2010: Why Does the Development of Chinese Local Governance and Legal System Development Lag 滞后与超越:中国地方政治发展总体观

Lagging behind and Going Beyond: An Issue in the Political Development in the Localities of China

by Zhu Guanglei
(Zhou Enlai School of Government, Nankai University , Tianjin 300071 , China)
Abstract :China has made a great development in the construction of democracy as a whole during the recent three decades .But there remain many problems, among which the imbalance in the political development and the institutional reformation at localities and a patent lag of the localities with the w hole is prominent .In general , matters of lo cal governments do not deal with important problems of strategies and macroeconomic regulation , so their development should have more advantages than the central government .What caused this situation include the follow ing :the low level o f development of democracy and the legal system , the relatively abstract requirements of the central on the changing functions of government , inappropriately utilizing the party’ s leading station by a number of local authorities, and the culture of official standard .We must promote the local political developments by stressing that economic and political developments promote each other , and accelerate both construction of democracy and improvement of people’ s livelihood , and by giving special attention to combine the central promotion and local consciousness, to combine the efforts of the party and
government , to combine the strengthening democracy and contracting governance .

Chinese text available online at  滞后与超越:中国地方政治发展总体观

武汉大学学报( 哲学社会科学版)Wuhan University Journal ( Philosophy & Social Sciences)


[摘 要] 近30 年来,中国政治建设总体有了很大发展,但依然存在诸多问题,其中地方政治发展与体制改革水平明显滞后,而且很不平衡,是一个非常突出的问题。通常,地方一般不涉及重要的战略和宏观调控问题,其体制改革理应具有相对于中央的优势和便利。国家民主和法制建设整体水平还不高,中央对地方政府职能转变工作要求不够具体,部分地方主政者不恰当地利用了党的领导地位“, 官本位”传统是形成这种局面的重要原因。应当通过进一步强调经济发展与政治发展相互促进,在服务型政府建设中推动民主与民生的相互促进,在体制改革过程中注意中央推动与地方自觉相结合,党与政相结合,强化民主与简约治理相结合,以带动今后一段时间地方政治发展水平的较快提高。

Summary translation/discussion

Zhu Guanglei 朱光磊 of Nankai University  in the May 2010 issue of the Wuhan University Journal gently points out that the level of democracy in China is “not high” and the development of democracy and the legal system法制  (it may be a problem for China that legal system fa3zhi4 法制 and rule of law fa3zhi4 法治 are homonyms) in local government considerably lags the center and so asks why.    I summarized the first half here.  Nothing really new, but it is a useful overview.   This is an inside the system view, with criticisms of the people’s democratic dictatorship out of bounds.

Signs of the Lagging of Development of Local Governance

  • Reform in the function of local government is lagging seriously. Economic reforms got a big push forward after China entered the WTO.  In the economic area, many localities pushed ahead of the center, but on democratic reforms localities lag and seem to try to lag as far behind as they can.  The local officials want the center to delegate power to them but they insist on maintaining  direct control, using administrative levers of power and not making reforms that would reduce their power.  This means that the localities are not in step with the trends towards the historic transformation of China.
  • Localities lag the center in building democracy and the legal system.  Party-government relations are poorly handled.  In many places if there is a serious problem, the party secretary takes direct control of all the details.  There, the Party Secretary eviscerates the local government and government leaders.  In some areas the big boss towers over all other officials in a way that is hard to put into words.  Another problem is that the local party secretary is also the chair of the local people congress, leading in turn to serious neglect of the work of the people’s congress.    In some places the party secretary gets so involved in meetings and travel that the distinction between party and government disappear, on the surface a problem of losing the distinction between Party and government but in fact a matter of party work being neglected for government work.
  • Many officials still hold the old imperial attitude that the officials are most important and haven’t changed attitude in line with the changes that are supposed to be taking place in how the government operates.   While there have been important improvements, many officials have the same bad old attitudes.  Some party committees do not show proper respect to organs of state power.   Local courts face interference.  Some local leaders in their visits and receiving guests ape the central government and insist on expensive ceremonies, even a few cases of county-level officials  “reviewing the troops”.
  • Lack of public trust because local governments operate like companies seeking looking after their own private interests.  Some local governments buy land, dear down and build buildings,  owe longstanding overdue  back payments of wages to migrant workers — this leads to lack of trust in government and damages market mechanisms.  Many local governments just don’t care about continuity, harmonization and integrated nature of policy.   They exceed their authority and are always out to grab any advantage they can.   They are still stuck in the old centralized planning mentality,  they regularly aim for political achievements such as getting new investment and raising tax monies and make these absolute criteria for promotion to the neglect of other matters.  This raises the cost of administration and is the direct cause of false reporting and crude and violent administrative measures.

Causes of the Lagging Development of Local Governance

  • The building of democracy and the legal system in China still has some ways to go.   Work on democracy within the Communist Party is still small scale and scattered. There has been some progress in village democracy but there are still many problems and the level varies widely from place to place. There is still not real roadmap towards democratization at the city level. A system for social oversight has been established but its operation is severely restricted in practice.
  • Too much power is centralized with the party secretary and party committees despite the constant reminders from top leaders since 1980 that this is a constant problem.  Much progress has been made separating party and state functions in state enterprises, but at the local level this remains a serious problem, including at local state enterprises .
  • The old attitude that officials are most important 官本位主义 is still widespread.   Over the past thirty years people have had to rely on their own savings and to some extent on social insurance while officials have been able to rely on their rank to reap all kinds of advantages.   The poorer the area, the worse this problem gets.
  • The central government has pushed localities hard to change the function of local government but its guidance has often been vague and not persistent enough.  Guidance that is vague from the top gets interpreted and sometimes oversimplified so that in many localities local officials are evaluated largely on the basis of local GDP — this unidimensional measure is a great obstacle to the improvement of public services.  The frequent establishment of all  important (yipiao foujue literally veto) local goals leads to neglect of important other goals like building democracy and fulfilling the desires of the people that conflict with government goals.

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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