Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD)


Presenting the first empirical study of the change-of-venue (COV) system in Chinese corruption cases, this dissertation assesses the role of the COV system in China’s anti-corruption campaign. Although COV is routinely triggered in Chinese corruption cases, COV remains understudied and poorly understood. Scholars, judges, and practitioners expected that the COV system would increase sentences by removing defendants from the jurisdictions of local judges where they would benefit from bias and cronyism. However, this dissertation’s empirical findings – from an analysis of over 800 corruption cases in Beijing – indicate that, after accounting for other variables, sentences for corruption did not increase after COV. COV utilization patterns and their effects are therefore inconsistent with official claims that the COV is intended to prevent local bias, and also to protect the public image and authority of the judiciary.

Contradicting the accepted wisdom, this dissertation instead demonstrates that COV works to concentrate certain types of corruption cases in a small handful of courts known for efficiently rendering convictions. Given that COV has not achieved its stated goals, this dissertation explores other explanations for its widespread use in anti-corruption cases. Using in-depth, qualitative interviews with procurators, judges, and lawyers, and an institutional analysis of incentive structures shaping the behavior of actors tasked with anti-corruption work, this dissertation reveals that the true incentives for COV lie in serving the political interests and needs of the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership (CCP).

This dissertation presents three potential alternative explanations for COV behavior. First, rather than preventing local judicial bias towards local officials, COV reallocates resources within the city and cracks down on challenging and notorious cases to ensure the rapid and efficient completion of anti-corruption work. Second, COV enables superior party officials to direct offsite anti-corruption forces to investigate corruption cases when the on-site anti-corruption forces have failed to function because they were “captured” by the influence of the same local party leaders whom they were supposed to supervise. This addresses a deep-seated problem with China’s previous anti-corruption system, where local party leaders primarily controlled local anticorruption investigations. The COV system works to undermine local governmental control over local anti-corruption investigations, revitalize the non-functioning local anti-corruption forces, and invigorate China’s recent anti-corruption campaign. Third, due to the institutional problems of the old anti-corruption system, the CCP has sought to weaken local protectionism and consolidate central CCP control. COV helps realize the central CCP’s goal of maintaining leadership in anticorruption, and thus constitutes an essential part of China’s new anti-corruption model. These three alternative explanations help to illuminate COV’s failure to respond to the types of local bias found in the data.

The dissertation ends with a discussion of the limits of the new anti-corruption model in China. Vague laws, weak legal institutions, and insufficient supervision make it easy for the new anti-corruption agency to abuse its anti-corruption power and avoid supervision, so that the whole system ends up relying heavily upon the existence of a strongly committed political leadership.