AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 270

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 270: Patterns of Governance in Contemporary China

Organizer: Bruce Dickson, George Washington University, USA

Discussant: Richard Baum, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

For much of the post-Mao era, China specialists have been looking for signs of democratization, with little success. Nevertheless, important changes are taking place that are having an effect on what people get from the state, what they expect from the state, and what they give to the state in return. The papers for this panel analyze patterns of governance in rural and urban China, and are based on a combination of survey data, aggregate data, and extensive field work, including interviews. Zhao and Oi examine changes in local administration and organization, in particular how the recentralization of financial controls have led to changes in where people live and work. Whiting’s paper shows how the recentralization of fiscal policy has compelled local governments to see the sale of land rights as a key source of revenue, but in the process have undermined the ability of individual families to control the land they farm and live on. Saich reveals the dramatic shift in the relationship between state and society, as good and services that formerly were provided by the workplace are now the responsibility of the workplace. Dickson’s paper evaluates citizens’ assessment of their local governments’ provision of public goods and asks whether better governance lead to higher levels of public support for the government, even in the absence of democratic institutions. Although these changes are not redefining the nature of the Chinese political system, they are leading us to reassess our assumptions about the Chinese political system.

In Search of Good Governance and Public Goods in Rural China
Shukai Zhao, Independent Scholar, China

Governance of China’s rural communities have experienced a recentralization of administrative control as the upper levels attempt to reign in corruption to ensure political stability. Beginning in the late 1990s villages started to turn over control of their finances to townships. Most recently, villages are being merged and relocated into a new form of organization called rural shechu, which have been formed in the name of more efficiently and effectively providing public goods. Peasants are being moved from their former houses into high rises with running water and central heating. Based on survey data and recent field work, this paper will explore the political implications of such administrative and organizational changes in China’s rural communities. It will examine the impact of these changes on local governance, looking explicitly at village elections and incentives for rural cadres and their effects on the role of local government.

Fiscalization of Land and Public Goods Provision
Susan H. Whiting, University of Washington, USA

Property rights security is a defining element of good governance. Provision of public goods like schools, roads, and water is another aspect of good governance. However, in the context of rural China, I hypothesize, secure property rights in land and provision of public goods may be inversely related. The proposed paper will argue that this paradox results from the fiscalization of land. In the context of centralization of fiscal revenue and decentralization of expenditure responsibility, provision of public goods like local schools and roads has been underfunded. In addition, the recent tax-for-fee reform and abolition of the agriculture tax has limited the formal revenue-generating authority of villages, while only partially replacing the lost revenue with fiscal transfers. Land is one of the most valuable assets in the rural economy. Villages (along with counties and townships) use this asset to generate revenue by controlling fees from the transfer of land from agricultural to non-agricultural uses, weakening the security of property rights of farm households, which receive inadequate compensation for land takings and are subject to reallocation of remaining land holdings. The proposed paper will draw on the existing literature in Chinese and English and on new interview and survey work in process in the field to develop and test this hypothesis. Security of property rights in land is captured through the frequency of changes in households’ land holdings and the incidence of land disputes. Provision of public goods is captured through expenditure data and physical measures.

Urban Governance and Public Goods Provision
Anthony J. Saich, Harvard University, USA

Reforms in urban China have had a significant impact on the provision of public goods and services. Local government has taken on services formerly covered by the workplace for those in the formal sector of the economy and has tried to extend service to those not previously covered. Does this mark an end to China’s Bismarkian approach to service provision and the emergence of provision based on citizenship rather than accident of birth or place of work? The shift in provision changes the relationship of individuals to both the workplace and local government. This paper will explore these changes with reference to the introduction of the minimum living standard scheme and the expansion of the urban pension program.

They Have Issues: Do Public Goods Produce Public Support in China?
Bruce Dickson, George Washington University, USA

Why do authoritarian regimes try to improve the quality of their governance? In the absence of democratic institutions to monitor, reward, and punish their performance, authoritarian politicians are normally expected to seek their self-interest through corruption and rewards to cronies, rather than providing for the public welfare. However, the Chinese government has actively promoted improved governance in recent years, with greater attention to quality of life issues to balance the primary focus on sustaining rapid economic growth. This paper evaluates citizens’ assessment of their local governments’ provision of public goods (such as health care, education, transportation, and housing) and compares these assessments to objective measures on the quality and quantity of these public goods. Does better governance lead to higher levels of public support for the government, even in the absence of democratic elections?

In Search of Good Governance and Public Goods in Rural China
Jean C. Oi, Stanford University, USA

co-author with Shukai ZHAO (see abstract under ZHAO)