Observers of modern China have noted the stark differences in the kinds of public expenditure undertaken by villages in rural China, villages often located right next to each other. The differences in social services and public amenities between villages in rural China cannot be accounted for by just the exercise of democratic activity, nor by direction from the central government. Instead, these differences are produced by the informal means of exercising accountability and control over officials by village and temple organizations, and family lineages. Lily Tsai's book is an exploration of the unseen mechanisms of public life in rural China - a study of how governance in rural China at the local level cannot be understood through democratic institutional forms alone.
Accountability Without Democracy has been selected as the winner of the 2007/2008 Dogan Award from the Society for Comparative Research.