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Sub-project of Prof. Dr. Thomas Heberer [University of Duisburg-Essen] and Gunter Schubert [University of Tuebingen]: Local governance in China: Interaction of strategic groups, policy innovation and policy implementation (2014-2016)

This project is part of the competence network “Governing in China” funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and in cooperation with Prof. B. Alpermann [Würzburg], Prof. S. Heilmann [Trier, 2010 until 2014] and Prof. H. Holbig [Hamburg]. Due to its outstanding contributions to political science studies on China the BMBF decided to expand the sponsoring of this project for two further years [until 2016].


 

The Competence Network

The increase in influence of non-democratic political systems, especially of the Peoples Republic of China, poses a central challenge to politics, political consulting and scientific research. The capability of authoritarian regimes for adaptation and innovation has only sporadically been examined by the social sciences so far.

The Research Network ‘Governance in China’ aims at researching prerequisites, achievements and constraints of the adaptive and innovative capacity of institutions, processes and policies as part of the governance in China. For this aim it uses an innovative set of networks and connections to other social and regional studies.

The Research Network profits from its manifold international contacts. This research cooperation of China studies and political science in Germany builds on existing structures like the Association for Social Science Research on China (ASC) of the German Association for Asian Studies. Key features of the concept are: training of doctoral and post-doc students, organization of and participation in international conferences and workshops, participation in field research especially of young scholars, and invitation of guest researchers. This should promote the goal of making German research on China more visible internationally.


 

“Local Governance and Strategic Groups in Contemporary China: the interaction between local cadres and private entrepreneurs”

The sub-project of Prof. Dr. Thomas Heberer and Prof. Dr. Gunter Schubert

Working at the lower tiers of the Chinese state, i.e., foremost at county, township and village level we have found it most useful in our efforts to understand the local policy process, or ‘how things are getting done on the ground’ in China, to combine the concept of local developmentalism with ‘strategic group’ analysis. In this project, we focus on the interaction of local governments and private entrepreneurs. We trace the evolution of this interaction since the early 2000s, and particularly, since the 2008 outbreak of the global financial crisis. Preliminary fieldwork has been conducted in 2012, 2013 and 2014 in seven cities or county-level entities in the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hubei, Fujian, Jilin, and Guangdong. More specifically the projects pursues three objectives, i.e.,

  • investigating to what extent the local developmental state of today differs from its early counterparts in the 1980s and 1990s, most importantly the local corporatist state, a specific variant of the developmental type, which has been aptly described in the work of Jean Oi and others and serves as an analytical reference point to understand change over time;
  • assessing the change of state-business relations in today’s local state by comparing our data with findings of the earlier literature, for instance in the work of Bruce Dickson and Kelly Tsai;
  • analyzing the nexus between the interaction of local governments and private entrepreneurs on the one hand and local policy implementation on the other.

We argue that the relationship between local governments and private entrepreneurs has evolved since the early 2000s and become more horizontal than it has been in the early days of local developmentalism. Private entrepreneurs have arguably gained more autonomy from local governments as market competition has increased and market institutions have matured. Local governments not only face rising difficulties in securing sound private sector development in times of global financial stress and structural change in the Chinese economy, but also in steering private entrepreneurship. ‘Traditional’ local state corporatism and entrepreneurialism have given way to ‘service-oriented government’, with local governments in the more developed parts of China becoming ‘inhibited’ developmental states in the sense that they are increasingly dependent on private entrepreneurs in a relationship of mutual dependency to make ends meet. The latter, for their part, are in a state of flux, slowly accumulating strategic power to keep the local state at bay and exert pressure on local governments. Though not yet recognizable, private entrepreneurs in China are a strategic group ‘in the making’, i.e., a potential strategic group. Even if they do not yet act collectively, their overarching interests and rational behavior may gradually change the dynamics of local politics in contemporary China, resulting in a realignment of local government-business relations that may become the hallmark of a new era of ‘Chinese capitalism’.

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