Why has there been uneven success in reducing air pollution even in the same locality over time? This book offers an innovative theorization of how local political incentives can affect bureaucratic regulation. Using empirical evidence, it examines and compares the control of different air pollutants in China-an autocracy-and, to a lesser extent, Mexico-a democracy. Making use of new data, approaches, and techniques across political science, environmental sciences, and engineering, Shen reveals that local leaders and politicians are incentivized to cater to the policy preferences of their superiors or constituents, respectively, giving rise to varying levels of regulatory stringency during the leaders’ tenures. Shen demonstrates that when ambiguity dilutes regulatory effectiveness, having the right incentives and enhanced monitoring is insufficient for successful policy implementation. Vividly explaining key phenomena through anecdotes and personal interviews, this book identifies new causes of air pollution and proposes timely solutions.

Awards: IPPA Early Career Research Award
: Hoover Book Club, Professional Association for China’s Environment Keynote Lecture
Listed: Book Authority’s “20 Best New Regulation Books To Read In 2023”


“Provides a model of impactful public policy scholarship grounded in political science […], embodies high quality mixed methods research and demonstrates the explanatory power that mixed methods research can yield […], provides a model of how to present cutting edge methodological work in broadly accessible terms […], holds real promise of having broad impact well beyond environmental policy and in many geographic contexts outside of the […] main focus on China.”
— American Political Science Association Harold D. Lasswell Award Committee

“A must read for those interested in a nuanced understanding of bureaucratic politics in authoritarian system.”
— Edmund Malesky (Duke University Political Science)

“Establishes her place among the most innovative young scholars working on policy implementation in China today.”
— Andrew Mertha (Johns Hopkins SAIS China Studies), author of China’s Water Warriors

“Breaks new ground in our understanding [of environmental policy implementation in China] through the concept of ‘political regulation waves’.” — Alex Wang (UCLA Law)

“Deepens our understanding of [the] important topic [of the tradeoffs between improvements in environmental quality and economic growth].” — Dean Lueck (IU Bloomington Economics & Ostrom Workshop)