“Mao’s last revolution”: A dictator’s loyalty–competence tradeoff

Ying BAI, Titi ZHOU

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Although competent (vs mediocre) subordinates, while better contributors to dictator success, are also more prone to treason, it remains unclear empirically how (and even whether) dictators address this loyalty–competence tradeoff. To throw light on this issue, we use a biographical dataset of Chinese Communist Party Central Committee (CC) members from 1945 to 1982 to investigate the tradeoff faced by Mao Zedong in selecting his senior officials. Our results suggest that during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the foundation and consolidation of the new regime lowered the payoff from subordinate competence, leading to the purging of competent CC members and their replacement by mediocre substitutes. Additional analyses of the competing mechanisms proposed by different theoretical models indicate further that capable young subordinates are more likely to be purged, possibly because they have more outside options (e.g., future hiring by the dictator’s successor) and, hence, expend less effort on loyalty. Copyright © 2019 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-500
JournalPublic Choice
Issue number3-4
Early online date01 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


Bai, Y., & Zhou, T. (2019). “Mao’s last revolution”: A dictator’s loyalty–competence tradeoff. Public Choice, 180(3-4), 469-500. doi: 10.1007/s11127-019-00649-9


  • Loyalty–competence tradeoff
  • Political selection
  • Cultural revolution
  • China


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