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Principle-guided Policy Experimentation in China: From Rural Tax and Fee Reform to Hu and Wen's Abolition of Agricultural Tax

  • Guohui Wang (a1)
Abstract

The abolition of Agricultural Tax in 2005 was a major policy of the early Hu–Wen administration. But how and why did it happen? Drawing on abundant media reports, archive documents and internal speeches by key policymakers, as well as on the author's interviews, this article argues that this reform was pushed through (the “how”) by “principle-guided policy experimentation” with origins in the period of Jiang Zemin's leadership. Not only does this show policy continuities from the Jiang–Zhu era into the Hu–Wen period, it also reveals a different process of policy experimentation from that identified by Sebastian Heilmann in the economic policy arena. Under principle-guided policy experimentation, Chinese central decision makers first reached consensus on the principle of the Rural Tax and Fee Reform (RTFR) drawing on policy learning from prior bottom-up local experimentation, and then formulated and implemented an experimental programme from the top-down, funding it in order to encourage local governments to participate. The evidence suggests that international, political (rural instability), economic and fiscal considerations came to explain leaders’ decisions (the “why”) on tax reform as much as their individual preferences.

2005 年废除农业税是胡温执政前期实施的一项重大社会改革。这项改革究竟是怎样实施的,为什么会实施这样的改革? 本文把这项发端于江泽民时代的农村税费改革的政策过程概括为“原则性政策试验”, 认为这项改革不仅凸显了胡温和江朱时代中央政策的延续性,同时还揭示出一种与韩博天在中国经济改革领域所发现的政策试验过程不同的模式。原则性政策试验显示,中央最高决策层在前期地方性改革试点的基础上,首先对实施农村税费改革的基本原则达成共识,然后由中央自上而下地设计和推行试点方案,由点到面,最终形成全国性的政策。证据还表明,国际因素、政治因素(农村稳定)、财政经济因素,以及领导人的个人偏好都对中央决策层实施这项改革起到关键作用。

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