China Studies Academic Seminar: How Cohesive is the Chinese Civil Service?



Institutional analyses of the developmental state claim that the principal source of state capacity is internal cohesiveness, which is defined as the tendency for the rank and file of the civil service to be in unity while working together towards national goals. In the literature on the China Model, the strong capacity of the Chinese state has been taken for granted, and internal cohesiveness in the Chinese bureaucracy have not been problematized. I narrow this knowledge gap by studying data on the Bureau of Urban Management (i.e., Chengguan 城管) in China. I review recent studies of bureaucratic logics and behaviour that question the extent of collaboration between higher authorities and their subordinates (i.e., vertical cohesiveness) in China. Next, I theorize how these bureaucratic logics may also undermine collaboration among government bureaus (horizontal cohesiveness). I offer background information about Chengguan and report the challenges identified by Chengguan officers to work with people in other bureaus. I do not find from my research solid evidence of horizontal cohesiveness in the Chinese bureaucracy and call for an effort to reassess the validity of the China Model.


Professor Xiaowei Zang is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at City University of Hong Kong. He was Professor of Chinese Studies and Head of the School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield in the UK before joining CityU in August 2013. He has studied ethnicity and elite behaviour in China and has produced more than 120 research outputs including five authored books, 14 edited volumes, and many research papers in referred journals. His current research interests include governance in China and crime trends and patterns of recidivism in Hong Kong. And he is now Adjunct Professor of Department of China Studies at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.