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  • The China Quarterly, Volume 211
  • September 2012, pp. 676-696

Counting Cadres: A Comparative View of the Size of China's Public Employment*

  • Yuen Yuen Ang (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 October 2012

Is China's public bureaucracy overstaffed? To answer this basic question objectively, one needs to define public employment in the contemporary Chinese context; survey data sources available to measure public employment; and finally, compare China's public employment size with that of other countries. Using a variety of new sources, this article performs all three tasks. It also goes further to clarify the variance between bianzhi (formally established posts) and actual staffing size, as well as other permutations of the bianzhi system, especially chaobian (exceeding the bianzhi). A key finding is that China's net public employment per capita is not as large as often perceived; quite the contrary, it is one-third below the international mean. However, it is clear that the actual number of employees in the party-state bureaucracy has grown – and is still growing – steadily since reforms, despite repeated downsizing campaigns. Such expansion has been heavily concentrated at the sub-provincial levels and among shiye danwei (extra-bureaucracies).

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The author is grateful for comments on earlier drafts from Jean Oi, Andrew Walder and Alberto Diaz-Cayeros. Research for the article was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/ACLS Early Career Fellowships and the 1990 Institute-OYCF Research Grant, as well as the Graduate Research Opportunity Grant, O'Bie Shultz Dissertation Research Travel Grant, and East Asian Studies Summer Grant from Stanford University.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Thomas P. Bernstein , and Xiaobo . 2003. Taxation without Representation in Rural China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kjeld Erik Brødsgaard . 2002. “Institutional reform and the bianzhi system in China.” The China Quarterly 170, 361386.

John P. Burns 2003. “‘Downsizing’ the Chinese state: government retrenchment in the 1990s.” The China Quarterly 175, 775802.

Anna Grzymala-Busse . 2007. Rebuilding Leviathan: Party Competition and State Exploitation in Post-Communist Democracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

World Bank. 1997. World Development Report 1997: The State in a Changing World. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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