Edited by Albert Breton, Giorgio Brosio, Silvana Dalmazzone and Giovanna Garrone
Chapter 12: China: Seeking Meaningful Decentralization to Achieve Sustainability
Changhua Wu and Hua Wang
Changhua Wu and Hua Wang Without an understanding of the powers of various actors, the domains in which they exercise their powers, and to whom and how they are accountable, it is impossible to learn the extent to which meaningful decentralization has taken place. (Agrawal and Ribot, 1999) 1. INTRODUCTION When China embarked on a process of reforms three decades ago, the country was governed by an extensive, functioning bureaucracy and had a centrally planned economy modeled generally on that of the Soviet Union. With reforming the economic and political system as its core mission, the Chinese leadership started to relax the tight state control in the early 1980s. Economically, the country began the transition from a state-directed, command-and-control economy to an economy that is more marketdriven. As a result, signiﬁcant economic authority was devolved to provincial and local oﬃcials; many political constraints were removed from local economic activities; and Beijing’s ability to inﬂuence those activities and their outcome was greatly diminished. Politically, a similar transformation of institutions and authority also occurred. As Economy (2004) puts it, four distinct processes were set in motion: 1) The traditional culture of ‘rule by man’ was gradually replaced by a more institutionalized system with a codiﬁed system of laws; 2) signiﬁcant political authority was devolved from Beijing to local oﬃcials; 3) China embraced technological assistance, policy advice, and ﬁnancial support from the international community; and, 4) as government was further separated from the market, it also retreated...
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