Spectacular economic growth in China suggests the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has somehow gotten it right. A key hypothesis across both economics and political science is that the CCP's cadre evaluation system, combined with China's geography-based governing logic, has motivated local administrators to compete with one another to generate high growth. We raise a number of theoretical and empirical challenges to this claim. Using a new biographical database of Central Committee members, a previously overlooked feature of CCP reporting, and a novel Bayesian method which can estimate individual-level correlates of partially observed ranks, we find no evidence strong growth performance was rewarded with higher party ranks at any of the post-reform party congresses. Instead, factional ties with various top leaders, educational qualifications, and provincial revenue collection played substantial roles in elite ranking, suggesting promotion systems served the immediate needs of the regime and its leaders, rather than encompassing goals like economic growth.
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