Printer Friendly

The "state of the state" in reform-era China.

In her 1994 "state of the field" article, Elizabeth J. Perry criticized the third-generation scholarship on contemporary Chinese politics for being "more concerned with uniformity than with differentiation," reflected in conceptual treatment of "state" and "society" and scholars' preference for national-level over local-level analyses (Perry 1994, 710). For Perry, "Terms such as 'state' and 'society' are simply too gross to capture the enormous variation that differentiates one Chinese region--or level of government--from another" (707). She then urged China scholars to disaggregate the Chinese state and to focus more on local states.

The China field has, to a large extent, evolved along the lines Perry suggested. Since the early 1990s, subnational-level subjects, instead of elite politics and national-level issues, have dominated the landscape of the China field. A great deal of scholarship has concentrated on local state governance and state-society interactions at local levels. Criticizing the scholarly practices of using an undifferentiated "state" concept and of treating the Chinese state as one unitary entity has also become popular in the field.

Using the broader social science literature on the state to reflect on scholarly treatment of the Chinese state, my purpose in this article is to help counterbalance the growing popularity of studies on the transformation of the post-Mao state from local perspectives (local state studies) and its attack on national-level state studies. In what follows, I provide a review of literature on the state of the state in China studies and raise an analytical template to look at the nature and general patterns of state transformation since 1978.

National vs. Local State Studies

Today's China scholars tend to criticize national-level state studies for their treatment of the Chinese state as a coherent and unified "actor." (1) An example is the literature that explores the upsurge of "rightful resistance" and other types of popular contention by aggrieved citizens, such as overtaxed peasants, displaced homeowners, and laid-off workers. This literature is precisely based on a rejection of the dichotomies of state-versus-society and emphasizes "unpacking" the state. It argues that the Chinese state is multilayered and that state bureaucrats are subject to different incentive structures and thus often have conflicting interests. Divisions within the state are the key source of rightful resistance (O'Brien and Li 2006; Shi and Cai 2006).

More relevant to the issue in question is that since the early 1990s, a substantial literature on local state studies has accumulated (Blecher 1991; Oi 1992; Oi 1995; Goodman 1997; Oakes 2000; Li 2009). (2) This literature, above all, avoids using the undifferentiated "state" concept on the grounds of China's continental size and great regional diversity. Its point of departure is to examine state transformation at the provincial, prefectural, county or city, township, and village levels (local levels). It tends to focus on the behavior of state bureaucrats and the everyday practices of state agencies at local levels, the two-way transformation and blurred boundaries between state and society, and the discursive and ideological construction of state images (see, for example, Li 2009, 1-2).

The recent review article by David S. G. Goodman, a noted advocate of local state studies, merits some further consideration (Goodman 2009). First, for Goodman, the often-heard statements that the Chinese state has remained unchanged are problematic (Pei 2006, 4). Because these statements are consequences of a disproportionate stress on national-level politics, the solution that Goodman proposes is to focus our attention on local states where changes are most obvious.

Second, in the eyes of Goodman, too few efforts have been devoted to the issue of how to conceptualize the Chinese state. Moreover, the existing prevailing practice has been simply to provide a static picture of state structure. To tackle these problems, he suggested that China scholars adapt perspectives from the broader scholarship, particularly Joel S. Migdal's state-in-society model (Migdal 2001). Goodman also offered a model that examines the transformation of the Chinese state along six dimensions from the local perspective: ideology, social base, regime, government, bureaucracy, and international relations.

These critiques are valid and insightful. Overall, with Vivienne Shue being a notable exception (Shue 1988), (3) China scholars have not paid much attention to the issue of conceptualizing the Chinese state, and given little consideration to engaging state theories in the larger disciplines of social sciences (Shambaugh 2001; Yang 2004). In the genre of national-level state studies, an influential view has held that, despite slow but considerable adjustments in China's political system, "The changes have not yet brought about a systemic transformation; to repeat, at its core it is still a Soviet-Leninist state" (Oksenberg 2001, 25). Claims such as this are products of the long-existing tradition of conceptualizing the PRC state in the field, marked by a focus on the national-level state and an assumption of a unitary concept of the state.

In spite of acknowledging Goodman's critiques, I contend that national-level state studies have been and will continue to remain an equally valuable part of the China field for two reasons. First, the issues of how to treat the "state" concept and how to examine state phenomena have been extraordinarily complicated. Since the late nineteenth century, there have been constant assaults on the "state" concept along theoretical (e.g., early classical and modern pluralism and behaviorism), ideological (e.g., the right and the left), and empirical (e.g., applying the European model of state to other parts of the world) lines. Nevertheless, scholars still commonly use the "state" concept in a manner of regarding the state as an abstraction and a unitary entity. No wonder Margaret Levi lamented, "Despite the multicentury literature on the state, ... state theory remains in its infancy" (2002, 55). (4) Hence, in light of the "state of the state" in the larger disciplines of social sciences, the stock of our accumulative knowledge is not sufficient to effectively tackle the issue in question.

Second, the tradition under attack emerged alongside the birth of the field in the late 1950s. A great deal of the first-generation scholarship contained broad-brush inquiries into the structure and process of the then newly consolidated Chinese communist state. Franz Schurmann, for instance, in his classic book Ideology and Organization in Communist China, wrote, "By the mid-1960s, it was becoming clear that the Chinese Communists were moving in the direction of creating a new organizational trinity of state, where party, government, and army each played a different, vital, and interrelated role" (1968, 12). Schurmann claimed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) served as the keystone for the whole country, and led and controlled the state. This view, along with his phrase "organizational trinity of [the] state," has made a far-reaching impact on the field in terms of shaping our understanding of the PRC state and serving as a textbook formula of conceptualizing the state among later-generation China scholars (White 1991, 12; Shambaugh 2001, 165; Lieberthal 2004, 3, 172).

In spite of losing dominant status to the pluralist model during the period of second-generation scholarship (the late 1960s-1970s) and to local-level politics since the onset of reform (Baum 2007), studies of the national-level state have continued to produce important works (S. Zheng 1997; Shambaugh 2001; Chao and Dickson 2001; Nathan 2003; Wang 2003; Huang 2004; Yang 2004; Y. Zheng 2004; Pearson 2005; Csanadi 2006). (5) Take Dali Yang's book Remaking the Chinese Leviathan: Market Transition and the Politics of Governance in China as an example. Its main argument is that great progress has been achieved in remaking the state, particularly in the arena of economic governance. As a result, the post-Deng Xiaoping state has been transformed into a modern administrative and regulatory state. State transformation, along with large-scale institution building in economic order, has been the key to China's successful market transition and sustained economic growth in the post-Deng era. Despite lack of theoretical discussion on the issue of conceptualizing the Chinese state, Yang's work has contributed greatly to our understanding of how the post-Deng state has evolved, and of how the successful state transformation has impacted China's politico-economic transition.

In short, both Schurmann and Yang are concerned with the national-level Chinese state, and they have offered "stimulating and provocative generalizations that provide intellectual life to the field," borrowing Harry Harding's expression (Harding 1984, 307). In fact, Harding warned the then newly emerging third-generation scholarship not to conduct "narrow studies of local political processes ... at the expense of broad-gauged studies of national level politics," and not to neglect "the broader and more sensitive questions of national policy" (1984, 307). Levi also cautioned that the state "is vast yet full of parts whose connections only make sense if you can grasp the whole" (2002, 51). My stance is that perspectives of the national and local levels are both valid. The former cannot be discarded or replaced by the latter, as many scholars of local Chinese states have claimed. The two perspectives are complementary in shedding light on different aspects of state transformation. Depending on research subjects and purposes, scholars can choose different perspectives in their analyses.

Following Harding's and Levi's instructions, this theoretical article is an attempt to search for "stimulating and provocative generalizations," or to "grasp the whole," with respect to the transformation of the Chinese state since 1978. While appreciating local state studies, I insist that an exclusive focus on local perspectives may run the risk of losing sight of general patterns of national-level politics. Building on Stephen Skowronek's definition of state building, "a reconstruction of the foundations of official power within the state apparatus and a redefinition of the routine mode of governmental operations" (1982,13), this article regards the CCP's state transformation as a two-pronged endeavor. Namely, state transformation proceeds along the two dimensions of "structure" and "modes of governance," each of which is explored from several aspects. Based on a review of relevant research in the field, this study seeks to provide a broad-brush portrayal of state transformation in reform-era China, and to reveal some of the general patterns of China's political development.

State Transformation in Its Structure and Modes of Governance

At the early stage of the reform era, Deng Xiaoping laid out the principles for China's state transformation in his two foundation-setting speeches: "On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership" and "Streamlining Organizations Constitutes a Revolution." Deng said, "It is time for us to distinguish the responsibilities of the Party and those of the government and to stop substituting the former for the latter" (Deng 1984, 303). Concurrently, he warned that the purpose was to maintain and strengthen, rather than to weaken or relax, CCP leadership. Deng urged the importance of replacing old and ailing state cadres with younger ones who were energetic and able. The criterion should be "selecting the virtuous and appointing the able." "This embraces the three qualifications of political quality, competence and experience" (Deng, 378). For Deng, it was of crucial importance that the state functioned more efficiently and state bureaucrats possessed higher-level education and expertise.

Confronted with a situation in which the Party was in a serious legitimacy crisis resulting from the disasters of the Cultural Revolution, Deng masterminded the shift from class struggle to economic development. Promoting economic growth, however, needed a competent administrative state, which in turn required a certain level of separation between the Party and the state. The Maoist totalistic party-state had to be transformed. This transformation, initiated by Deng, began with a selective retreat of the Party from the state. State transformation has consisted of two elements. The first is to grant the state greater operational autonomy and to separate the state from itself organizationally or functionally to varying extents depending on levels of hierarchy and specific sectors or issue areas. With the first being a precondition, the second is to devote substantial efforts to modernizing the state (cf. Shirk 1992; S. Zheng 1997).

It needs to be noted that the current academic discourse is mostly about the transformation of state structure, as demonstrated below. Bureaucratic restructuring and civil service reform have been systematically documented and analyzed. Regulatory state building has attracted greater attention in recent years, but the research is still in the early stage. In comparison, while a large amount of research exists on how the post-Mao state has adjusted its approach for managing socioeconomic affairs and, consequently, how the patterns of state-society interaction have evolved, these studies are scattered and not directed at the issue of state transformation. Using the notion of "modes of governance," this article reinterprets the changes related to the state's approach for tackling socioeconomic affairs as changes of state transformation in its modes of governance.

State Transformation in Its Structure: Achievements

State transformation in its structure encompasses three intertwined parts: bureaucratic restructuring, civil service reform, and regulatory state building. Bureaucratic restructuring, or government reform, was undertaken in 1982,1988,1993,1998,2003, and 2008. The focus has been on the restructuring of the State Council and subnational governments. Each round occurred in a certain context, such as the stage of economic reforms, power struggles among top leaders, and influence from the West. In addition to reducing the government's financial burdens by removing personnel and shedding nonessential functions, another main theme has dealt with how to adjust the government's structure and functions periodically to facilitate the expanding and functioning of markets, and hence to advance economic reform (Brodsgaard 2002; Burns 2003; Y. Zheng 2004; Yeo 2009).

In addition, elements of Weberian bureaucracy, such as recruitment based on expertise and technical competence, increased specialization and clear division of labor, and adherence to formal rules and norms, have been set up as overarching guiding principles. Efforts to import a rational-legal order manifest themselves most clearly in civil service reform. In the wake of the 1992 Fourteenth Party Congress, which fully endorsed markets, "Provisional Regulations Concerning Civil Servants" was published in 1993, and civil service reform was instituted. It was hoped that the new civil service system would lead to a smaller but more efficient and professional bureaucratic system to better serve the market economy (Burns 2001; OECD 2005).

Since the early 1990s, as a result of consistent policy learning on the "independent regulator" model from the West, a number of regulatory institutions in financial services (e.g., securities, insurance, and banking) and infrastructure industries (e.g., telecommunications, aviation, and electric power) have been established. The objective is to keep government intervention at arm's length, make state-owned business entities operate more like autonomous private entities, create a level playing field for all market players, and improve the transparency and expertise of the regulators. Consequently, it has been argued that a modern regulatory state is gradually taking shape in China (Yang 2004; OECD 2005, 275-300; Pearson 2005).

State Transformation in Its Modes of Governance: Achievements

State transformation in its structure is accompanied by adaptations in its modes of governance, as classified into the four categories listed below. Serving as a heuristic analytical tool, this taxonomy is by no means exhaustive or mutually exclusive.

From Dilettante Administration to Bureaucratic Administration

If we use Max Weber's terminology, China's government administration was a "dilettante administration" rather than a "bureaucratic administration" (Weber 1969) (6) at the outset of reform in that it was heavily influenced by Party loyalty, factionalism, the Confucian moral order, and interpersonal reciprocal obligation or guanxi (Harding 1981; Pye 1995; Burns 2001). Since the onset of reform, China has to a large degree followed the Western experience and Weber's formulation that bureaucratization is an indispensable precondition, stage, component, and result of modernization (Weber 1969, 77-128, 196-244).

Driven by the needs to attract foreign investment and fulfill World Trade Organization requirements, as well as create a sound environment for the functioning of a market economy (e.g., enforce contracts, protect property rights, resolve disputes, and tackle white-collar crimes), waves of large-scale lawmaking have occurred (Lieberthal 2004, 17677). As a result, people's congresses at both national and local levels have obtained greater autonomy and have also become more assertive. At least from appearance, a relatively sound legal system and a rule-by-law environment have come into being. These encouraging changes place greater restraints on and enhance the predictability of the exercise of state power (Tanner 1999; Cho 2009).

The recent project titled Institutionalization of Legal Reforms in China (ILRC) reached the following conclusion: "The unusual combination of courts, markets and Leninism in contemporary China is not as incongruous as it may appear at first glance" (Landry, Tong, and Mingming 2009, 12). The project finds that the Party views legal reform as useful for strengthening its legitimacy, and thus has actually played some positive role in advancing legal reform, rather than impeding it.

Finally, conventional wisdom has held that elite politics has become more rational and predictable, and much of its long-existing informal dimension has faded away due to a greater level of institutionalization. The Party has placed more emphasis on procedural legitimacy (Nathan 2003; Miller 2008). All in all, the regularity and predictability of China's government administration have been considerably enhanced.

From Totalistic to More Participatory

Accompanied by the abandonment of an all-inclusive role, the post-Mao state encourages, or tolerates, greater participation of its citizens and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in China's system of governance. For the state, the act of bringing in nonstate actors aims at enhancing the efficiency, effectiveness, and responsiveness of grassroots-level governance, local social problem solving, and public service provision and delivery. These changes not only supplement the incapacities of the state in many arenas but also increase citizens' political participation. They thus have positive political implications. For instance, the state encourages greater participation of nonstate stakeholders in lawmaking, as well as self-governance in rural villages and urban residence-based communities. It also allows environmental NGOs to play a role in raising citizens' environmental awareness and exposing the activities of local businesses that are detrimental to the environment (Howell 2004a; Yu 2008).

Particularly noteworthy is the emergence of new types of NGOs that help protect vulnerable social groups that are victims of China's industrialization, marketization, and dismantling of the traditional social safety net (Howell 2004b). Recent empirical studies along this line of analysis have proliferated. Examples include the emergence of nongovernment schools for the children of migrant workers (Kwong 2004), the survival of nongovernment welfare institutions for orphaned and abandoned children (Shang, Wu, and Wu 2005), the growth of private rights-protection (weiquan) lawyers and public-interest lawyering for vulnerable groups such as laid-off workers and dispossessed peasants (Fu and Cullen 2008), and the use of neighborhood communities as social security institutions for the urban poor (Heberer 2009).

From Interventionism to Regulatory Governance

Before reform, in addition to making decisions and implementing policies, government departments also interfered with the day-to-day functioning of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as owners and producers. These interventionist approaches led to the fusion of governments and enterprises, which resulted in low efficiency. Since the mid-1990s, the central authority has launched the corporatization movement, in which a large number of large and medium SOEs have been spun off from their patrons (e.g., ministerial departments) and then corporatized as presumably autonomous business entities possessing clarified legal rights and obligations. The ministerial departments were either downsized, eliminated, merged with other departments, or required to change their ways of treating SOEs from interventionist approaches to those of macromanagement and long-term policy guidance (Pearson 2007).

Since 1992, particularly since the late 1990s, the post-Deng leadership has devoted great efforts to both economic regulation and social regulation. Institutions of economic regulation that are based on the Western independent-regulator model have been established in economic sectors such as securities, insurance, banking, telecommunications, aviation, and electric power. For social regulation, the government has been working hard to create regulatory oversight bodies to manage risks in areas such as environment, public health, mining, and food and drug production (OECD 2005,275-300; Tam and Yang 2005; Pearson 2007; Wang 2006; Suttmeier 2008). The post-Deng regime's efforts to corporatize SOEs and build institutions of economic and social regulations suggest that China may converge with the developmental path that advanced countries have undertaken since the late 1970s--that is, from interventionism to regulatory governance. (7)

Importing Elements of New Public Management

The post-Mao regime's move to import some elements of new public management (NPM) manifest itself clearly in sectors such as SOEs, civil service, housing, education, health care, pension, and the legal profession, for which measures of marketization, privatization, and borrowing private sector-style management have been adopted. These are accompanied by the state's shifting some of its nonessential functions to the private sector and society (Lee and Lo 2001; Zhu 2004; World Bank 2005; Gu and Zhang 2006; Mok and Ngok 2008).

For example, in the pre-reform era China's higher education was centralized and state dominated. Issues such as curricula, textbooks, funding, student enrollment, faculty management, graduate placement, and academic programs were all under central control. The state also covered student costs of tuition and fees, medical care, and partial living expenses. After three decades of reform, markets have made big strides. Major achievements include marketizing graduate job placement, importing market mechanisms into talent cultivation, introducing tuition charges, and encouraging universities to generate revenues outside state funds. Consequently, the financial burden of the government has been reduced, and universities have responded to labor market demands more effectively and efficiently. For instance, in 1993, the ratio of tuition to overall university financing was 7.68 percent, while in 2002, it increased to 26.94 percent. In recent years, society and individuals have contributed over 50 percent of overall higher education expenses, of which tuition has covered over one fourth (Kang 2005, 120).

Party Rule and Limitations of State Transformation

Alongside the achievements surveyed above have been severe limitations of state transformation. First, regarding administrative state building, behind the often-heard official rhetoric of building a smaller but more efficient government is the chief principle that the Party's self-interest cannot be endangered. For instance, in his study on the bianzhi system and its role in China's bureaucratic restructuring, Kjeld Erik Brodsgaard has concluded that the source of obstacles in the restructuring was Party rule. In his words, "The Party is not willing to allow the creation of a leaner and more efficient public sector at the expense of Party control" (2002, 386). On government retrenchment in the 1990s, John Burns wrote in a similar vein, "The Party's goal of maintaining as many official positions as possible to preserve political patronage and social stability conflicts with the need to curb administrative expenses and cut government deficits" (2003, 775).

Second, out of fear that the newly created civil service system may become an alternative force that would endanger Party rule, the postDeng regime has subordinated the civil service system to its cadre system. On the contrary, establishing a Weberian ideal-type bureaucracy would require appointing and promoting civil servants according to merit, rather than according to their political credentials or political loyalty. There should also be compliance with the principle of political neutrality and protection from political interference (Burns 2001).

Third, despite a remarkable array of legal reforms, "The empirical facts and the mechanisms that are identified in the ILRC project all occur in a context of constrained reforms" (Landry, Tong, and Mingming 2009, 12-13), or like a "bird in a cage," to borrow Stanley Lubman's term (Lubman 1999). Much of the conventional wisdom has remained that the principle of rule of law is unlikely to be erected because, in practice, law is subject to Party will. Furthermore, enforcing the rule of law requires an independent judicial system and genuine public participation. In the end, lack of rule of law imposes fundamental restrictions on depersonalization, abstraction, and codification, which in turn makes bureaucratization and China's quest for a rational-legal order difficult to achieve (cf. Boisot and Child 1996).

Fourth, with respect to regulatory state building, despite impressive progress in importing the independent-regulator model, Margaret Pearson cautioned that China's newly established regulators in strategic industries did not really function in a way that their Western counterparts did. The reason was that, for the post-Deng regime, large SOEs in strategic industries were too important, and thus the regime actually enhanced its control by means of "state ownership of key assets, power over personnel appointments undergirding a strong patronage system, and comprehensive oversight and planning by central party-state agencies" (Pearson 2007,725). Similarly, Sebastian Heilmann held that the crux of the problem in China's financial system was the regime's "conflicting mandates"--namely, creating the facade of an international standard-based financial regulatory system on the one hand while placing the personnel of regulatory bodies and newly corporatized SOEs under the strict control of its nomenclatura system (Heilmann 2005, 20). From Pearson and Heilmann, we know that thanks to Party rule, China's newly established regulators are not "independent" in reality.

Limitations due to Party rule exist not only in economic regulation but also in social regulation. In recent years, there have been numerous reports about China's widespread industrial accidents, environmental neglect, and safety problems involving goods, food, and drugs. Richard Suttmeier offered a timely research report questioning the current belief in China that the solution was to develop sophisticated regulatory capabilities, an act that was primarily viewed as the government's responsibility. Drawing upon historical and comparative experiences, Suttmeier contended that China's strategy of reforming state regulatory agencies was necessary but not sufficient. It was more important for China to adopt "decentralized mechanisms for identifying risks, for developing science-based health and safety standards, and for ensuring the accountability of public and private actors responsible for creating hazards" (Suttmeier 2008, 130). All of these, however, required significant political changes.

Fifth, allowing nonstate actors to play a larger role in public problem solving is also subordinate to the constraints of the Party. In their study on welfare provision for vulnerable children, Xiaoyuan Shang, Xiaoming Wu, and Yue Wu found that during economic reforms, the previous system of child protection in which the state was the primary welfare provider had largely collapsed. Domestic and international NGOs and faith-based services had taken the initiative to meet the welfare needs of vulnerable children by mobilizing nongovernmental resources. However, it was difficult for these welfare NGOs to obtain formal registration and legal status due to the current legal framework, which stipulated that only government organizations could run children's welfare homes (Shang, Wu, and Wu 2005). This case study vividly illustrates that while governments are not capable of taking up the responsibility of protecting vulnerable children, and sometimes are simply evading their responsibilities, the CCP regime still imposes severe restrictions on the spontaneously emerging nongovernmental social welfare sector.

Twenty years have passed since the regime tightened its policy on NGO registration in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, but the legal and management framework for NGOs remains largely intact. In another example of excellent research on post-1989 Chinese civil society, Jude Howell maintained that the new social organizations, which were mostly concerned with the interests of marginalized social groups, had simply adopted the strategy of circumventing state restrictions. Sadly, though these organizations had tried to "influence government policy and the attitudes of officials toward marginalized groups, their influence is at best indirect and at most episodic" (Howell 2004b, 161). The ultimate obstacle, then, is concerned with the nature of the CCP regime. Tony Saich incisively pointed out, "The party's Leninist predisposition makes it wary, at best, and hostile, at worst, to any organization that functions outside of its direct or indirect control" (2006, 288).


State transformation in its structure--encompassing bureaucratic restructuring, civil service reform, and regulatory state building--facilitates market-oriented economic transition by reducing government intervention and the size of the public sector, streamlining and rationalizing the administrative system, and enhancing the expertise and competence of bureaucrats. On the other hand, state transformation in its modes of governance includes enhancing the predictability and regularity of government administration, importing regulatory and NPM-style tools, establishing partnerships with the private sector, and allowing greater involvement of nonstate actors in public problem solving. The objective is to shed some government burdens, supplement the state's financial or institutional capacities, create some form of channel for social groups to articulate their needs or express their grievances, and provide a veneer of public participation. In the view of many scholars and international development organizations, state transformation since 1978 has made impressive progress (Asian Development Bank 2003; Yang 2004; Zheng 2004; Pearson 2005; OECD 2005; Yu 2008).

Indeed, today's Chinese state is a qualitatively different state. At the outset of reform, the Chinese state was a "plan ideological" state. (8) Central planning, public ownership, mass campaigns, and other traditional command and control and coercive approaches were its main modes of governance. Its backbone comprised revolutionary functionaries who received little education and lacked administrative skills. Revolutionary spirit, Party loyalty, guanxi, and seniority were the operating principles of the bureaucracy. By contrast, as the above review shows, after three decades of reform, the Chinese state has been transformed into an institution with newly added elements of Weberian "bureaucratic administration," an NPM-style management system, and modern regulatory capabilities.

The transformation of the Chinese state has far-reaching implications. It is conventional wisdom that China's transition from a planned economy to a rudimentary market economy has been largely successful. In light of Karl Polanyi's view that a modern market economy could not come into being on its own without the state's active promotion (Polanyi 2001, 60), the post-Mao regime's modern state building is crucial to China's market transition. Without a relatively successful market transition, there would have been no sustained rapid economic growth. Economic growth in turn dulls societal legitimacy challenges to Party rule. Furthermore, with the enhanced infrastructural power resulting from state transformation, the Chinese state is capable of meeting new societal demands, which explains why the post-Mao regime has maintained social stability and survived. In this sense, the post-Mao regime's state transformation efforts are the key to its durability and resilience (cf. Yang 2004; Naughton and Yang 2004). (9)

However, state transformation grew out of the regime's self-rescuing intention and is primarily a top-down enterprise. Deng Xiaoping's decision to streamline state organizations was to serve economic development and restore Chinese people's confidence in Party rule in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. Starting from the Fourteenth Party Congress in 1992, the regime placed establishment of a full-blown market economy at the top of its agenda. Then, how to facilitate market expansion and how to build a market-friendly infrastructure became the central tasks of the Chinese state. Accordingly, civil service reform was instituted, lawmaking and legal reform were hastened, and policy dialogues with international development organizations were intensified to import regulatory and NPM-style modes of governance. (10) All these are closely monitored by the Party and are not allowed to go beyond the Party-set "cages," illustrated by the above-discussed limitations in different aspects of state transformation.

Finally, to echo the issue concerning national vs. local state studies that was raised in the beginning of this article, and to conclude with some broad-brush portrayal of the general patterns of China's political development since 1978, I submit that state transformation is of instrumental purpose for the post-Mao regime. For the regime, the state is its agent of governing and instrument of rule. By devoting efforts to modernizing the state, the Party intends to improve the state's governing capacity, rather than develop it into an independent state and a separate source of authority. The ultimate objective of state transformation is to ensure Party rule. Simultaneously, in spite of being put under restraints, the Chinese state has indeed been transformed into a qualitatively different state. This relatively successful transformation has produced a wide-ranging positive impact on advancing China's market transition, promoting economic growth, handling societal disgruntlement, and maintaining social stability. Combined together, these successes have contributed to the durability of Party rule.


Abrams, Philip. 1988. "Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State." Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 1, no. 1 (March), pp. 58-89.

Almond, Gabriel A. 1990. A Discipline Divided: Schools and Sects in Political Science. London: SAGE Publications.

Asian Development Bank. 2003. Development Management: Progress and Challenges in the People's Republic of China. Manila: Asian Development Bank.

Baum, Richard. 2007. "Studies of Chinese Politics in the United States." In Robert Ash, David Shambaugh, and Seiichiro Takagi, eds., China Watching: Perspectives from Europe, Japan and the United States. London: Routledge, pp. 147-168.

Baum, Richard, and Alexei Shevchenko. 1999. "The 'State of the State.'" In Merle Goldman and Roderick MacFarquhar, eds., Paradoxes of China's Post-Mao Reforms. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 333-360.

Blecher, Marc. 1991. "Developmental State, Entrepreneurial State: The Political Economy of Socialist Reform in Xinji Municipality and Guanghan County." In Gordon White, ed., The Chinese State in the Era of Economic Reform: The Road to Crisis. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 265-291.

Boisot, Max, and John Child. 1996. "From Fiefs to Clans and Network Capitalism: Explaining China's Emerging Economic Order." Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 4 (December), pp. 600-628.

Brodsgaard, Kjeld Erik. 2002. "Institutional Reform and the Bianzhi System in China." China Quarterly, no. 170 (June), pp. 361-386.

Burns, John P. 2001. "The Civil Service System of China: The Impact of the Environment." In John P. Burns and Bidhya Bowornwathana, eds., Civil Service Systems in Asia. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, pp. 79-113.

--. 2003. "Downsizing the Chinese State: Government Retrenchment in the 1990s." China Quarterly, no. 175 (September), pp. 775-802.

Chao, Chien-min, and Bruce J. Dickson, eds. 2001. Remaking the Chinese State: Strategies, Society, and Security. London: Routledge.

Cho, Young Nam. 2009. Local People's Congresses in China: Development and Transition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Csanadi, Maria. 2006. Self-Consuming Evolutions: A Model on the Structure, Self-Reproduction, Self-Destruction and Transformation of Party-State Systems Tested in Romania, Hungary and China. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado.

Deng Xiaoping. 1984. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (1975-1982). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

Fu, Hualing, and Richard Cullen. 2008. "Weiquan (Rights Protection) Lawyering in an Authoritarian State: Building a Culture of Public-Interest Lawyering." China Journal, no. 59 (January), pp. 111-127.

Goodman, David S. G. 1997. China's Provinces in Reform: Class, Community, and Political Culture. London: Routledge.

--. 2009. "Sixty Years of the People's Republic: Local Perspectives on the Evolution of the State in China." Pacific Review, vol. 22, no. 4 (September), pp. 429-450.

Gu, Edward, and Jianjun Zhang. 2006. "Health Care Regime Change in Urban China: Unmanaged Marketization and Reluctant Privatization." Pacific Affairs, vol. 79, no. 1 (Spring), pp. 49-72.

Gupta, Akhil. 1995. "Blurred Boundaries: The Discourse of Corruption, the Culture of Politics, and the Imagined State." American Ethnologist, vol. 22, no. 2 (May), pp. 375-402.

Harding, Harry. 1981. Organizing China: The Problem of Bureaucracy, 19491976. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

--. 1984. "The Study of Chinese Politics: Toward a Third Generation of Scholarship." World Politics, vol. 36, no. 2 (January), pp. 284-307.

Heberer, Thomas. 2009. "Relegitimation Through New Patterns of Social Security: Neighbourhood Communities as Legitimating Institutions." China Review, vol. 9, no. 2 (Fall), pp. 99-128.

Heilmann, Sebastian. 2005. "Regulatory Innovation by Leninist Means: Communist Party Supervision in China's Financial Industry." China Quarterly, no. 181 (March), pp. 1-21.

Howell, Jude, ed. 2004a. Governance in China. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

--. 2004b. "New Directions in Civil Society: Organizing Around Marginalized Interests." In Jude Howell, ed., Governance in China. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 143-171.

--. 2006. "Reflections on the Chinese State." Development and Change, vol. 37, no. 2 (March), pp. 273-297.

Hu, Angang, Wang Shaoguang, and Zhou Jianming, eds. 2009. Di erci zhuanxing guojia zhidu jianshe (The Second Transition: State Institutions-Building). Beijing: Tsinghua Daxue Chubanshe.

Huang, Yanzhong. 2004. "The State of China's State Apparatus." Asian Perspective, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 31-60.

Johnson, Chalmers. 1982. MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925-1975. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kang, Ning. 2005. Zhongguo jingji zhuanxing zhong gaodengjiaoyu ziyuan peizhi de zhidu chuangxin (In the Area of Institutional Innovation in Higher Education, Resource Distribution in a Transitional Economy). Beijing: Jiaoyu Kexue Chubanshe.

Kwong, Julia. 2004. "Educating Migrant Children: Negotiations Between the State and Civil Society." China Quarterly, no. 180 (December), pp. 1073-1088.

Landry, Pierre F., Yanqi Tong, and Shen Mingming. 2009. "Introduction: Markets, Courts and Leninism." China Review, vol. 9, no. 1 (Spring), pp. 1-16.

Lee, Peter Nan-Shong, and Carlos Wing-Hung Lo, eds. 2001. Remaking China's Public Management. Westport, CT: Quorum Books.

Levi, Margaret. 2002. "The State of the Study of the State." In Ira Katznelson and Helen V. Milner, eds., Political Science: The State of the Discipline. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, pp. 33-55.

Li, Linda Chelan, ed. 2009. The Chinese State in Transition: Processes and Contests in Local China. London: Routledge.

Lieberthal, Kenneth G. 2004. Governing China: From Revolution Through Reform. New York: W. W. Norton.

Lubman, Stanley B. 1999. Bird in a Cage: Legal Reform in China After Mao. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Migdal, Joel S. 2001. State in Society: Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, Alice L. 2008. "Institutionalization and the Changing Dynamics of Chinese Leadership Politics." In Cheng Li, ed., China's Changing Political Landscape: Prospects for Democracy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, pp. 61-79.

Mok, Ka-Ho, and King Lun Ngok. 2008. "One Country, Diverse Systems: Politics of Educational Decentralization and Challenges for the Regulatory State in Post-Mao China." China Review, vol. 8, no. 2 (Fall), pp. 169-199.

Moran, Michael. 2002. "Review Article: Understanding the Regulatory State." British Journal of Political Science, vol. 32, no. 2 (April), pp. 391-413.

Nathan, Andrew. 2003. "Authoritarian Resilience." Journal of Democracy, vol. 14, no. 1 (January), pp. 6-17.

Naughton, Barry J., and Dali Yang. 2004. "Holding China Together: Introduction." In Barry J. Naughton and Dali Yang, eds., Holding China Together: Diversity and National Integration in the Post-Deng Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-25.

Nettl, J. P. 1968. "The State as a Conceptual Variable." World Politics, vol. 20, no. 4 (July), pp. 559-592.

Oakes, Tim. 2000. "China's Provincial Identities: Reviving Regionalism and Reinventing 'Chineseness.'" Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 59, no. 3 (August), pp. 667-692.

O'Brien, Kevin J., and Lianjiang Li. 2006. Rightful Resistance in Rural China. New York: Cambridge University Press.

OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). 2002. Regulatory Policies in OECD Countries: From Interventionism to Regulatory Governance. Paris: OECD.

--. 2005. China in the Global Economy: Governance in China. Paris: OECD.

Oi, Jean C. 1992. "Fiscal Reform and the Economic Foundations of Local State Corporatism in China." World Politics, vol. 45, no. 1 (October), pp. 99-126.

--. 1995. "The Role of the Local State in China's Transitional Economy." China Quarterly, no. 144 (December), pp. 1132-1149.

Oksenberg, Michel. 2001. "China's Political System: Challenges of the Twenty-First Century." China Journal, vol. 45, no. 1 (January), pp. 21-35.

Pearson, Margaret M. 2005. "The Business of Governing Business in China: Institutions and Norms of the Emerging Regulatory State." World Politics, vol. 57, no. 2 (January), pp. 296-322.

--. 2007. "Governing the Chinese Economy: Regulatory Reform in the Service of the State." Public Administrative Review, vol. 67, no. 4 (July/ August), pp. 718-730.

Pei, Minxin. 2006. China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Perry, Elizabeth J. 1994. "Trends in the Study of Chinese Politics: State-Society Relations." China Quarterly, no. 139 (September), pp. 704-713.

Polanyi, Karl. 2001. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston: Beacon Press.

Pye, Lucian W. 1995. "Factions and the Politics of Guanxi: Paradoxes in Chinese Administrative and Political Behavior." China Journal, no. 34 (July), pp. 35-53.

Saich, Tony. 2006. "Negotiating the State: The Development of Social Organizations in China." In Lowell Dittmer and Guoli Liu, eds., China's Deep Reform: Domestic Politics in Transition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 285-301.

Schurmann, Franz. 1968. Ideology and Organization in Communist China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Shambaugh, David. 2001. "The Chinese State in the Post-Mao Era." In David Shambaugh, ed., The Modern Chinese State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 161-187.

--. 2008. China's Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Shang, Xiaoyuan, Xiaoming Wu, and Yue Wu. 2005. "Welfare Provision for Vulnerable Children: The Missing Role of the State." China Quarterly, no. 181 (March), pp. 122-136.

Shi, Fayong, and Yongshun Cai. 2006. "Disaggregating the State: Networks and Collective Resistance in Shanghai." China Quarterly, no. 186 (June), pp. 314-332.

Shirk, Susan L. 1992. "The Chinese Political System and the Political Strategy of Economic Reform." In Kenneth G. Lieberthal and David M. Lampton, eds., Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 59-91.

Shue, Vivienne. 1988. The Reach of the State: Sketches of the Chinese Body Politic. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Skocpol, Theda. 1985. "Bringing the State Back In: Strategies of Analysis in Current Research." In Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol, eds., Bringing the State Back In. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 3-37.

Skowronek, Stephen. 1982. Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Suttmeier, Richard P. 2008. "The 'Sixth Modernization'? China, Safety, and the Management of Risks." Asia Policy, no. 6 (July), pp. 129-146.

Tam, Waikeung, and Dali Yang. 2005. "Food Safety and the Development of Regulatory Institutions in China." Asian Perspective, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 5-36.

Tanner, Murray Scot, 1999. The Politics of Lawmaking in Post-Mao China, Institutions, Processes and Democratic Prospects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wang, Shaoguang. 2003. "The Problem of State Weakness." Journal of Democ racy, vol. 14, no. 1 (January), pp. 36-42.

--. 2006. "Regulating Death at Coalmines: Changing Mode of Governance in China." Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 15, no. 46 (February), pp. 1-30.

Weber, Max. 1969. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Translated, edited, and with an introduction by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

White, Gordon. 1991. "The Chinese Developmental State in the Reform Era." In Gordon White, ed., The Chinese State in the Era of Economic Reform: The Road to Crisis. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 1-20.

World Bank. 2005. China: Deepening Public Service Unit Reform to Improve Service Delivery. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Yang, Dali. 2004. Remaking the Chinese Leviathan: Market Transition and the Politics of Governance in China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Yeo, Yukyung. 2009. "Remaking the Chinese State and the Nature of Economic Governance? The Early Appraisal of the 2008 'Super-Ministry' Reform." Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 18, no. 62 (November), pp. 729-743.

Yu, Keping, ed. 2008. Zhongguo zhili bianqian 30 nian, 1978-2008 (China's Political Reform Toward Good Governance, 1978-2008). Beijing: Shehuikexue Wenxian Chubanshe.

Zheng, Shiping. 1997. Party vs. State in Post-1949 China: The Institutional Dilemma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zheng, Yongnian. 2004. Globalization and State Transformation in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zhu, Sanzhu. 2004. "Reforming State Institutions: Privatizing the Lawyers' System." In Jude Howell, ed., Governance in China. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 58-76.


Qinghua Wang is an assistant professor of political science at the School of Public Economics and Administration and the Center for Public Governance, Shanghai University of Finance & Economics, China. He can be reached at qwanguo

This research was sponsored by grants from China's Ministry of Education: the Scientific Research Foundation for the Returned Overseas Chinese Scholars, and General Project of Humanities and Social Sciences "State-Building in Contemporary China" (Award # 10YJC810043). I wish to thank Gang Guo, Richard Lachmann, Linda Chelan Li, Ting Gong, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments.

(1). The contrast of national vs. local state studies, discussed in this article, does not mean an outright dichotomy. Many of the scholars cited in the article, e.g., Franz Schurmann and Dali Yang, have examined the Chinese state from national and local perspectives. Using the contrast between national and local state studies is intended to demonstrate that there have indeed been two strands of scholarship when looking at the transformation of the state in the People's Republic of China (PRC), as well as to serve as a lens for assessing the state of the China field.

(2). Also see the review articles by Baum and Shevchenko 1999; Howell 2006; and Goodman 2009.

(3). As a pioneering China statist, Shue, drawing upon the broader scholarship, strongly rejected dichotomized abstractions like "state" and "society" when analyzing the contemporary Chinese state. Instead, she proposed a process approach labeled "social intertexture," similar to Migdal's state-in-society model.

(4). For influential works on relevant debates in the broader scholarship, also see Nettl 1968; Skocpol 1985; Abrams 1988; Almond 1990; Gupta 1995; and Migdal 2001.

(5). For the growing Chinese-language publications on state transformation in recent years, see, for example, Hu 2009.

(6). According to Weber, "bureaucratic administration," characterized by hierarchy, continuity, impersonality, and expertise, only emerged in modern states (1969, 196). One of the opposite types was "dilettante administration," which originally referred to pre-Progressive Era America's administration that was fused with its party politics and spoils system (1969, 107-111).

(7). For regulatory governance, the state focuses on how to build a sound infrastructure for well-functioning markets and on regulating stakeholders' behavior at arm's length. Government measures are incentive driven and the state uses markets or quasi-markets in economic competition, social welfare protection (e.g., environmental quality, workplace safety, and consumer protection), and public service provision and delivery. For relevant discussion, see Moran 2002; OECD 2002.

(8). According to Chalmers Johnson, "Economies of the Soviet type are not plan rational but plan ideological. In the Soviet Union and its dependencies and emulators, state ownership of the means of production, state planning, and bureaucratic goal setting are not rational means to a developmental goal; they are fundamental values in themselves, not to be challenged by evidence of either inefficiency or ineffectiveness" (Johnson 1982, 18).

(9). For discussions on the resilience of the post-1989 regime, see Nathan 2003 and Shambaugh 2008.

(10). For instance, the landmark "China Governance Project"--i.e., China and the OECD making governance the focus of cooperation for 2003 and 2004--illustrates how important the issue of policy learning on "best practices" in Western public management has been for the regime (OECD 2005). Also see other similar policy dialogues between the Chinese government and international development organizations, e.g., Asian Development Bank 2003 and World Bank 2005.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Lynne Rienner Publishers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Wang, Qinghua
Publication:Asian Perspective
Date:Mar 22, 2011
Previous Article:North Korean migrants: a human security perspective.
Next Article:The role of political leadership in the formation of Korea-Japan relations in the post-cold war era.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters