Chinese writer Jia Pingwa is rooted in his own origin story. He says in the Afterword to his most recent novel in English translation, Broken Wings, “Your birthplace has determined who you are,” and that here, “I have written about myself, and only myself.” Jia is from Shaanxi Province, which has places so remote that they can barely even be said to be forgotten, as they exist suspended in their own time and space.

For those who wring their hands over unpredictable voting results—for a nation’s president or a potential split from a political and economic union—the fixed expectations of Chinese elections may be oddly calming. Joshua Hill’s new book, Voting as a Rite: A History of Elections in Modern China, offers a tour of Chinese elections going back over a century, arguing that influential policy makers have favored the notion that voters should be unencumbered by real choices and, armed with an understanding of their political station, essentially head to polls in a “rite” that serves the state’s interests.