance can affect other scales in a nested system in unexpected and costly ways.  In large, heterogeneous polities like China where millions of actors are operating at varying scales or "degrees of zoom" in diverse economic and geographical settings, scale politics are particularly fierce due to evolving social constructs, non-linear dimensions, and scale externalities. Drawing from over 200 interviews with food safety regulators and producers in China’s domestic, export, and organic markets and investigation over a 5 year period, the study seeks to establish new theoretical and empirical ground to explain why China’s fragmented unitary framework is ill-equipped to address its scale politics.  Cross-sectoral illustrations in the aviation, fisheries, and environmental sectors in China highlight how scale politics impact many other economic sectors within China; and cross-national comparisons of Europe, India, and the United States suggest that the politics of scale framework may engage debate about contentious policy arenas and regulatory outcomes in the world's large and complex markets beyond China. 


“Why Food Safety Fails in China: The Politics of Scale.” The China Quarterly, Vol. 223, (2015).


“Regulatory Capitalism and its Discontents: Interdependent Governance and the Adaptability of Regulatory Style” (with Chris Ansell).  Regulation and Governance, Vol. 9:2  (2015).


“Undermining Authoritarian Innovation: The Power of China's Industrial Giants (with Peter Lorentzen and Pierre Landry).  Journal  of Politics, Vol. 76:1 (2014).

Chapters in Books

“Regulatory Governance” in Chris Ansell and Jacob Torfing (eds.) Handbook on Theories of Governance, Edward Elgar Publishing, (2016)

Working Papers

"State within a State: China's Mid-level Policy Entrepreneurs"


"Thin or Thick Convergence: Establishing China's Financial Regulatory System"


"Rethinking Scale: Managing Regulatory Politics in China, the European Union, India, and the United States"

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