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Local State Adhocracy: Infrastructural Power and Stability Maintenance in Grassroots China



Previous studies on state’s infrastructural power assume that the state is composed of formal bureaucratic and coercive institutions. This study explores a new format of infrastructural power, termed the “local state adhocracy,” by using China’s stability maintenance apparatuses as a case. Configured through the state’s reordering of institutional and social resources but operating in rather flexible and impromptus manners, the local state adhocracy is rooted in the CCP’s political tradition of deploying informal and expedient organizations for policy implementation in a less institutionalized context. It generates new capability of the state but also weakens the rule of law and institutionalization.
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Local State Adhocracy: Infrastructural Power and
Stability Maintenance in Grassroots China
Feng Chen
To cite this article: Feng Chen (2019): Local State Adhocracy: Infrastructural Power
and Stability Maintenance in Grassroots China, Problems of Post-Communism, DOI:
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Local State Adhocracy: Infrastructural Power and
Stability Maintenance in Grassroots China
Feng Chen
Department of Government and International Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon
Tong, Hong Kong, China
Previous studies on states infrastructural power assume that the state is composed of formal
bureaucratic and coercive institutions. This study explores a new format of infrastructural
power, termed the local state adhocracy,by using Chinas stability maintenance appara-
tuses as a case. Congured through the states reordering of institutional and social resources
but operating in rather exible and impromptus manners, the local state adhocracy is rooted
in the CCPs political tradition of deploying informal and expedient organizations for policy
implementation in a less institutionalized context. It generates new capability of the state but
also weakens the rule of law and institutionalization.
The failure of a state in social control and governance
motivates scholars to seek explanations. A number of the-
oretical approaches have been raised to address the causes
of state failures. The states infrastructural power has been
viewed as a crucial factor that contributes to its strengths
and also to its weaknesses. Developed by Michael Mann
(1984), the concept of the states infrastructural power, in
contrast to its despotic power,refers to the institutional
capacity of a central state to penetrate its territories and
logistically implement decisions.Signicant research has
explored this dimension of the state and three analytical
approaches to infrastructural power have been identied
(Soifer 2008). The rst approach views infrastructural
power as the capability of the state, while the second
focuses on the effects of the state on society. The third
approach denes infrastructural power in terms of its terri-
torial reach. These three approaches provide three ways to
conceptualize the states power to implement policy
throughout the territory it claims to govern(235).
However, in previous studies scholars seem to have
assumed that the state is composed of formal bureaucratic
institutions from which power is derived and exercised.
This approach distracts their attention from variable
formats of infrastructural power that also matter to
a states ability to govern and penetrate society.
Tak in g stability maintenanceapparatuses in the Peoples
Republic of China (PRC) as a case in point, this study inves-
tigates a new format of infrastructural power, which I term
local state adhocracies.Local state adhocracies refer to
a unique institutional arrangement that integrates different
governmental departments and dispute-settlement agencies,
and combines various modes of mediation (i.e., peoples,
judicial, and administrative), serving to resolve, defuse, and
prevent conicts from below. They operate in rather exible
and impromptu manners, either for agendas that individual
agencies are unable to effectively accomplish or for one-off
tasks that require immediate redress. Widely set up at the
township and sub-district levels, those apparatuses have
woven a huge web of state power that has extensively covered
the grassroots society.
This paper will contribute to an understanding of infra-
structural power by characterizing local state adhocracies
as a new format of state power developed to cope with the
unprecedented social challenges facing the Chinese govern-
ment. Conventional wisdom has dened infrastructural
power in terms of state capability, the effect of the state,
and the states territorial reach, but paid scant attention to
its varying forms and their implications. Borrowing the
term adhocracy from organization studies, this study offers
a nuanced picture of a new format of infrastructural power
congured with the states reordering of institutional and
Address correspondence to Feng Chen, Department of Government
and International Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong,
Hong Kong, China. E-mail:
Problems of Post-Communism
Copyright © 2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1075-8216 (print)/1557-783X (online)
social resources, and demonstrates how such a format of
power generates new capacity of the state that is unattain-
able in the regular bureaucratic structure. The paper will
also engage the debate on Chinas institutional adaptations,
arguing that local state adhocracies are rooted in the poli-
tical tradition of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as
well as driven by the states immediate need. While provid-
ing local governments with exible means of conict man-
agement, local state adhocracies undermine the rule of law
and the institutionalization of state power.
The data for this study were collected during eldwork in
F and D cities in the Guangdong Province, which is a pioneer
in the country in setting up stability maintenance apparatuses.
Those citiespractices are illuminating for us in our under-
standing of similar types of stability maintenance agencies
that have been commonplace, although with different names,
in other parts of the country. Four group interviews were
conducted among township ofcials in both cities, and with
court ofcials and judges in D City, in 2009, 2015, and 2017.
Each group included 47 persons, among whom were party
secretaries in charge of political and legal affairs, presidents
of the courts, directors of Judicial Ofces, and staff of
Centers of Comprehensive Management and Letters and
Visits. Background information was also derived from gov-
ernment documents, case les, and media reports.
Previous studies have dissected infrastructural power
through the lenses of the states capabilities, effects, and
reach. The states capability approach highlights the
resources at the disposal of the state for exercising con-
trol over society (Hawkins 2014). Manns notion of infra-
structural power takes revenues and expenditures of
national governments as a critical dimension of such
power (1993, chap. 11). For Jack Goldstone, the degree
of infrastructural power corresponds to the resources that
a leader can command to pursue a goal(2006,265).
Resources underlying the states capabilities range from
government revenues and expenditures, to coercive
forces, to regulatory institutions. State capabilities can
be measured in terms of the availability of these
resources to national leaders (Slater 2008; Lange and
Balian 2008). However, some scholars, unsatised with
the conceptual conation of state power and capabilities
in terms of material and nancial resources, have argued
that infrastructural power can be better understood and
assessed in terms of its interactions with and impacts on
society (Snider 1987). They have paid attention to how
the state shapes society through particular policies, as
well as how state power is constrained by social actors
(Migdal 2001; Migdal, Kohli, and Shue 1994). For the
third approach, the most important dimension of infra-
structural power is the states ability to penetrate or reach
society. Scholars holding this approach have emphasized
that the state is not homogeneously powerful throughout
the national territory (Soifer 2008). Conicts and policy
failures often result from the inability of the state to
project power over distance(Herbst 2000,173)orto
establish its legal authority and legitimacy throughout the
entire national territory(Boudon 1996, 288). Insurgent
movements can be attributed to the limited reach of the
coercive capacity of the state throughout the national
territory (Goodwin 1999;Skocpol1979).
Although these three approaches reveal crucial aspects of
state infrastructural power in different ways, their conception of
the state in terms of formal bureaucratic institutions with coer-
cive power leaves little room for an exploration into varying
formats of infrastructural power and their outcomes. Echoing
these approaches, the previous literature on Chinas stability
maintenance has also largely focused on aspects of state cap-
abilities such as coercive power (Kai and Yan 2014;Wang
2014), institutionalized bureaucracy in stability maintenance
(Yan 2016), scal expenditures on social control (Greitens
2017) or mechanisms for depoliticizing unrest (Lee and
Zhang 2013). However, few have contrasted those newly cre-
ated apparatuses with conventional state bureaucracies and
understood them as a distinct format of state power.
To conceptualize stability maintenance apparatuses,
I borrow the term adhocracyfrom organizational studies.
The futurist Alvin Tofer was the rsttousethetermtolabel
informal and temporary organizations that he thought were
becoming increasingly popular in the private sector, due to
their exibility and capability to respond to the future
shock(Tofer 1970). Organization scholars have rened and
developed the concept, applying it in their analyses of exible
and informal organizations in both private and public sectors.
The literature on adhocracy has discussed its attributes, types,
and emergence. Adhocracy is considered to be a less structured
and adaptive form of organization, cutting across conventional
lines and boundaries (Waterman 1992); it is created by reorga-
nizing bureaucracies and mobilizing latent and new expertise in
order to generate changes, make innovations, and carry out
experiments, as well as to handle complex and difcult policy
problems. Adhocracies can be classied into three types, in
terms of their functions (Mintzberg 1979). An operating adhoc-
racy blends administrative and operating work into a single
effort and mixes the planning and design of the work with its
actual execution. An administrative adhocracy depicts the units
that design policy innovations or do a single project in the
public sector by drawing together specialists from existing
organizations. A temporary adhocracy refers to an organiza-
tional unit designed for innovation that is either created or
overhauled to transcend the routines and world views of the
professional bureaucracies…” (496). Adhocracies can also be
categorized in terms of their roles. Agenda-building
organizations are short-term bodies set up to offer advice to
government ofcials or a public agency on a discrete problem
in policy. Policy review adhocracies are temporary organiza-
tions that are investigative in nature and are established to
examine a major failure in policy. Deadlock-resolving organi-
zations are set up to overcome a policy deadlock that has
prevented a permanent policymaking institution from resolving
a major issue. Operational organizations consist of temporary
bodies that supplant formal organizations in carrying out public
policies (Rourke and Schulman 1989). Adhocracies, in the nal
analysis, distinguish themselves from bureaucracies in that they
coordinate activities around opportunities, rather than through
rules, procedures, and routines, and they make decisions
through experimentation and trial and error rather than through
hierarchy (Birkinshaw and Ridderstråle 2015).
As a concept that originated in Western organization
studies, adhocracy provides a vocabulary for us to use in
discerning Chinas local stability maintenance apparatuses.
Those apparatuses bear basic attributes of conventional
adhocracy that have been examined in the literature: they
are not formal bureaucratic institutions but instead are
created by amalgamating governmental agencies and social
organizations; they aim to address important and complex
social and policy problems; and they operate with exible
rules, on a trial-and-error basis, and across existing bureau-
cratic boundaries. However, in other important measures,
a local state adhocracy represents a sharply different model
of adhocracy that can be understood in terms of its goal,
organizational setup, and functions (See Table 1).
Unlike common adhocracies designed to handle certain
specic and relatively narrow and short-term goals or pro-
blems, local state adhocracies serve much broader and
longer-term goals of the regime. Stability maintenance
poses a wide-ranging and comprehensive social and politi-
cal challenge for the government, because it can arise in
almost all social domains and can involve multiple areas,
such as laws, public security, public policies, public wel-
fare, labor relations, and the like. The local state adhocracy
aims to cope with disputes in all areas within its jurisdic-
tion. Stability is also a long-term goal for the Chinese
regime in its attempt to achieve rapid modernization
under an authoritarian political order. Indeed, the regimes
slogan since the Deng Xiaoping era, stability overrides
everything,underscores the rationale of the local state
Organizationally, the local state adhocracy in China does
not amount to a few individual bodies or committees set up
to cope with a crisis or grapple with a specic problem. It is
not a subordinated unit to a single bureaucracy, nor is it
a mere extension of the party committee. Rather, led by the
party, it is an organizational web of specically designed
apparatuses composed of various government departments
and social organizations (e.g., trade unions). These appara-
tuses, called Centers of Comprehensive Management and
Xinfang (Letters and Visits) (Centers, hereafter), are
installed in every township and sub-district.
In terms of functions, the local state adhocracy performs
many more multiple roles than common adhocracies do. It
is an organizational hub that connects various agencies
involved in the matters of stability maintenance and it
coordinates their actions in conict management; it exer-
cises discretionary powers, both persuasive and coercive, to
get things donein dealing with mass incidents, collective
disputes, or any so-called unstable elements(i.e., peti-
tioning); it collects information about public order and
security and administers surveillance over neighborhoods
and communities; and it is the agent for enforcing stability
maintenance through social mobilization.
Thus the local state adhocracy represents a unique for-
mat of power derived from institutional reconguration.
While these adhocracies are subject to the chain of com-
mand within Chinas local stability maintenance machinery
(Yan 2016), they have enjoyed a great deal of exibility
and discretion by crossing bureaucratic boundaries dened
by rules, standardized processes, and procedures (Weber
1978) and generated new capacity by pooling existing
resources as well as acquiring additional ones. Being less
constrained by formal rules, local state adhocracies also
permit authorities to rather freely try new measures and
projects, add (or drop) new sub-units and task forces in the
Centers, and recruit off-staff or part-time staff to work for
them. The obvious advantage of this new format of power
Local State Adhocracy vs. Conventional Adhocracy
Conventional Adhocracy Local State Adhocracy
Commonalities Cross-departmental agencies
Designed for specic policy tasks
Differences Goal Narrow Broad
Short-term Long-term
Setup Committees, task force working groups, etc. Institutional apparatuses and networks
Leadership Executives, department heads, etc. The Party
Function Administrative, problem solving, agenda setting, etc. Governance, conict management
is that, instead of leaving individual agencies to address
social conicts on their own, it now allows local govern-
ments to aggregate deliberation, decision, and implementa-
tion that used to be within the jurisdiction of separate
agencies, and amalgamate multiple mechanisms such as
persuasion, mediation, and coercion. The local state adhoc-
racy thus has created some new jurisdictions and conse-
quently extended state power at the grassroots.
The local state adhocracy also stands for a new mode of
local governance. Unlike formal governmental agencies
with their routines and duties and a certain distance from
the population, the local state adhocracy is embedded in the
grassroots society and interacts with people in direct and
often informal and casual ways. It has provided a platform,
more exible and convenient than any single agency, to
allow local authorities to mobilize masses or use social
forces to enforce the goal of stability. By combining the
mechanisms of coercion, persuasion, and mediation, it
enables local governments to more effectively oversee,
preempt, and settle conicts. Street bureaucrats are empow-
ered by the local state adhocracy, which offers them more
discretionary means and collaborative options as well addi-
tional resources. The new institutional format has signi-
cantly reinforced the states power to penetrate society.
China has had one of the worlds largest state bureaucracies
for exercising extensive control over society. Why, then,
does the government still need to install the local state
adhocracy as a form of governance? What is the driving
force for the development of the local state adhocracy, and
what is its institutional basis? Those questions can be
addressed both in terms of the gap between Chinas rapidly
changing society and the governments declining capability
to govern as well as in terms of the partys historical
tradition of institutional practices.
Historical Tradition
The practice of using exible and ad hoc means in policy
implementation is deeply rooted in the CCPs long political
tradition. As Sebastian Heilmann and Elizabeth Perry have
demonstrated, the CCP, as a revolutionary party that fought
long wars and sought to survive an unpredictable and danger-
ous environment, developed a policy style characterized by
agility and adaptive capacity. Heilmann and Perry (2011)
term it guerilla policy style.Such a policy style is based on
certain shared understandings of leadership, including the ideas
that policymaking should be kept uidbytryingtoavoid
binding constraints, that policymaking is a process of continual
improvisation and adjustment, and that new methods of action
are derived from pilot efforts and practical experiences rather
than from theory and abstract models (1213). Having contrib-
uted to the success of warfare in the revolution, this policy style
has continued to permeate policymaking in the PRC, enabling
political leaders to navigate enormously complex tasks of
governance in both the Mao era and the post-Mao era(12)
because it offers them room for choosing tactical and opera-
tional means as well as organizational approaches. On the other
hand, in his studies on Chinese local governance, Zhou (2010b)
stresses that informal institutionsare indispensable for the
state to reduce the tensions of formal structures,while Lowell
Dittmer (1995) points out in his study of informal politicsthat
the CCPs extemporizing and agile policy style reects the
unsettled nature of the Chinese political sceneand makes
institutionalization of political arrangements difcult.
As a fact of matter, various sorts of adhocracy have been
set up in the government since the PRC was founded. They
usually take the form of leading small groupsand
ofces,as informal, off-the-books mechanisms to coor-
dinate implementation of policies established by their
supervising leadershipsin the party apparatus and the
governmental hierarchy, down to the township level; these
groups lack standard operating rules and cannot appoint
their own members (Miller 2013). According to one
study, there are three types of such coordinating and lead-
ing small groups in party and governmental structures:
permanent groups, term-oriented groups, and task-oriented
groups (Zhou 2010a). The CCPs central leading small
groups are typical ad hoc bodies created to coordinate the
implementation of major national policies.
At the lower level of political order, adhocracy takes the
form of various ad hoc ofces. They are designed to carry
out some specic policies. Well-known examples include
patriotic health campaign ofces,”“spiritual civilization
ofces,”“placement ofces for demobilized soldiers,and
so on. They are either term- or task-oriented bodies focused
on very specic policy issues or a single policy issue during
a given period. Unlike the leading small grouptypes,
these low-level ofces are also implementational units.
Apparently, local state adhocracies stand out as salient
examples that embody the partys long tradition of
deploying ad hoc arrangements created out of convenience
for executing specic policy goals. Still, although they are
built upon a long-established practice of the past, local state
adhocracies have considerably extended their scope of
responsibilities and have created new jurisdictionsthat
empower local governments.
Institutional Gaps
The rise of the local state adhocracy can be seen as
a continuity of the partys long-time policy style in a less
institutionalized context. Chinas economic reform since the
late 1970s has recast its social landscape. It has created an
increasingly dynamic, mobile as well as polarizing and
contentious society, thereby posing a serious challenge to the
existing system of organizational control and traditional tech-
niques of governance. In her study on the changing state
society relations in the early post-Mao years, Vivian Shue
(1988) found that major pre-reform institutions for controlling
the grassroots society, such as the Danwei (i.e., work-unit)
system in urban areas and the PeoplesCommunesinthe
countryside, as well as the Hukou system (i.e., household
registration), had crumbled as a result of the market reforms.
Those changes, as she demonstrated, considerably eroded the
actual capacity of the party-state to govern on the ground––
that is, its capacity to gather accurate information for policy
planning, to mobilize support for its policies, and to imple-
ment policies. The decline of state power at the grassroots
level was accompanied by a surge in crime, which alarmed the
government. Murray Scot Tanners research found that a deep
fear had grown in the leadership that it was not only losing
control over crimes, but also was alienating the population,
who were disappointed about deteriorations in the social
order. As a result, the government launched the Stern
Blowscampaign in 1983 to crack down on crime (Tanner
The earlier effort by the government to repair the institution
to manage the post-Mao social order started with the experiment
of what is called comprehensive management,carried out in
major cities including Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou,
and Wuhan in 1981. The practice was aimed at coordinating
cross-departmental actions to eradicate crime and maintain
public security (Xie 2012) while seeking the active cooperation
of citizens to monitor society and assist the police. The massive
student protests in 1989 exacerbated the governmentsanxiety
over political stability and accelerated the realignment and
reengagement of state power in social control. In March 1991
the Central Committee of the CCP established its
Comprehensive Management of Public Security Committee
designed to provide national leadership for anti-crime and sta-
bility maintenance measures. This ad hoc committee was com-
posed of 18 governmental ministries and departments (Wang
2017). Also in 1991, the Standing Committee of the National
Peoples Congress passed the Decision on Strengthening the
Comprehensive Management of Public Security, which led to
the widespread establishment of Comprehensive Management
Ofces at different administrative levels. Those ofces were
responsible for coordinating relevant governmental depart-
ments, such as xinfang, Public Security, and so on, and involved
villages, streets, workplaces, and ordinary citizens in combating
crime and maintaining public security.
However, that comprehensive management arrangement
initially remained loosely structured and less standardized,
lacking adequate material and personnel resources, and more
importantly, implementing units and enforcement power (Chen
and Kang 2016). It proved to be increasingly ineffective in the
face of a drastic growth of mass incidentssince the mid-
1990s, as accelerated socioeconomic transformation brought
widespread social conicts. Numerous workers, peasants, and
urban residents launched collective protests to defend their
rightsandinterests(OBrien 2008). The central government
was particularly bothered by the inux of numerous petitioners
into Beijing seeking redress for their grievances. Local autho-
rities thus were under mounting pressure from the central
government to control aggravated citizens and prevent them
from going to the capital to petition. The urgency and the
complexity of handling conicts betrayed another problem of
loosely structured comprehensive management: the fragmenta-
tion of power and poor intra-institutional coordination.
Governmental agencies, courts, xinfang ofces, trade unions,
and mediation agencies dealt separately with cases that were
probably quite similar in nature. Various self-interested state
agencies competed for resources and jurisdiction on one hand,
and shied away from responsibilities on the other. While insti-
tutional fragmentation was weakening local authoritiesability
to control conict, it also created opportunities for contending
parties to petition different agencies with a similar grievance,
which further aggravated the waste of institutional resources
and effort. Experiments emerged in some localities to substan-
tialize the practice of comprehensive management by turning
casual and intermittent cross-departmental coordination into
a somewhat institutionalizedformat, in the form of setting
up regular Centersthat were responsible for maintaining
stability. Varying in their names across localities, these
Centers have become the basic entities of local state
Disorganized Social Contentions
The distinct characteristics of social conicts in contemporary
China also contribute to the rise of the local state adhocracy.
Under the current authoritarian system, Chinese citizens have
lacked the institutionalized and organized means to articulate
their grievances and interests. Discontents and demands, even
if similar, can only be expressed in scattered and fragmented
ways, through collective protests, petitions, or even riots
(Chen and Kang 2016). That means that a huge number of
dispute incidents and cases occur on a daily basis across
localities. Local authorities have to face numerous contentious
individualspetitioners, plaintiffs, and complainersas well
as mass incidentsthat may involve any number of partici-
pants, from several individuals to hundreds and even thou-
sands of people. Many desperate petitioners and protesters
had managed to go to Beijing or the provincial capital to seek
redress of their grievance. Local ofcials were therefore under
strong pressure from the central government to prevent people
from petitioning higher authorities. The failure to do so might
cost their careers.
Furthermore, local governments have been frustrated by
the fact that many problems triggering conicts are com-
plicated and resolving them requires the involvement of
different governmental agencies. For example, in a typical
labor protest case concerning bankruptcy caused by an
employer having absconded with all of the cash in
a companys account,
the local authorities would have to
cope with several problems: how to compensate the work-
ers left unpaid; how to channel the dispute through legal
proceedings; and most important, how to defuse the
ongoing protest and prevent its escalation. No single
department is able to handle a case like that, involving
various tasks within different jurisdictions, because it
would require intervention from, say, the labor bureau, the
public security bureau, the trade union, the court, the vil-
lage committee that leased the land to the owner of the
factory, and so on. Similarly, for a settlement in a land
dispute case, local authorities might also have to summon
the land bureau, the urban management bureau, the village
committee, and the public security bureau. The existing
bureaucratic structure lacks mechanisms to effectively
coordinate collaborative action across departments.
Finally, maintaining stability not only requires local
authorities to resolve conicts swiftly but also to foil
unstable elements.Thus, it is critically important for the
government to gather information and identify potential
problems that might evolve into open confrontations or
provoke petitions. In addition, for such purposes, local
authorities badly need extra personnel who can act like
re ghters to defuse conicts on the spot and be accessible
to disputants.
The Role of the Party
Evidently, as a specic format of infrastructural power, the
local state adhocracy relies on a critical condition:
a political center powerful enough to mobilize and coordi-
nate organizational resources across established institu-
tions. That political center is the Chinese Communist
Party. In Western governments, as some studies show,
chief executives (i.e., prime ministers or presidents) are
often the individuals who have the ultimate authority to
place and design adhocracies in policy domains (Desveaux,
Lindquist, and Toner 1994). Those adhocracies, as men-
tioned earlier, are limited in terms of their scope of power,
goals, and functions. Even so, chief executives would still
have to face various constraints on establishing new orga-
nizations (legislative authority, hiring procedures, budgets,
jurisdictional conicts, etc.) (ibid.).
For the CCP, however, such constraints rarely exist. In the
Chinese political system characterized by unied leadership
of the party,the party has virtually unlimited discretionary
power to set up ad hoc agencies for its political agenda and
policy implementation. Indeed, the partys mandate is the
very source of legitimacy of adhocracies.
Nevertheless, a local state adhocracy differs from
various ad hoc ofces from the past. Commonly, cross-
department ofces are presided over or convened by one
department. For example, patriotic health campaign
ofcesare convened by the health bureau, spiritual civi-
lization ofcesby the partys propaganda department, and
placement ofces for demobilized soldiersby the civil
affairs bureau, and so on. They are close to what scholars
call operatingor administrativeadhocracies (Mintzberg
1979), with limited goals and enforcement powers.
Nevertheless, the local state adhocracy is an organizational
complex that involves not only a number of governmental
administrative agencies, but also courts, police, and mass
organizations, and it copes with far more complicated and
much broader issues. Only a super organization like the
CCP has the kind of authority to create, command, coordi-
nate, and manage such a huge adhocracy––one that serves
to extend state power to the very bottom of society.
All these factors have contributed to the adoption of the
local state adhocracy. The new institutional form of stabi-
lity maintenance has strengthened the power of local gov-
ernments to govern grassroots society and provided distinct
mechanisms of handling scattered and disorganized con-
icts. Indeed, despite the CCP having carried out institu-
tional reforms and attempted to institutionalize some
aspects of political and administrative processes since the
1980s (Florini, Lai, and Tan 2012), whenever policymakers
nd it necessary they still exhibit strong inertias and
impulses to choose exible, impromptu, and less institutio-
nalized ways to cope with policy issues or social problems.
In response to a drastic increase in social conicts,
Guangdong Province took the national lead in experiment-
ing with local state adhocracies and in 2009 set up the
Center of Comprehensive Management, Letters and Visits,
and Stability Maintenance, at the municipal, county, and
township levels. The intention of such an institutional
effort, as Huang Huahua, then the governor of the province,
described it, is to solve various difcult problems caused
by the insufciency of the previous system in dealing with
the increasing number of conicts and enhance grassroots
Party committeesand governmentsability to control the
situation of public security.With the widespread presence
of the Center, he expected that small things can be solved
within the village, big things within the township, and
contradictions are not handed over to higher authorities.
By April 2010, parallel Centers were established in all
1,630 townships and sub-districts in the province. Soon
thereafter, Guangdongs experiment was endorsed by the
Central Committee of Comprehensive Management and
was adopted in other parts of the country.
As a new format of state power, the Center has substan-
tially increased local governmentsorganizational capabilities
to control the grassroots, by amassing substantial physical,
personnel, and monetary inputs. Physical inputs include hard-
ware, such as surveillance equipment, policing equipment,
computers, and automobiles, as well as ofce buildings,
while monetary inputs refer to direct scal appropriations
from the government and shared costs by agencies that are
members of the Centers. Lets take the Center in D City as an
example. As a new and very dynamic manufacturing hub in
Guangdong, D City is one of the prefecture-level cities in the
province, with nearly 1.9 million registered residents and
more than 7 million permanent residents. There are four sub-
districts and 28 townships. Since 2009, 33 Centers have been
set up, with their ofces located adjacent either to govern-
mental buildings or to densely populated neighborhoods. The
city government poured more than two hundred million yuan
into building new ofces for all such Centers. Each Centers
ofce space occupies 6001,000 square meters, in line with
the standard for ofce accommodations applied to govern-
mental agencies of the same level. Under these Centers, the
Work Station of Stability Maintenance is installed in all 592
villages and communities in the city. All such Centers and
stations are fully connected, with both the provincial and
citys digital systems being designed for information collect-
ing, sharing, and surveillance, as well as being equipped with
large-screen display systems, dispatch command rooms,
mobile terminals for gridding management,and ofce
The Center also has expanded infrastructural power in
both the organizational and personnel dimensions. In
a standardized format, all Centers in D City are headed
by vice party secretaries in charge of comprehensive man-
agement, with the members of the party committee respon-
sible for public security and xinfang as standing deputy
directors. Governmental departments that are constituents
of the Center include those for public security, the judicial
bureau, civil affairs, human resources, labor and social
security, xinfang (petition), and the courts, and they are
all required to appoint staff to work for the Centers.
Depending on need, the Center also absorbs trade union
and social worker organizations. Key functional branches
within a Center include a labor arbitration tribunal,
a circular court, a police room, a procurators contact
room, a legal services room, and so on. Personnel additions
involve an increase in the number of street bureaucrats,
contract-based staff, security guards, and informants.
There are 860 full-time staff members working in 33
Centers, and 2,534 people working at 529 stations. As an
emergency mechanism, the Center assigns staff to serve
a 24-hour duty assignment and immediately report any
emergency to their superior, who then is required to return
to the ofce at once to handle it.
In a township of F City
with a population of 150,000, the Center hired 68 staffers to
be in charge of monitoring public order in the community,
415 members for the security patrol, 72 to monitor video
surveillance, and 120 village defenders.
Whereas increased physical and nancial resources and
manpower provide both the material and organizational
foundations of the local state adhocracy, the adhocracys
unique mechanisms make its organizational format an
effective infrastructural power. Those mechanisms were
designed to overcome the limits of the existing bureaucracy
in dealing with social conicts and to create new capabil-
ities to reach out to grassroots society.
Linkagerefers to a mechanism that enables different agen-
cies to work together to expedite problem solving. Many
disputes involve issues that cover multiple policy areas or
cannot be settled by a single agency. This mechanism enables
joint agency efforts to be effective in managing and resolving
conicts. Previously, there were two instances that could slow
the process of problem solving: different agencies acting
separately to cope with dispute cases, and the entities involved
being apt to pass the buck when a problem arose. Under the
new institutional arrangement, however, although all staff
members continue to be afliated administratively with their
original departments, they are subject to the leadership of the
Center during their assignment.
The Center holds regular meetings to examine the situa-
tions in their jurisdictions and identify problems for atten-
tion and resolution. All member departments are required
to report to the Center any case or incident that occurs
within their own sectors, while the Center reports to the
party committee and the government at the same level, as
well as to the Committee of Comprehensive Management
above it, any major problems that need intervention from
higher authorities. In the Centers daily operation, staff
from the xinfang ofces receive residentscomplaints or
cases at the reception desk and try to either effect
a settlement on the spot or refer the people to relevant
departments, which are given a deadline to resolve the
problem. Hard cases are brought to the Centers director,
who will call for cross-department meetings to nd solu-
tions. To resolve a current dispute, the linkage mechanism
operates in a six-stage process in which different depart-
ments are mobilized to collaborate on a nal settlement: (1)
staff from the Center goes to the site of the dispute and tries
to solve it on the spot; (2) the Center channels the dispute
into either judicial or administrative mediation if it cannot
be solved on the spot; (3) the judicial agency or govern-
mental departments concerned conduct mediation; (4) if
judicial or administrative mediation fails, the director of
the Comprehensive Management Ofce calls for cross-
departmental meetings for a solution; (5) the director of
the Comprehensive Management Committee coordinates
a collaborative mediation if stage 4 does not work; and (6)
disputes that cannot be mediated are forwarded to the
arbitration committee for arbitration or to the court for
adjudication. At each stage of the problem-solving process,
mediation is a principal method used for dispute settlement
(Zhuang and Chen 2015). Less constrained by formal rules,
mediation is a exible means for conict resolution, thus
allowing the Center to maneuver, manipulate, and exercise
discretionary power in defusing disputes. The extent to
which these steps are strictly followed may be another
matter. However, the new institutional setup of Centers
has given local authorities considerable leeway to resolve
disputes. As one ofcial at a Center said:
We are a platform, and people can bring their grievance
here. Some problems can be settled on the spot. If it is a big
problem, for example, land acquisition, which involves
several departments, we will rst summon (concerned)
departments to discuss. What does the court think? What
does the Land Department think? What does the City
Planning Department think? Every department should
offer its opinion and propose a solution. Then the deputy
party secretary (the Director of the Center) will have the
nal say about the settlement and talk to the complainant-
(s). If the complainant(s) are not satised with the proposed
settlement, we will continue to discuss, adjust and seek
In dealing with collective incidents, the Center coordinates
different departments to contain and defuse conicts. In some
labor-dispute cases in D City, bankruptcies and absconding
factory owners have triggered labor protests for worker com-
pensation. In these instances, the linkage mechanism worked to
mobilize different agencies to defuse the conict. Police were
called in to prevent riots, union staffs were sent to pacify angry
workers, the court staff came to explain to workers the legal
issues involved and help channel the disputes into legal proce-
dures, and also made an inventory of factoriesphysical assets
and ordered them frozen, and village committees that had lent
land to the factories were requested to advance workers
Collaborative and coordinated efforts by different
departments effectively prevented the escalation of labor con-
icts. The linkage mechanism also has strengthened the role of
courts in mediation. Mediation used to be carried out on
a voluntary basis and mediated settlements were not binding,
but with its current widespread use in dispute settlements, local
authorities hope to make it more effective. The linkage
mechanism permits courts to conrmmediated settlements
and make them binding on the parties involved. Courts then can
enforce those settlements once they are judicially conrmed.
Nevertheless, coercion is an indispensable part of the
linkage mechanism. On May 9, 2012, a protest by hundreds
of former soldiers broke out in one of the major districts in
F City. Centers there intervened to contain the escalation of
the unrest by calling police forces in to disperse protesters.
Although some reconciliatory measures were taken after
the suppression, two organizers were arrested and jailed.
In D City, police forces had also been sent to suppress
protesting workers during a few labor conicts, before
mediation started. During my eldwork in a townships
Center in D City in the spring of 2017, I witnessed
a vivid scene symbolizing the combination of persuasion
and coercion: a staff member was talking to a group of
petitioners in the reception room, while two helmeted
policemen with truncheons dangling on their waists stood
straight in the rear of the room.
Local state adhocracies have extended governmental power
deep into the grassroots society. In addition to establishing
529 stations that cover all villages and sub-districts, the
Centers in D City have taken the lead in enforcing two impor-
tant measures to control the grassroots. One is grid manage-
ment.By June 2017, the entire city had been broken into 3,106
grids, with a total number of 8,314 grid managers.
Depending on its size, each grid is assigned from one to ve
managers. The city government identies 20 categories of
issues, including public security, hidden troubles, health, food
anddrugsafety,re-ghting, civil affairs, housing, community
services, education, and so on, and 83 sub-issues,
for which
grid managers are required to monitor and report irregularities
to the Centers. Grid managers serve as the governments liai-
sons at the grassroots level, collecting input from residents and
acting on relatively trivial complaints and suggestions over
issues such as noise, dirt in the environment, and crimes in the
neighborhood. If more demanding requests emerge, those man-
agers are expected to convey the message upward. Grid man-
agers are required to detect unstable elements(such as
peoples grievances, possible petitioners, potential mass actions,
crimes, etc.) in their grids and report them to their centers.
In one case, grid managers in Houjie Township of
D City detected a drastic and abnormal increase in water
consumption in a rented house, compared with its previous
record. An investigation revealed that 61 people who
belonged to an illegal multilevel marketing group lived in
the house. The police stormed it and detained all suspects.
Grid managers also gather information about people in
need, such as migrants, lonely elderly, families in nancial
difculty, and so on, and help the ResidentsCommittee
assess what kind of aid would be sufcient to prevent
grievances from arising among these groups.
Using Social Forces
As some Chinese scholars have already found, the implemen-
tation of stability maintenance now increasingly relies on the
type of campaign-style mass mobilization that was common in
pre-reform China. In the early 1980s, when the government
was ghting crime, it had already attempted to structure huge
networks of ordinary citizens for performing various policing
functions. The local state adhocracy can provide organizational
support for mobilizing citizens to undertake stability mainte-
nance on a neighborhood basis. In addition to aggressively
mobilizing a large number of citizens into the network of
stability maintenance by assigning them the roles of village
defenders, members of patrol teams, and monitors, as well as
informants, the Center at C Township of D City recruited
a number of demobilized soldiers to join the community secur-
ity teams or hired them as staff of the Center. Those former
soldiers once had protested for allegedly unfair economic
treatmentby the government after their demobilization.
Their frequent collective actions had posed a thorny issue for
local governments in many provinces as well as in Guangdong.
By providing former soldiers with temporary employment, the
Center managed to translate some unstable elementsinto
a force of stability maintenance.
Since 2015 the Centers in D City have implemented a new
program called Peace Promoting Committees.These com-
mitteesare neighborhood social groups designed to mobilize
more citizens, particularly retired grassroots elites, such as
former cadres, soldiers, professionals, and teachers, to join the
governments efforts toward stability maintenance. The inten-
tion of setting up these groups is to make use of the grassroots
elitesreputation, inuence, and connections as resources for
community building as well as conict control and resolution.
Currently, 33 such committees have been established across
all the townships and sub-districts in the city, with a large
number of cell groups in villages and communities.
They are
required to play multiple roles in carrying out legal education
and moral persuasion as well as watching the neighborhood
and settling disputes. The Centers see these committees as
social capitalthat can strengthen their capability to reach
out to neighborhoods.
Risk Prevention Task Force Groups
As a part of a local state adhocracy, task force groups are also
used to strengthen local statespower to manage conicts.
These groups are created to deal with certain recurring and
disturbing problems that need to be addressed by a few depart-
ments. For example, workers have often experienced payment
arrears in their wages in enterprises in D City areas, and that has
been a major cause of labor disputes that sometimes have led to
workerscollective action. To prevent wage payment arrears,
some townships have formed special groups to monitor wages
in enterprises. For example, in S Township, the task group,
headed by a member of the party committee, is composed of
cadres from the human resources department, the public secur-
ity bureau, the economic and trade ofce, the private enterprise
ofce, and the urban development ofce. Their division of
labor is as follows: the human resources department supervises
enterprisescompliance with labor laws on wages; the public
security bureau monitors the employers who have previous
records of arrears in wages and investigates law-breaking
cases;theeconomicandtradeofce, private enterprise ofce,
and foreign economic relations ofce follow enterpriseseco-
nomic performance and nancial conditions; the urban devel-
opment ofce pays special attention to the construction sector,
where arrears in wages occur most often; and village commit-
tees oversee land leases to private businesses and are respon-
sible for supervising and urging enterprises to deliver wages on
time. Similar task force groups are also adopted to handle
another problem that often triggers disputes: arrears in rents.
Six departments join the task force group that is responsible,
with specically designed mechanisms for supervising and
preventing default of rents.
Local state adhocracies incarnated in the Centers represent
a strong institutional presence of state power in grassroots
society and provide the government with a new institutional
instrument for enforcing its stability maintenance policy and
enhancing its ability to do so. Local authorities have proclaimed
that the Centers have attained the goal of maintaining stability.
For example, D City claims that the Centers have resolved 63
thousand dispute cases and the success rate of mediation has
been raised from 43 percent in 2009 to 95 percent in 2015. In
the meantime, according to the city government, the Centers
redressed 3,315 outstanding problems.
Likewise, F City
reports that in the past three years 22,530 out of 23,347, or
97 percent, of disputes raised in the city were successfully
mediated by the Centers. In the three years from 2010 to
2013, shangfang (i.e., petition) cases in the city dropped from
3,720 to none.
That is seen as big achievement, because
reducing the number of petitioners has been a top priority of
all the Centers. In addition, both cities are said to have wit-
nessed a drastic reduction in the crime rate. Indeed, a tightened
control over the social order, and effective prevention of dispute
escalation, provide evidence that local state adhocracies have
served the goals of the government.
The widespread establishment of local state adhocracies
has provided new organizational muscle for implementing
the policy of stability maintenance and has been praised in
China as an institutional innovationin local governance.
The practice, however, is at odds with institutionalization.
As Joseph Fewsmith (2013) stresses in his analysis of
Chinas booming institutional innovations, institutions and
institutionalization are different in the Chinese context.
Indeed, creating new institutions does not necessarily
mean institutionalization; rather, it can undermine the for-
mal institutionalized processes (Zhou 2010b), if the institu-
tions are not embedded in legal frameworks and operate
largely in line with political and administrative conveni-
ence. In this study, my ndings reveal that the Centersrole
in stability maintenance tends to clash with the rule of law,
a goal that the government has pursued since the reform to
institutionalize social order and governance.
The incorporation of judicial agencies into local state adhoc-
racies has distorted their roles and weakened legal profession-
alism. Although Chinese courts received a certain degree of
autonomy in the 1990s as a result of the governmentspursuit
of the rule of law, local state adhocracies have increasingly
driven the courts to serve as a lieutenant of the local govern-
ment(Zhang 2003) to implement stability maintenance, by
compelling them to play certain extrajudicial roles. For exam-
ple, under the arrangement of the local state adhocracy, courts
have actively engaged in mediation, a function that used to be
performed by other agencies and organizations. In mediation,
the courts have become more concerned with defusing disputes
than with assuring judicial justice. Moreover, in the so-called
courts in the streetpractice (He and Su 2010), court staffs
have been asked to defuse collective actions by communicating
with protesters on the spot, a role previously performed only by
street bureaucrats or union cadres.
Paradoxically, however, while courts are required to play
more roles under the local state adhocracy than they should, the
new institutional arrangement has actually downgraded the
importance of judicial proceedings for conict resolution.
Legal channels and stability maintenance are two different
approaches to dispute resolution. The former follows rules
and procedures, whereas the latter resorts to all possible
means that can defuse disputes. The government apparently
has preferred the latter because it can bring quick solutions to
disputes. Indeed, having quick solutions is what local state
adhocracies are designed for. Of course, legal channels have
not been sidelined, but instead have increasingly been sub-
sumed into the local state adhocracies. People who have led
complaints have often been told that legal proceedings would
take longer, but with the assistance of the Centers, they could
have their problems settled without delay. Additional nancial
resources have been allocated to the Centers, whereas courts
have received less investment and thus have suffered from
a shortage of judges and judicial staff, which in turn has limited
the courtsability to handle dispute cases. In fact, the physical
presence of the Center in every township and sub-district, with
its cell groups in every village and community, has sent a clear
message to people or led them to believe that this was where
they could seek redress for their grievances. As a result, Centers
have attracted more disgruntled people and handled many cases
that under the rule of law would deserve adjudication. Courts
perhaps have not necessarily been unhappy with this, because
the Centers, after all, have reduced the courtsworkload by
preempting a large number of cases. Still, as one judicial
ofcial expressed in an interview:
We feel that legal channels are more legitimate for dispute
settlements.But courts have difculties as they lack
enough legal staff.A right way [to solve the problem]
is to allocate more resources to courts rather than to
Centers. Strengthening court conforms with the rule of
law and is a correct path.The government should divert
funds from Centers to courts and social results would be
different if doing so.
Clearly, an increasing use of non-judicial means by local gov-
ernments to solve disputes reects the courtsplight in the face
of mounting cases. Given the budgetary and personnel con-
straint, courts were unable to handle all dispute cases and their
slow and cumbersome process often frustrated plaintiffs, redu-
cing peoples patience with and even condence in the judicial
system. Local state adhocracies have provided alternative ave-
nues for the redress of grievance and dispute resolution.
However, the local state adhocracy has also weakened the
legitimacy of the judicial system, by permitting various discre-
tionary, impromptu, and even arbitrary means, including luring
or intimidating people into the acceptance of a settlement. It
thus cannot ensure legal justice unfullled by the ineffective
judicial system.
Local state adhocracies also undermine the role of judi-
cial agencies. Judicial ofces in townships and sub-districts
are the implementing units of Municipal Judicial Bureaus
and are relatively independent of the government at the
same level. They are designated with a number of respon-
sibilities, including mediation, community correction, pro-
motion of laws, placement of former prisoners, and so on.
However, having been integrated into the Centers, judicial
ofces have been required to play a new role in settling
collective disputesa role that increasingly has over-
whelmed their regular duties. Judicial ofces have had to
operate like re ghters. As one judicial ofcial describes
it, to prevent a disputes escalation, the head of a judicial
ofce must immediately go to the location where the dis-
pute occurred and must stay there until the problem has
been solved. His/her priority is to keep people from peti-
tioning to higher authorities. The reason for sending judi-
cial ofcials to the sites of conicts is the expectation that,
because of their legal knowledge, those ofcials would be
more trusted by people. Nevertheless, this extra role dis-
tracts the judicial ofces and their staff from fullling their
regular responsibilities. When their limited staff has to
handle collective disputes, judicial ofces are unable to
effectively perform their own responsibilities, for example,
community corrections. Community corrections, according
to the judicial ofcial being interviewed, are very labor
intensivejobs, requiring close monitoring of a large num-
ber of the convicted criminals who have been released on
probation. Each township in the city had 100200 at most
and 5060 at least such people; even if one of them ees,
you are over(meaning that the career of the head of the
judicial ofce would be in jeopardy).
Even so, the
increased burden of stability maintenance, which can also
cost ofcialstheir career if stability is not maintained,
constrains the judicial ofcesability to carry out their
own legal duties.
Furthermore, in peoples eyes, judicial ofces should be
relatively impartial in conict settlement, compared with
other governmental agencies, because they are organiza-
tionally separate from governmental administration.
However, the judicial ofcesintegration into the Centers
has changed peoples perception of the agenciesimparti-
ality and hence has weakened their trust in the agencies. As
a judicial ofcial describes, judicial ofces used to play the
role of the third party in dispute settlements. When there
were disputes between people or between people and gov-
ernmental agencies or village committees, judicial ofcers
intervened to mediate, as an impartial party. People often
trusted them. However, since those ofces have been incor-
porated into the townshipsCenters, people no longer seem
to trust the judicial staff because they now see judicial
ofces as a part of the townships government. As the
ofcial interviewed said:
Now when I went to villages to mediate disputes and told
people that we did not represent the township government
but acted as a third party, people pointed to our nose saying,
dont you represent the township? You are paid by the
township and working in the same ofce [referring to the
ofce of the Center], how can I believe that you do not
represent the government?”… Before, judicial ofces had
their own ofce, but now they are stationed in Centers,
sharing ofce space with other government agencies.
People saw this change clearly. This is a big problem for
us from the beginning of judicial ofcesentrance into
Centers.I think that mediators should have [the] clear
status of a third party, otherwise people wont trust
Local state adhocracies also subordinate the role of lawyers
to the governments priority role of maintaining stability.
Previously, it was common practice for local governments
to purchase legal services from law rms to help the gov-
ernments handle collective disputes. However, as one judi-
cial ofcial admits, lawyers now are actually assigned by
the Centers to handle the cases that are consequential for
stability maintenance. The lawyers are required to produce
quick solutions in favor of stability rather than to strictly
follow laws and procedures. For some sensitivecases,
lawyers are asked to report to the Centers about the poten-
tial risks of instability and to seek opinions from ofcials
there. In any event, the need for stability maintenance often
prevails over legal professionalism.
In short, as a new format for infrastructural power, the
local state adhocracy is at odds with the rule of law. The
boundary of the adhocracys power is not clearly dened,
nor is its role legally bounded. When the government sets
stability as an overriding goal and local authorities are
compelled to consider stability as their top responsibility,
other social values are often seriously compromised. Local
state adhocracies are virtually mandated to use all possible
means to eliminate destabilizing elements, at the expense of
laws, institutionalized procedures, civil rights, and social
justice. Laws and judicial procedures are often sidelined in
conict resolution.
Local state adhocracies have emerged amid the tensions
between the erosion of state power in society and the rise
of social conicts following the countrys market reform.
As a new format of infrastructural power in contemporary
China, it is formed through integrating different agencies to
serve the regimes goal of maintaining social stability.
Although it shares common traits with other types of
adhocracy in practice, the local state adhocracy is unique
in that it stands as a mode of governance rather than as
a collection of simple task-force groups. Built upon an
organizational amalgamation, the local state adhocracy
has generated new state capabilities by amassing physical,
nancial, and human resources, by creating mechanisms
that overcome the limits of the existing bureaucracies in
handling social conicts, and by offering enormous ex-
ibility in executing stability policies. Whereas the local
state adhocracy has emerged as an institutional response
to unprecedented challenges accompanying socioeconomic
transformation, it is rooted in the CCPs long political
tradition of deploying exible, informal, and expedient
organizations for policy implementation in a less institutio-
nalized context. The CCPs uncontested authority has guar-
anteed the operation of the local state adhocracy, allowing
it to cut across judicial, law enforcement, and administra-
tive bodies and social organizations. The local state adhoc-
racy has heightened the ubiquitous presence of state power
in society and permitted more precise, targeted, and sys-
tematic state control over the grassroots.
Nevertheless, the adoption of the local state adhocracy
reects the Chinese Leninist-authoritarian regimes
approach to social control amid socioeconomic
changes. Rather than developing institutions that assure
interest articulation and channel conicts, the regime
attempts to achieve a goal that entails total prevention or
elimination of any disturbing incidents, from demonstra-
tions to protests, petitioning, collective disputes, and
crimes. Such tasks must be enforced from below, and that
requires local authorities to nip any conict in the bud in
factories, villages, communities, and neighborhoods and to
prevent conicts from escalating into mass collective
actions or leading to petitions to higher-level authorities.
The local state adhocracy enables the government to cast
a much wider net over the population and to implement an
all-round prevention of instability.
As a new format of infrastructural power, the local state
adhocracy reects the regimes resilience (Nathan 2003)in
terms of its adaptability and exibility in a fast-changing
socioeconomic environment. However, driven by the
partys continuing impulse to seek politically and adminis-
tratively expedient means for policy implementation, the
local state adhocracy has undermined the rule of law and
the institutionalization of political processes and govern-
ance––goals established since the reform under Deng
Xiaoping. It has thus attested to the nature of Chinas
entrenched authoritarian politics characterized by the pene-
tration of unchecked and even arbitrary state power in
I am grateful to the Research Grants Council, Hong Kong,
and to Zhuang Wenjia, Chen Yongxin, and Wu Ziqi for
their kind assistance to my eldwork in Guangdong.
This work was supported by the General Research Funds
(No.12645816), Research Grants Council, Hong Kong.
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
1. This type of dispute happened frequently in Guangdong during the
nancial crisis in 20082009.
2. Huahua (2010).
3. D City government circular.
4. C Township government document, 2015.
5. Interview, April 14, 2015.
6. Interviews in 2015 and 2017.
7. Interview, April 14, 2015.
8. D City government circular.
10. Interview, April 14, 2015.
11. D City government circular.
12. S Township circular.
14. F City government document.
15. Interview, May 22, 2017.
16. Interview, July 2013.
17. Ibid.
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... These institutions handle important interagency policy issues that can hardly be coordinated through regular administrative processes (Lieberthal and Lampton, 1992;Lieberthal and Oksenberg, 1988). At the local level, such institutions are called the "local state adhocracy," a kind of state infrastructural power that reorders institutional and social resources and operates in a rather flexible and impromptu manner: "The local state adhocracy is rooted in the CCP's political tradition of deploying informal and expedient organizations for policy implementation in a less institutionalized context" (Chen, 2020 Headquarters on the Prevention and Treatment of Atypical Pneumonia was established, with Vice Premier Yi Wu as its General Commander and 10 minister-level officials from party and government branches and the Beijing acting mayor as members. The consulting and coordination institutions are designed to overcome internal fragmentation within the party-state by facilitating information flow and exchange, resource supply, decision-making, and implementation. ...
The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed a challenge to state capacities on all countries of the world and a genuine test of their abilities of opportunity management. In comparison, China has managed to promptly get the pandemic under effective control and firmly enhanced domestic support for the government. This article argues that China’s successful opportunity management was firmly shaped by its institutional settings, governing structures, and actor strategies. While the noncompetitive regime, unitary government, performance legitimacy, and high citizen trust afforded strong political commitment, China’s crisis management experiences and capacities facilitated quick and effective coordination. Further, top leaders made use of the crisis to demonstrate accountable leadership and push forward a grand reform agenda. The nature and functioning of these pro-success factors are inherently rooted in the unique Chinese context. Points for practitioners This study shows a successful story of opportunity management in crises in the Chinese context under the COVID-19 pandemic scenario. Political leaders and public managers should enable systematic and prompt governance responses to such major challenges by building up a broad political consensus and coordinating evidence-based emergency responses. The study shows that clear accountability in crises is a major factor determining the capability of a system to take decisive actions and should be seriously reconstructed by countries struck by the pandemic.
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This article conceptualizes the term ad-hocratic immigration governance to capture how states intentionally use policy ambiguity as a tool to secure their power over immigration. It does so by analysing the flexibility, pragmatism and informality with which Moroccan and Tunisian authorities have governed immigration since the turn of the 21st century. Drawing on over 100 interviews and in-depth policy analysis, the article shows that Moroccan and Tunisian authorities have privileged executive politics, exemption regimes and case-by-case arrangements on immigration over parliamentary law-making. It demonstrates how the intentional ambiguity created by such ad-hocratic governance allowed Morocco’s monarchy and Tunisia’s young democracy to respond to external and bottom-up demands for more immigrant rights while at the same time securing the state’s margin of manoeuvre over immigration. Such theorization of ad-hocracy sheds a novel light on how immigration is governed not only across North Africa and the Middle East but also in their European neighbourhood.
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Discussions of China's rising domestic security expenditure often present this spending as evidence of the Chinese Communist Party's strong coercive capacity. This article argues that a lack of theoretical clarity about domestic security has resulted in flawed conclusions about these expenditures and their implications for China's coercive capacity. Challenging the conventional wisdom, the article analyses China's domestic security spending from 1992 through 2012 and argues that it is important to consider not only the total amount that China spends but also how it spends these resources and the magnitude of the threats that this expenditure must address. It finds that China's domestic security spending is not historically unprecedented, is not expanding as a proportion of national expenditure, and is not necessarily high (or producing high coercive capacity) when compared to other countries. The article also shows that certain locations struggle more to fund their coercive capacity than others, and that these locations overlap with areas where internal security threats may be particularly acute. The challenges that the coercive apparatus must address have also grown over the same period during which domestic security spending has risen. Finally, attempts to improve the political position of China's coercive agents cannot be equated with improvements in their capacity to manage Chinese society. Cumulatively, this reassessment provides more evidence of the limitations on China's coercive capacity than of its strength.
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Concurring with the approach stressing the role of contentious politics in (re)shaping state institutions, this study explores how disorganized popular contentions configure local institutional building in China. As Chinese citizens are not legally allowed to take organized collective action to express their grievances and demands, popular contentions, despite their common origins, similar claims and identical targets, break out here and there in large numbers without clear organizational shape. This compels the government to build institutions able to map scattered conflicts, detect potential problems and defuse them on a case-by-case basis in a timely fashion. Such a dissipative approach is distinguished, by its purpose, format and mechanism, from two common types of state responses to popular contentions—incorporation and repression—which are typically linked to democracies and authoritarian developing states where popular contentions are often organized in various ways.
Today, with social protests a daily phenomenon in China, the Party-state’s survival hinges upon its institutional capacity to prevent, monitor, process information on, and overcome real and potential challenges. Over the past decade, the Communist Party has consistently stressed the critical importance of ‘stability preservation’ (weiwen) as central to ensuring the longevity of the authoritarian regime. Drawing upon intensive interviews and archival research, this article looks into the stability-preservation system in W County in North China. By exploring the institutional configuration, work mechanisms, daily activities and operational principles of the stability-preservation apparatus in the county, the author seeks to gain insight into the PRC regime’s mythical operations of ‘system maintenance’ and the ways in which the Party-state exerts control over society.
Michael Mann's work ranges over such a vast array of periods and places – the prestate peoples of prehistory in the Old and New World; the ancient empires of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Athens, Hellas, Rome; the varied states of Europe from the Middle Ages to the present; and excursions into India, China and the lands of Islam – that one's first reaction to my title might be: how could anyone claim that Mann's method is not comparative? Let me consult an expert who should know: Michael Mann. On p. 503 of the Sources of Social Power, Volume I (1986), he says: ‘Historical, not comparative, sociology has been my principal method.’ My purpose in this chapter is to explore the implications of this statement. I believe that this approach has allowed Mann to make several major breakthroughs in our understanding of states, their emergence and their development. For this, we will always be in his debt. At the same time, I wish to suggest that the limitations imposed by this choice have also led to problems in his theory of the emergence of the modern world. Breakthroughs Mann's theory of state formation and development Mann's theory of state formation and development offers some of the most striking and significant advances since Weber. This advance does not lie in his four-fold typology of power, the now famous IEMP quartet: ideological, economic, military and political power.