The Spatial Organization of Coercive Institutions in Autocracy: Evidence from China

Dr Adam Yao Liu1

1National University Of Singapore, Singapore

How do authoritarian states organize their coercive institutions over space? We argue that autocrats maximize the utility of limited coercive resources by clustering them with segments of the population that are ideologically distant and have mobilizational potential. We test this proposition through a novel spatial approach, using a dataset that covers the universe of police stations and religious sites in China. We find that foreign religious sites are more likely found within walking distance (e.g., 500m) of police stations than other sites, even after controlling for estimated population within 1km of each site. This finding implies that autocrats seek to increase their coercive capacity without heightening their “security dilemma,” i.e. without increasing spending on coercive institutions that could also threaten them. This insight broadens our understanding of authoritarian rule.


Adam Liu is an Assistant Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. His current research focuses on the political economy of authoritarian rule and development strategies. Field work and data work are both indispensable to his research.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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