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Institutional Reform and the Bianzhi System in China

Abstract

The article addresses the important issue of the bianzhi system and the role this system plays in governing China at the central and the local level. In making a critical distinction between nomenklatura and bianzhi, loosely translated as “establishment of posts,” the article provides a new perspective on key issues and concepts in the Chinese administrative reform process. The ultimate aim of the process is to create a leaner and more efficient public sector by shedding non-essential functions and by downsizing the bureaucracy. Two cases are used as illustrations of the issues and problems involved. The first is a discussion of central-level reform with a special emphasis on the reorganization of the Ministry of Personnel in 1998. The second is an analysis of local reform with a focus on the experiment of “small government, big society” in Hainan province. Both cases illustrate the difficulties in sustaining administrative reform. Discarded public administrative functions tend to re-emerge, displaced bureaucrats will seek to return to their former position and the Party is reluctant to allow the creation of better public administration at the expense of Party control.

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The author would like to thank Professor John Wong, Dr Zheng Yongnian, Dr Zou Keyuan and Mr Aw Beng Teck for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
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