Bringing Culture Back In: Explaining Constituency Service in Taiwan

Student thesis: Phd


It is no secret that national lawmakers in Taiwan place considerable weight upon constituency service. Legislators are committed to providing services covering almost everything a voter could desire, from booking train tickets and hospital beds, helping with school admissions, searching for missing children, mediating domestic disputes, to attending burials and weddings. Why do voters want their national lawmakers to focus on dealing with people’s personal matters, at the expense of engaging in broader, national issues? Using qualitative, quantitative, and experimental evidence, I argue that particularistic ties (guanxi) profoundly shape the motivations driving voters. First, as a Taiwanese proverb goes, “if you have guanxi, nothing’s the matter. If you don’t have guanxi, everything matters.” The deep-rooted belief among many voters that the way to get things done in Taiwanese society is to utilize informal networks (vs. formal institutions) makes constituent casework vitally important for legislators. Second, guanxi is an invaluable asset. Just as rich families put shining gold on brides, people in a guanxi society are inclined to show off their particularistic ties with Very Important People. The demand for the public display of connection keeps Taiwanese lawmakers exceptionally busy attending various events, especially private weddings and funerals, at the expense of attentiveness to national policy. Third, voters prefer constituency service because of their meta-knowledge of guanxi culture, rather than themselves being guanxi-oriented. The claim that some Taiwanese voters are more traditional and more guanxi-oriented so favour constituency service was not supported by experimental data. Instead, Guanxi shapes voter preferences for service through the extent to which they see Taiwan as a guanxi society. Only when people perceive guanxi to be vital to personal success and access to public goods, will service-focused legislators become appealing to them. Fourth, although guanxi culture clearly promotes constituency service, Taiwanese voters do not substantially prefer service over policy overall. There is no definitive evidence showing that service is more crucial than policy when voters evaluate their lawmakers. Taken together, this thesis is the first systematic study of the effect of guanxi on constituency service in Taiwan. It disentangles different components of guanxi culture and teases out the mechanisms through which an emphasis on particularistic ties encourages service. The implications of these findings extend beyond Taiwan. They vividly demonstrate that culture matters to political representation. While there has been always a trade-off between national policy and constituency service in democracies, culture can pull the balance into one direction or another. Voters in traditional societies can and will draw on familiar cultures, shaping the nature of political representation in their democracies.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Gries (Supervisor) & Elena Barabantseva (Supervisor)


  • Constituency service
  • Particularistic ties
  • Particularism
  • Lawmakers
  • Experiment
  • Constituent service
  • Political representation
  • Political culture
  • Guanxi
  • Taiwan
  • The personal vote

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