Holding China Together: Diversity and National Integration in the Post-Deng Era

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Despite many predictions of collapse and disintegration, China has managed to sustain unity and gain international stature since the Tiananmen crisis of 1989. This volume addresses the "fragmentation-disintegration thesis" and examines the sources and dynamics of China's resilience. Through theoretically informed empirical studies, the volume's authors look at several key institutions for political integration and economic governance. They also dissect how difficult policies to regulate economic and social life (employment and migration, population planning, industrial adjustment, and regional disparities) are designed and implemented. The authors show that China's leaders have retained authoritarian political institutions but have also reinforced and modified them and constructed new ones in the light of changing circumstances. In policy implementation, China's leaders have learned by doing and made significant adaptations to improve the effectiveness of socioeconomic policies. Institutional and policy adaptations together have helped shore up political authority and create an environment for rapid growth while accommodating growing diversity.
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Editorial Reviews

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Review of the hardback: 'Holding China together is an important account of how the Chinese state has reconstituted itself … The chapters of this volume are all of high quality. Naughton and Yang have captured an important trend in the development of China's political economy. This text provides a timely reminder that while everyone recognizes that China's economy is undergoing rapid change, there is more change in the political system than meets the eye.' International Affairs

Review of the hardback: 'This book is an excellent collection of essays that makes a major contribution to our understanding of contemporary China. … This is a first-class volume which makes an important contribution to Chinese Studies and to broader political science debates on state capacity. Many chapters will be used in courses on Chinese politics and scholars researching issues of state capacity will inevitably have to refer both to this book's overall conclusions and to the individual case studies.' The China Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521168588
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 8/5/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 318
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Barry Naughton is an economist who specializes in China's transitional economy. He has written on economic policy-making in China, and issues relating to industry, foreign trade, macroeconomics and regional development in China. Naughton teaches at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies of the University of California at San Diego. In 1998, he was named the first So Kuanlok Professor of Chinese and International Affairs. His study of Chinese economic reform, Growing Out of the Plan: Chinese Economic Reform, 1978-1993 (Cambridge University Press, 1995) won the Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Prize. His research on economic interactions among China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, focusing on the elections industry, led to the edited volume The China Circle: Economics and Technology in the PRC, Taiwan and Hong Kong (1997).

Dali L. Yang is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago. He has also served as a distinguished visiting professor at Nankai and Tsinghua Universities in China. He is the author of Calamity and Reform in China (1996), Beyond Beijing: Liberalization and the Regions in China (1997), and Remaking the Chinese Leviathan (forthcoming).

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Cambridge University Press
0521837308 - Holding China Together - Diversity and National Integration in the Post-Deng Era - Edited by Barry J. Naughton and Dali L. Yang

Holding China Together: Introduction

Barry J. Naughton and Dali L. Yang

During the 1980s, China experienced a steady decline in central government control over the economy, the political system, and society as a whole. Economic reforms emphasized decentralization of resources and decision-making authority, which empowered local governments and enterprises at the expense of the national government. Economic liberalization fostered the creation of literally millions of new economic entities, combined with new market rules and incentives. Rapid economic growth not only led to a much larger and more complex economy but also greatly expanded regional diversity. Government demands for conformity receded, allowing a more relaxed and diverse society to develop. Although conservatives sought to roll back some of these reformist changes after the Tiananmen massacre, they were unable to reverse the most fundamental changes. Indeed, there is universal agreement that the 1980s witnessed a historic retreat of the Chinese central government. Given breathing space by the rollback of the Chinese state, Chinese society and the Chinese economy came alive.

Nevertheless, the decline in the authority of the Chinese state was not a smooth or trouble-free process. Like governments in all transitional economies, China's leaders abandoned crude but powerful tools of government resource allocation before market-friendly indirect and regulatory institutions were available. Inevitably, government effectiveness declined and the central government's financial prowess steadily eroded. The Chinese government simply seemed ill equipped to carry out the tasks demanded of it in the new economic environment. Even more troubling, the Chinese government frequently seemed unable to override particularistic, regional, and sectional interests. While decentralizing reforms moved forward, other reforms that required an authoritative state to impose uniform, equitable rules on many different groups - such as fiscal and tax restructuring, or administrative and regulatory reforms - consistently failed. Concerns began to be raised regarding the overdecentralization of power and the maladaption of the Chinese government to the new demands placed upon it.

At such a pivotal time in the process of economic restructuring came the Tiananmen crisis of 1989. The profound political crisis into which the Chinese regime was plunged revealed disarray at the center. Moreover, in the aftermath of the government's deployment of massive brutal force against unarmed civilians, the ruling elite seemed to have lost the ability to use remuneration or legitimacy to govern and was left only with raw coercive power. China seemed to be on the verge of unraveling. Following the Tiananmen crisis, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of other communist governments, and the disintegration of Yugoslavia all highlighted the shaky ground on which China's ruling elite stood, lending plausibility to scenarios of collapse or disintegration in China.

In the wake of these events, and throughout the 1990s, an influential literature developed that saw China as being undermined by centrifugal forces, in danger of coming apart or collapsing in on itself. This "disintegration" literature was a reaction both to the trends of the 1980s and to the shock of Tiananmen. Focusing on the fissiparous forces that had developed in China following more than a decade of decentralizing reforms, this literature extrapolated from the trends of the 1980s in order to look into the future, and it predicted an increasingly decentralized, unregulated, and ultimately uncontrollable society. At the same time, under the influence of the harsh crackdown that occurred at Tiananmen, these authors tended to be profoundly pessimistic about the ability of the Chinese government to adapt to and cope with these trends. In this view, a series of increasingly complex social and economic problems were poised to overwhelm a government that was incapable of mobilizing the social resources or the political will necessary to confront them.

This disintegration view has had a remarkably broad and enduring influence. Authors ranging from political dissidents to Chinese neoconservatives suggested that China faced the prospect of fragmentation or collapse. Various scholars, particularly those with a Taiwan background, began to note parallels between the rise in regionalism in contemporary China and the dynamics of fragmentation in Chinese history. They contended that rising regionalism would lead to the disintegration of the Party-State.1 In Japan, Kenichi Ohmae went so far as to suggest that eleven Chinese republics might emerge out of China's breakup and then form a loose "Federal Republic of China."2 The disintegration thesis gained special prominence within China in 1993, when two scholars noting parallels between China and Yugoslavia warned of China's possible disintegration. In their view, although the decentralizing reforms were enabling economic growth by devolving economic management authority and resources to enterprises and local levels of government, the reforms also served to undermine the fiscal foundations of the state. They foresaw that the fiscally enervated central government might not be able to hold the country together, and China might suffer the same fate as Yugoslavia.3

By the mid-1990s, the disintegration thesis was making major inroads. China Deconstructs: This was the witty and evocative title Goodman and Segal gave their edited volume on national and regional trends.4 In the United States, the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment convened a thirteen-member panel to assess China's future and found that a majority predicted disintegration.5 In the summer of 1995, the journal Foreign Policy printed a major article boldly titled "The Coming Chinese Collapse." In this article, Professor Jack Goldstone of the University of California drew on his formidable knowledge of comparative history and sociology to predict "a terminal crisis [for the Chinese ruling regime] within the next 10 to 15 years." According to Goldstone, "China shows every sign of a country approaching crisis: a burgeoning population and mass migration amid faltering agricultural production and worker and peasant discontent - and all this as the state rapidly loses its capacity to rule effectively" because of leadership conflicts and fiscal weakness.6 Other commentators highlighted the dramatic differences between a capitalist South and bureaucratic-authoritarian North or contended that the Indonesian collapse during the Asian financial crisis might be a harbinger of China's fate.7 More recently, Gordon Chang, in his best-selling The Coming Collapse of China, bemoaned the weakness of China's economic institutions and claimed that China's entry into the World Trade Organization would prove to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.8

Ironically, while the disintegration thesis spread broadly in the 1990s, an alternative assessment emerged that stressed China's irresistible emergence as a great power. Drawing on the other set of key trends in the 1980s - namely the early success of economic reform and the rapid growth of the economy - this literature discussed ways to deal with a rising China. Fueled by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank's purchasing power parity estimates of the size of China's economy and sustained by China's ability to weather the Asian financial crisis relatively unscathed, this view has extrapolated growth into the future, assuming that no domestic problems or external shocks will seriously disrupt China's rise. This second image has been seized on both by boosters of China touting its economic and business importance and by Cold Warriors who see China replacing the former USSR as an emerging threat to the United States.9

These two contrasting assessments of China, despite their apparently opposite natures, are like twins separated at birth. Both draw on the distinctive experience of China in the 1980s and early 1990s and extrapolate from there into the future. Both raise important questions but do so in an alarmist and one-sided fashion. One sees only the problems and assumes the achievements are fragile; the other sees only the achievements and assumes the problems will be overcome. Neither takes adequate account of the extent to which the achievements and problems are intertwined, with the achievements possible only because certain problems could be left unaddressed, deferred to an uncertain future. Neither perspective seems to appreciate the extent to which its own conclusions should be modified by the insights of the other perspective. China is indisputably becoming a more diverse society, with a much larger economy, greater regional diversity, and many areas of social life slipping out of government control. At the same time, China has thus far managed to sustain national unity, and the government has proven itself remarkably resilient while its counterparts in many other transitional countries have fallen apart. What are the forces holding China together? Which institutions are most important and most likely to reinforce national unity? Can we expect Chinese leaders to formulate effective policies and maintain national unity as the country undergoes massive social, economic, and political transitions?


The present volume is the result of a multidisciplinary, collective effort to examine some of these questions. It was initially conceived in 1996, as an effort to analyze more carefully the impact of greater regional diversity and openness on national unity, national integration, and the capacity of the national government to adopt policies in the national interest. It was begun with an attitude of skepticism toward some of the more extreme claims of the "deconstruction" literature. At that time, it appeared to us that the "fragmentation" view of China was mistaken because advocates of this view failed to take into consideration the strength of some of the essential institutions holding China together, and they misunderstood the key adaptive processes in which economic transition reshaped state and society relations.10 Since that time, as China has continued to change and evolve and as our knowledge has deepened, some of the deeper flaws of the fragmentation perspective have become obvious. Not only has China not blown apart, it has in many respects succeeded in remaking institutions and reshaping policies in ways that enhance institutional integrity and strengthen national unity. However, few observers have taken note of the breadth and depth of the Chinese response. Since 1994, important changes in the administrative and political system have become increasingly manifest in the policy arena. In that sense, institutions fostering national unity existed in the 1980s, but their impact was obscured by problems of economic transition and a breakdown of political cooperation within the Communist Party elite. The potential effectiveness of those national institutions, which have also undergone adaptations and transformations, has become more evident during the 1990s.

The volume addresses questions of national unity and diversity from a variety of different vantage points, and from each it shows that the fragmentation thesis is inadequate to encompass China's development. The chapters in Part One examine the national political and administrative system. The authors analyze the manner in which political elites are rewarded and monitored, and the way government has been reorganized to perform new functions and strengthen regulatory capacity. The common finding is that the political system has made significant adaptations to the challenges of an increasingly diverse and marketized society. These adaptations, on balance, have tended to shore up political authority and national unity, even as they have created new problems for the future. The chapters in Part Two are case studies of the implementation of central government policies. In four different issue areas - birth control, internal migration and urban employment, coal production, and regional development - the authors analyze the way in which central government mandates are shaped to local conditions. Elucidating the interaction between central and local authorities, and between state and society, the authors show that a diversity of policy outcomes is not equivalent to political fragmentation.

The contributors to this book approach diverse subjects by using a variety of analytic methods; their chapters also reflect their own individual viewpoints. Nevertheless, a common view emerges from this volume. Without doubt, increasing diversity and a larger society create centrifugal forces in China that undermine the traditional monolithic state structure. However, there are also important political, economic, and cultural forces that tend to reinforce national unity and integration. These "centripetal forces" imply that diversity and integration in China develop in a kind of dynamic tension. The fragmentation literature on China is misleading - and ultimately simply wrong - because it examines only one side of this tension and fails to see the forces working against fragmentation. In fact, many of the examples of increasing diversity pointed out by the fragmentation literature are simply that - examples of increasing diversity. There is no evidence that this diversity cannot be accommodated within the framework of a growing and developing China. At the same time, the "China threat" literature seems to willfully ignore the evidence of increasing diversity in China and the enormous domestic challenges China still faces. These challenges significantly constrain the Chinese leadership, making it extremely difficult for them to simply impose solutions on a complex domestic society, and limit their ability to project influence internationally. A dynamic tension between increasing diversity and national unity may not be a bad thing: at a minimum, it is preferable to either of the twin extremes of an all-powerful central government or a society in disintegration. Indeed, it is even possible that this tension may provide just the kind of creative pressure that helps keep China's social and economic transformation moving forward.

In this volume, we seek to provide a more coherent and realistic account of the resilience of the Chinese state. The authors represented herein share a conviction that the fragmentation view of China was mistaken. It was mistaken at the time because those observers failed to understand the strength of some of the key institutions holding China together, and they misunderstood the crucial processes of economic transition reshaping state and society relations. Moreover, in the years since 1990, Chinese leaders have undertaken an impressive effort to rebuild central government authority in the wake of further stages of economic transition. Therefore, the fragmentation literature was additionally mistaken because it failed to predict the ability of the Chinese government to reformulate power relationships and rebuild institutions on an altered basis. This failure to predict also rests on a failure to appreciate the Chinese leadership's command of crucial institutional resources.

Finally, the contributors to this book describe policies and implementation in their areas of specialization by using the language of principal-agent analysis. However, the "principal" in almost all cases refers to the top leadership of the Communist Party and government of China; it almost never refers to the people of China. The people of China lack institutions to exercise their choice, or even a modest oversight over the top leadership. In this respect, China in the twenty-first century is not further advanced than it was in 1989, and, indeed, it may have slipped backward. Thus, despite the relatively positive appraisal of the strength and resilience of Chinese national unity, the authors in this volume share a realistic assessment of the defeat of, and retreat from, the potentially democratizing reforms of the 1980s. The 1980s policies of separating Communist Party from administration and reducing the scope of Party interference in management died during the 1990s. Despite its increasing diversity and the growing scope for civil society, China remains autocratic. This autocracy, in turn, influences the perspective of the volume, which tends to be from the top down, because many of the changes we describe have been driven from the top down.

Indeed, during the 1990s, rather than the Communist Party being removed from other administrative hierarchies, the reality was that the Communist Party was more tightly integrated into other chains of command. The hierarchical relationships in the government and Communist Party were more clearly specified, monitored more effectively, and tied more closely to material rewards. Administrative capability was increased, and there was a general trend toward professionalization. At the same time, the Communist Party also stepped up its involvement with the other administrative hierarchies. These changes are described in Part One of this volume; it is apparent at the outset that change of this type creates tensions and conflicts that must be resolved in the future. Meanwhile, the trend of change has shifted dramatically away from continuous decentralization and weakening of government power and toward a clearer division of responsibilities among governmental levels, with a tendency toward moderate recentralization in certain areas.


The first part of the book analyzes the Chinese political and administrative structure. The first three chapters give primary attention to the vertical dimension of the political structure. They examine the incentives at work in the hierarchy through the patterns of promotion and reward, and the rules that govern this process. Because these processes ultimately determine who exercises power, these "vertical" analyses include the stuff of daily politics, the competition among different factions, and the tensions between center and province and between institutionalization and arbitrary power. Chapter 4 gives primary attention to what we might term the "horizontal" dimension of the political and administrative structure. As the government develops more professional capabilities, it develops new functions and abandons some old issue areas. This reorientation is essential to the movement in the direction of a regulatory state, and the issues are also central to the argument in Chapter 3. Together, these vertical and horizontal approaches permit us to draw a comprehensive picture of the evolution of China's political and administrative hierarchy since the beginning of the 1990s.

An important factor in the evolution of the Chinese administration is that decentralization in China was never what it became in the former Soviet Union - a disintegration of central power and the seizure of power "lying in the streets" by the local authorities.11 In contrast to Yeltsin's Russia, where regional governors gained power and autonomy at the expense of the center, China has retained a core element of central control: the nomenklatura system of personnel management. Under this system, higher-level leaders determine the appointment of lower-level officials, and they also structure the incentive systems that apply to the entire hierarchy. In short, unlike in Russia, China has retained a personnel system that gives the central leadership enormous power vis-à-vis local authorities.12 This nomenklatura personnel system is the most important institution reinforcing national unity.

The fact of a unified national personnel hierarchy is at the core of the analysis in each of the first three chapters. The central government has much greater control over local decision makers than is initially apparent, simply because personnel power is hierarchically organized. Personnel officials at the central level have the authority to appoint and remove officials at local levels: Even when not actually utilized, this power remains latently available to central officials, making the Chinese political system far more unitary than it might otherwise appear.13 Moreover, the personnel function is a monopoly of the Communist Party. It is one of the most important bases - perhaps the ultimate foundation - of Communist Party power. But Party decision making is not exposed to public scrutiny, and it is forbidden to publicly discuss personnel decisions or decision making.14 Therefore, it is easy to underestimate the degree of hierarchical control and overemphasize the degree of effective local autonomy.

The era of economic reform has fundamentally altered the environment in which government officials operate. Economic changes - and especially state enterprise restructuring - have created massive opportunities for private gain. Officials have numerous alternatives to commitment to government-mandated tasks. They can neglect government duties and go into business; they can become corrupt; and they can mix public and private interests through complicated intermediate strategies. With the sources of wealth diversifying, it is now impossible to monitor consumption and simply insist that officials live frugal lifestyles. In and of themselves, these changes tend to undermine the authoritativeness of the government and Party hierarchy: With the onset of economic reforms, the party lost its monopoly over reward and remuneration.

If central policy makers did nothing in response to these trends, they would inevitably watch the commitment to national goals of local officials gradually erode. If they act, they must increase the rewards given to government officials for compliance with their objectives (personal or programmatic) and increase the monitoring of officials to restrain their desire to deviate from central goals. In fact, steadily throughout the reform period, the Chinese government has increased both rewards and monitoring. It has responded and adapted to the challenges of the reform environment by altering the incentive environment that cadres face. The general theory of incentives proposes that, in designing optimal incentives for an agent with multiple tasks, one must consider both rewards for engaging in a task and the agent's opportunity costs of committing effort to the task.15 In the reform environment, the proliferation of competing tasks and options for officials means that the government must step up its rewards and monitoring in order to elicit the effort and commitment it desires. This is exactly what has happened in China, resulting in a kind of rough institutional equilibrium in which the continuing survival of the administrative hierarchy has thus far been ensured.

© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

Holding China together : introduction 1
1 Political localism versus institutional restraints : elite recruitment in the Jiang era 29
2 The institutionalization of elite management in China 70
3 The cadre evaluation system at the grass roots : the paradox of party rule 101
4 Economic transformation and state rebuilding in China 120
5 Policy consistency in the midst of the Asian crisis : managing the furloughed and the farmers in three cities 149
6 Population control and state coercion in China 193
7 The political economy of industrial restructuring in China's coal industry, 1992-1999 226
8 The western development program 253
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