About Me

I am a postdoctoral fellow of the Peking-Princeton Postdoctoral Program (PPPP). In AY 2019-20, I am a postdoctoral research associate at the Paul and Marcia Wythes Center on Contemporary China, Princeton University. In AY 2018-19, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Social Research and the School of Government, Peking University. I received my Ph.D. in Political Science at Duke University in 2018.

My research interests include authoritarian politics, behavioral politics, the role of information in politics, and political economy of China. My current research projects primarily involve two topics: 1) political selection in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with a concentration on the behavioral aspect and 2) how the mass public and political elites in China (and across non-democracies) process and respond to political propaganda. My work has been published in Political Communication. My research has been funded by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation (CCKF), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).

Prior to my stay at Duke, I received B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Please feel free to reach me at fl8 [at] princeton.edu.


Lu, Fengming, and Xiao Ma. 2019. “Is Any Publicity Good Publicity? Media Coverage, Party Institutions, and Authoritarian Power-Sharing.” Political Communication 36(1): 64-82. 

Existing literature identifies non-official media as a tool for rulers to gather information from below. We argue that such media also help identify threats among elites. Motivated by profit, partially free media tend to cover politicians who chal- lenge implicit norms of the regime. These political elites are perceived as threats to the power-sharing status quo, which leads peers to sanction them. We test this argument with evidence from the Chinese Communist Party’s intra-party elections of alternate Central Committee members in 2012 and 2007. With Bayesian rank likelihood models, we find that candidates who appeared more frequently in various partially free media received fewer votes from the Party Congress delegates, and this pattern is robust after accounting for a series of alternative explanations. Detailed case studies also show that low-ranked candidates have more partially free media coverage because they broke party norms.

Ungated version with appendix

Working Papers

Ding, Yanqing, Fengming Lu, and Xiaoyang Ye. 2018. “Intergovernmental Transfer under Heterogeneous Accountability: The Effects of the 2006 Chinese Education Finance Reform.”

While intergovernmental transfers are widespread, how local governments in non-democracies allocate fiscal transfers, given they are not electorally accountable, remains unclear. We provide novel natural experimental evidence on how heterogeneous top-down and bottom-up accountabilities affect the allocation of transfer grants in the 2006 Chinese Education Finance Reform. By comparing 1,600 Chinese counties that were treated differently in terms of timing and matching ratios, we show that on average, intergovernmental transfers did not increase total spending levels of public schools even though county governments are formally accountable to upper-level governments. The main causal mechanism is that the transfers crowded out preexisting local public education investments in extra-budgetary accounts that were less closely scrutinized and audited by upper-level governments. Heterogeneity analyses further demonstrate that the policy only improved total spending levels of public schools in counties where public employees had greater means of holding local governments accountable. 

  • Revision requested at Economics of Education Review.

  • Winner of the 2017 Young Scholar Best Paper Award, awarded by the Committee of Education Finance, the Chinese Society of Educational Development Strategy (the think tank of the Chinese Ministry of Education).

Lu, Fengming. 2018. “Carrots or Sticks? Risk Attitudes and Obedience in an Authoritarian Ruling Party.”

While lower-level elites' obedience to higher authority is a key behavioral factor that helps maintain organizational cohesion in authoritarian ruling parties, a few centrifugal forces in single-party regimes may undermine the levels of obedience among party cadres. Leaders of subnational governments have been encouraged to start pilot projects and adopt policy initiatives that deviate from the party's political line. Party discipline, the main instrument of inducing other political elites' obedience in Leninist parties, is not always perfectly enforced. Finally, while a number of defining features of Weberian bureaucracies help induce employees' obedience, such features are often weak or absent in authoritarian ruling parties. While several organizational features of contemporary authoritarian ruling parties may prevent political elites from sticking together, what explains political elites' obedience to the party leadership's authority? This paper argues that risk orientations, a key concept in behavioral research, explain cadres' varying levels of obedience, because risk-acceptant cadres subjectively perceive more gains from the career incentives for innovation and smaller losses from the losses from disciplinary punishment for disobedience. I further argue that risk-acceptant cadres are more likely to disobey because of lower levels of loss aversion. I test the argument with an endorsement experiment and a survey experiment among medium-level and senior cadres in China.

Lu, Fengming, Xiao Ma, and Xufeng Zhu. 2018. “Who Wins Endorsement From Peers? A Survey Experiment on Elite Selection in China.”

While the selection of political officials often involves inputs of peer political elites in authoritarian regimes, how do preferences of political elites at lower levels differ from those of senior regime elites? We argue that medium-level political elites, who share rents of the regime but do not directly participate in power-sharing at the national level, are more prefer competent elites over loyal ones in political selection, even though competence may entail deviations from the norms and rules of the regime. We test our argument with an original and unique conjoint experiment, which simulate the scenarios of intra-party straw polls, among medium-level officials in Chinese local governments. The results support our argument that medium-level elites support candidates who have demonstrated their competence in generating economic growth and maintaining social stability, even they tend to break norms. Strong political connections, however, are not appreciated.