The Sudden Expansion and Contraction of China’s Microfinance for Women Program

China scholars have explored shirking by local officials and “effective implementation,” but fewer have examined polices that are implemented with great enthusiasm. The Microfinance for Women Program fits in this last category. Especially in Sichuan, targets for lending were set by the province, exceeded, raised, and then exceeded again. The immediate reason that loan-making took off in 2012 was the relaxation of collateral requirements that shifted the risk of defaults away from local authorities. But the surge in lending also had deeper roots in the policy’s vagueness, institutional incentives, bureaucratic pressure, and local fiscal and organizational interests. Although enthusiastic implementation occurred (and generated much-needed revenues for local governments), the history of the program also shows that it can be halted, as the authorities did when instability loomed and they reversed bureaucratic pressure by calling for local cost-sharing and introducing uncertainty over whether interest subsidies would continue.

About the speaker: Kevin O’Brien is the Alann P. Bedford Professor of Asian Studies and Professor of Political Science. He is also the Director of Berkeley’s Institute of East Asian Studies and the Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies. He is the author of Rural Politics in Contemporary China (Routledge, 2014) and Grassroots Elections in China(Routledge, 2011), and the editor of Popular Protest in China (Harvard, 2008).

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