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Part One
National Issues


A Plum for a Peach:Bargaining, Interest, and Bureaucratic Politics in China

David M. Lampton

China is a centrally planned society without central planning. China is a centralized polity without centralized authority. These aspects are in dialectical relationship to each other.


In Article 16 of the constitution adopted by the Thirteenth Party Congress we find the following: "In case of controversy over major issues in which supporters of the two opposing views are nearly equal in number, except in emergencies where action must be taken in accordance with the majority view, the decision should be put off to allow for further investigation, study and exchange of opinions followed by another vote." In the previous constitution, the section was the same except that the last word was "discussion."

Within connection networks, the law of exchange generally works. ... I will give you a plum in return for a peach. ... The practice of exchanging power for goods, exchanging goods for power, and exchanging power for power and goods for goods is extensively pursued and injures the public interest to profit the private interest, and lines one's pockets with public funds.


China's economic reforms have changed the monopoly of public ownership and the pattern of equal distribution. As a result different interest groups are emerging in the society. These groups, representing various economic forces, make different demands on the reforms. Conflicts arise as they evaluate the social changes from their own perspectives. ... Not only do interest gaps exist between different groups, but views of people within groups are divergent.


Some preliminary elements of this chapter appeared as "Chinese Politics: The Bargaining Treadmill," Issues and Studies 23, no. 3 (March 1987): 11–41. In making subsequent revisions, the suggestions of James Reardon-Anderson, A. Doak Barnett, Thomas P. Bernstein, and Harry Harding were most helpful. Finally, I thank Kenneth Lieberthal and all the participants in the conference on "The Structure of Authority and Bureaucracy in China" for their trenchant comments.


How are we to understand the structure of authority and the political process in China, particularly in the era of reform? How substantially have these structures and processes changed in the course of reform and how are they evolving?

Are the quotations with which this chapter opened simply the rhetorical fig leaves covering the knuckles of an iron-fisted and highly capable centralized regime? The violence of Tiananmen Square in mid-1989 superficially supports such a conclusion. Or, on the contrary, is there sown within these disjointed vignettes a serious understanding of the Chinese system of authority and the bureaucratic apparatus?

In this chapter I argue that bargaining is one of several forms of authority relationship in China , that it has been of central importance in the Chinese policy process throughout the Communist era, and that it became increasingly important in the first decade of reform in the post-Mao era. Even in the wake of the violence of Tiananmen, cooked up by an aging cabal of Party elders holding few (or no) formal positions of authority, bargaining remains a key feature of the system. By "bargaining" I mean an authority relationship of "reciprocal control ... among representatives of hierarchies."[1] Bargaining has been conspicuous in technical and economic decisions, though it is by no means limited to this domain. Other forms of authority relationships are documented elsewhere in this volume: hierarchy and command, market relations, patron-client ties, pleading, and rent-seeking or corruption.

One of the principal conceptual contributions of this entire volume is to point out that there are many forms of political and authority relationships in China and that the kind of authority relationship depends on where in the social and bureaucratic hierarchies the respective parties are located, who the various parties to the authority relationship are, and what resources they possess. Bargaining occurs among proximate leaders, persons of equal rank, or among immediate superiors and subordinates. Bargaining is most in evidence when one is dealing with two or more bureaucracies of approximately equal resources, none of which can carry out an undertaking without the cooperation of the other(s), but which cannot compel the cooperation of the other(s) and cannot persuade a senior authoritative leader or institution to compel the other(s) to cooperate. Senior authoritative leaders may not intervene, because they lack the knowledge to decide, they do not care, their resources are insufficient to enforce a decree, or the leadership is itself divided.

To be more specific, the circumstances that favor a bargaining process are situations in which there is collective leadership, disagreement


among authoritative elites, parties of about equal bureaucratic rank, decisions of high complexity with multiple trade-offs, and decisions in which interdependencies are complex and extensive. Issues that must be resolved in such circumstances frequently are addressed through an intensive process of consensus building in which leadership, at all levels, is hesitant to act until there is a consensus among subordinates and among competing bureaucracies.

The Chinese system is distinctive, not because bargaining occurs (which is a generic feature of politics, per se), but because frequently so many individuals and organizations must agree or acquiesce before one gets action. Americans sometimes see themselves as uniquely hamstrung by a "checks and balances system"; the Chinese decision system often is hamstrung by a complex bargaining process and the need to build a consensus.

There are several reasons that bargaining became more prevalent in the decade of reform (1978–1988) following Mao Zedong's death: leadership became more collective, and political agendas were dominated by complex economic and development issues that reflected great interdependencies, many trade-offs, and high complexity. Perhaps even more important, the very notion of partial social interests articulating their needs was legitimized in the wake of the Chairman's death, and extreme collectivist ideology was delegitimized. Finally, the unrelenting growth in the size of both state and Party bureaucracies, combined with the decentralization of economic power, proliferated the number of organizational bases with clout.

Nonetheless, even under Mao there was extensive bargaining among localities and functional bureaucracies, reflecting the need to resolve conflicts among interdependent localities and bureaucracies when the rigidities of the vertical command system obstructed timely and appropriate decisions. The potential of the marketplace to make decisions was almost entirely untapped.

If one examines the literature on Chinese foreign and domestic politics, there is a curious and conspicuous disjuncture. Analysts have long realized that bargaining and negotiating processes are central to interactions with foreigners; the Chinese, we have been told, are master bargainers.[2] However, when we look at domestic political processes, we see that


there has been insufficient appreciation of the role that bargaining and negotiation play in the consensus-building and decision-making process. Richard Solomon's observation about negotiations with foreigners applies with nearly equal force to internal politics. "Chinese officials sometimes give the impression that agreements are never quite final. They will seek modifications of understandings when it serves their purposes, and the conclusion of one agreement is only the occasion for pressing an interlocutor for new concessions."[3]

This chapter will address these questions: What role does bargaining play in the repertoire of authority relations? What resources provide the greatest leverage in what types of bargaining situations? In what policy domains is bargaining most pronounced, in what areas is it least in evidence, and why? What do political participants bargain over, and who is entitled to enter the process? What tactics do participants employ to enhance their positions? What factors account for the behavior of particular bargainers? What consequences does bargaining have for the political system and its policy outputs and outcomes?

A Comparative Framework For Viewing Bargaining

Political leadership in any society has two inescapable tasks: the calculative function (to identify problems, to assess the options for solution, and to make choices) and the control or coordination function (to assure that multiple actors comply with policy and coordinate their actions when necessary). As Robert Dahl and Charles Lindblom explained long ago, in discharging these tasks, leaders must choose from a limited number of basic means: hierarchy or "command" structures, markets (or price mechanisms), voting and preference counting systems, and bargaining.[4] Each tool provides both a means by which leaders and followers gain information and make choices ("calculation") and a means by which leaders control (or coordinate) subsequent behavior. Every society employs a combination of each tool, and every polity is therefore a "mixed" system; what distinguishes one polity from another is the mix , the issues with respect to which various tools are employed, the levels of the society at which various mixes prevail, and the stability of the mix.[5]

Looking at the PRC developmentally, in the first decade of reform in the post-Mao era we see that there was a relative decline in the use of hierarchical command (and within many, but not all, hierarchies there was a delegation of authority downward). Within the elite there was more


collective leadership. There was an increase in the use of market mechanisms, but it proceeded only far enough to create opportunities for corruption and other rent-seeking behavior by those in the hierarchy who were best positioned to reap benefits from manipulations of the disjunctures between the administrative hierarchy and the marketplace. There was a limited increase in the use of voting and preference counting systems (particularly in county and below governance and in the use of public opinion surveys). There was a significant increase in the use of bargaining, because the agenda was dominated by complex economic and technical issues, with multiple trade-offs, in the context of a collective leadership and bureaucracies of growing size and technical complexity.

What do we mean by "bargaining" and what are its practical and theoretical consequences? Dahl and Lindblom provide a departure point. "Bargaining is a form of reciprocal control among leaders . ... Leaders bargain because they disagree and expect that further agreement is possible and will be profitable. ... Bargaining commonly means reciprocity among representatives of hierarchies " (emphasis added).[6] Bargaining, therefore, is a process of reciprocal accommodation among the leaders of territorial and functional hierarchies. Bargaining occurs because these leaders believe that the gains to be made by mutual accommodation exceed those to be made by unilateral action (if that were possible) or by forgoing agreement altogether.

A bargaining perspective does not mean that China is on the road to free enterprise—indeed, bargaining can be one means by which established hierarchies endeavor to prevent the further erosion of their power, a way to avoid the increased use of market forces. Moreover, bargaining does not mean that established hierarchies are being dismantled; on the contrary, bargaining is one reflection of the fact that there are large, competitive bureaucracies and territorial administrations that are absolutely central to the functioning of both the society and the polity. Bargaining does not necessarily result in more coherent policies or more efficient governance. Bargaining is more akin to protracted guerrilla warfare within and between large-scale organizations.

Consequently, bargaining has sown within itself a number of pathologies among which are blocked leadership, minority veto, control by the organized (which in China generally means powerful bureaucracies, to include localities), and an inability to assure that the policy to emerge from one bargaining process is consistent with another, for coherence among policies is difficult to assure. Bargaining is a process characteristic of what Jerry Hough calls bureaucratic (and I would add localist) plural-


ism, though its cultural roots in China run much deeper than just the post-1949 bureaucratic structure.[7]

The Systematic Causes Of Bargaining Activity

Bargaining results from several structural factors, many of which existed prior to the demise of Mao Zedong, and several of which made bargaining substantially more pronounced in the era of reform after his death. The enduring factors are several. First is the existence of massive, parallel, and interdependent (but inadequately coordinated) bureaucracies and territorial administrations, which must coordinate policy but which lack established mechanisms to do so without negotiations and protracted consensus-building efforts.

Second, divergent societal interests become embedded in the various state and Party bureaucracies, experts and technocrats come to play an increasingly potent role, and bureaucracies develop their own distinctive ideologies and cultures. Central, territorial, and bureaucratic leaders cope with the resulting complexity and conflict through accommodation and arduous consensus-building efforts.

Third, though the scope of state planning underwent important changes between 1978 and 1988 (with guidance planning assuming a more prominent role and mandatory planning playing a declining role), the process of moving resources in society was still a political and bureaucratic decision in considerable measure. Without a market to match supply and demand, and voting and preference counting systems practically nonexistent, elaborate bargaining mechanisms developed to fill the void.

Fourth, work by Vivienne Shue goes some distance in further explaining why bargaining activity has been an enduring feature of the Chinese polity under communism.[8] To simplify Shue's rich argument: the Chinese polity is a "honeycomb" structure in which localist and familial values are dominant. The "Center's" capacity to impose its objectives and norms generally is quite limited; the alternative to compulsion has generally been negotiation. This honeycomb structure is the origin of what Naughton called "the implementation bias," that is, the situation in which every central initiative will be distorted in favor of the organization or locality responsible for implementation.[9]


Fifth, territorial administrations and vertical functional organizations (the kuai and the tiao ) embody a variety of interests,[10] and the minister (buzhang ) of a ministry has the same rank in the system as a provincial governor (shengzhang ). With respect to any given issue, specific ministries find that their interests and policy preferences correspond with, or diverge from, those of a complex array of other ministries and territorial units. Local leaders not only are advocates for their own territory's interests, they also are mediators of disputes among the autonomous, but interdependent, vertical hierarchies that intersect in their localities. Local leadership engages in this mediation with its own agenda. Central leaders at the commission, vice-premier, and Politburo levels become arbiters among provinces and ministries. One can view the Chinese hierarchy as a top-down command system or, sometimes more accurately, as an inverted sieve in which issues that cannot be resolved at lower levels are kicked up to the next higher level able to negotiate a resolution. As Susan Shirk recounts in chapter 3, there is a desire to resolve conflicts at the lowest possible level. The problem is, however, that deadlocks among entities at lower levels assure that higher levels remain overwhelmed by squabbling subordinates.

Finally, another enduring aspect of the Chinese political milieu is the deeply shared value among both superiors and subordinates that "fairness" exists when there has been "consultation" and when the outcome of "consultation" is not to leave an individual, family, locality, or organization without adequate wherewithal to subsist and accomplish its assigned duties, unless there is a self-evident and overriding social interest that can be demonstrated. Even then, fairness requires that there be "just" compensation. What constitutes "just compensation" can become the subject of protracted negotiation.

In addition to those factors that have accounted for bargaining relationships throughout the Communist era, the first decade of reform created circumstances that favored even more bargaining behavior. Most notably, during the period 1978–88 China was in the awkward transition stage of reform. A small, growing, and dynamic market sector uneasily coexisted with the rigidities of the still dominant administered economy. The scarcities and rigidities of the dominant system provided opportunities (and problems) for the decontrolled sector, and vice versa; bargaining behavior (legal, illegal, and quasi-legal) of all sorts was the result.

Moreover, the pursuit of individual, local, and organizational interest was legitimate in a way in which it never was under Mao. And, the


pursuit of interest became absolutely essential in China's greatly expanded intercourse with the outside world after Mao's death.

Further, the very nature of the post-Mao agenda—modernization and economic growth—lent itself to bargaining, for a number of reasons. The agenda was dominated by economic and technical choices in which the trade-offs among issues were complex, and powerful domestic bureaucracies frequently found themselves at loggerheads without the benefit of market, voting, or command systems adequate to resolve issues.

And finally, structurally, prior to June 1989, there was a carefully balanced Politburo Standing Committee of Zhao Ziyang, Hu Qili, Li Peng, Yao Yilin, and Qiao Shi. The cleavages evident among the bureaucracies and localities were mirrored in the leadership. An elite that could not agree among itself found it difficult to enforce its will on recalcitrant and deadlocked subordinates.

What Do Leaders Bargain Over?

I shall first indicate the breadth of issues over which bargaining occurs and then examine two specific cases that reveal the process more clearly. While the issues and arenas recounted below emphasize national organizations and national issues, these processes are mirrored throughout the bureaucracy and units at all levels. The range of policy issues that generate bargaining is broad. One bargains over what is scarce: in the PRC, financial resources, power and position in the hierarchy, high-quality goods and services, and access to the international system and to highly skilled personnel are among those things most sought.

Bargaining is intense in the budgetary process. Budgetary resources are allocated among the various functional "systems" (xitong ).[11] Each "system's" prior share of the budget, particularly the "operating" portion of the budget, is the base from which marginal changes are negotiated for the next year—"the fixed sum system."[12] Within "systems" and individual bureaucracies, resources (particularly "operating" resources) are treated as a "lump" (kuai ) to be "carved up" (qie ) among subordinate entities according to the percentages previously applicable.[13]

Bargaining, therefore, occurs around the edges of the budget. Which units will suffer marginal cuts and reap modest gains, and which units will have their budgets charged for investments that benefit other systems or organizations, all become important questions.[14] One of the recurring


budgetary issues in building the Gezhouba Dam, for instance, was how much of the budget of the then Ministry of Water Conservancy and Electric Power (MWCEP) should be spent on increasing the lock capacity of the dam to meet the needs of the Ministry of Communications, the agency responsible for inland shipping. The Ministry of Communications could make demands, knowing that the cost of meeting its desires would not come from its budget, because all project expenditures are charged against the budget of the lead agency, in this case the MWCEP.[15]

In speaking of how investment allocation decisions are made, Barry Naughton explains, "We can speculate that ... actual allocation decisions are determined largely by the influence that different Beijing-based bureaucracies can bring to bear, and by various ad hoc sharing arrangements. ... Ministries struggle to protect their power bases and keep subordinates busy; in order to succeed in this struggle, they must insure that at least their share of the total investment is not too drastically reduced."[16]

Revenue raising also involves negotiation. In the early 1980s, when Beijing was experimenting with a system in which enterprises were being permitted to keep a portion of profits ("profit retention")—which effectively reduced central revenues in the short run—"enterprises negotiated long and hard for the best possible retention rates."[17] As was explained in a 1982 interview in a Beijing ministry, many factories'


retention rates are decided by the local bureau and province. The State Planning Commission has a "general principle" that the profit retention rate should not be higher than 12–13 percent, though he [the interviewee] noted it has changed every year and the situation has been "chaotic" [hen luan ]. The average is about 10 percent, though in some cases it is as low as 5–6 percent and in some cases it is higher. [Critical to determining where in the permitted range the allowed profit retention will fall is an assessment of the degree to which the enterprise is disadvantaged by the price system.] ... For example, the price for agricultural machinery is low and in favor of the peasants. So, they [the agricultural machinery enterprises] cannot change the sales price, but they can try to get to retain a higher percentage of the profit.[18]

Similarly, with the experimental implementation of a tax system in the 1980s that created the prospect of enterprises keeping more money and


then remitting taxes directly to the Ministry of Finance (thereby bypassing counties that had previously taken a slice of the financial pie), some counties began to discriminate against enterprises in which the new revenue system was first being introduced, "and may have demanded kickbacks in exchange for supplying the trial enterprises with the desired commodities."[19] In summarizing the politics of the process of moving from a profit remission to a tax-based revenue system, Bachman says:

In an effort to win approval for ligaishui [the substitution of taxes for profit remission], central leaders apparently compromised on contentious issues. The Center made two fateful agreements that have checked the more revolutionary implications [of change]. ... Beijing stated that enterprises would retain about the same amount of money under [the new system] ... as they had retained under profit retention. It also announced that there would be no change in the distribution of central-local finances. In other words, to overcome the (potential) resistance of key local interests (factory managers and local officials), the Center agreed that the redistributive dimensions of the ligaishui would be minimal.[20]

Lieberthal and Oksenberg note the complex revenue-sharing deals that were worked out in Shanxi province. In speaking of fourteen large coal mines, they observe:

In the past, these large mines transferred all their profit to the provincial government . Under the new revenue system [ligaishui ], the mines no longer remitted all profits to the province. Instead, they [the mines] retained their profits and paid a tax [to the Center]. ... The Center then devised a way to compensate Shanxi for this loss in revenue, namely, to reduce the amount which the Center collected in revenue from Shanxi (emphasis added).[21]

Localities and bureaucratic organizations also bargain over new revenue sources and subsidy levels. Authorities in one county explained to me how the Center and localities had negotiated an arrangement whereby localities would build small-scale hydroelectric plants (which the Center wanted) in exchange for the localities' being able to dispose of the resulting revenue as they wished (yusuanwai ). Moreover, any excess electrical power beyond local needs would be purchased by the centrally managed power grids, at a high price, even if the grid did not need (and could not use) the energy at the time the locality wished to sell it.[22]


In one Beijing interview, the rationale for electrical price subsidies was explained. "I then asked why they subsidize small electrical power plants with higher purchase prices and why they sell power in the Gansu highlands at a way lower price than elsewhere? He said in explaining subsidies, 'political factors are key.' 'Sometimes cost benefit analysis counts for nothing.' ... [He said] that provinces are important political powers and you can't ignore them."[23] Provinces are potent bargainers because they often are represented in the Central Committee and have complex inter-personal and other ties with those in the elite; because they have the principal power to appoint (with central approval) those occupying key positions in both territorial and functional units within the province; because they often are major sources of central revenue; and, in the end, because it is they who must implement policy.

In late 1987 a group of economic officials was in the United States. On the West Coast they became involved in a discussion about how the government in Washington, D.C., decides where to build various construction projects. They were told by the American respondent that political connections played a decisive role, to which one member of the Chinese group responded, "Why, that's not very different from the way we do things in China."[24]

In the more consumer- and profit-oriented environment of 1978–88, the desire of firms to enter new, growing, and more lucrative markets, and the desire of ministries and enterprises previously in those markets to protect their shares, gave rise to competition and an intense bargaining process. Take washing machines, for instance. They are comparatively simple to make, previously they were manufactured by the light-industry ministry, and they are in high demand, with good profit margins. Predict-ably, the Ministry of Light Industry did not want the Ministry of Machine Building to begin making washing machines. But, the State Planning Commission (SPC) approved this, and many conferences were held as a result.[25]

Indeed, conferences to bargain over market shares and product lines appear to be a way of life. For example, in 1981 there was a conference on machines for civil use, attended by the SPC, the Ministry of Machine Building, and other related ministries and localities. The conference covered bikes, radios, fans, TVs, watches, clocks, electric meters, refrigerators, sewing machines, and washing machines; it fixed production levels and determined which factories would make what. The conference


lasted ten days, and the meeting was preceded by discussions that occurred over a year.[26]

Ministries (and other units) also clash continually over their respective jurisdictions. Oksenberg recounts the difficulties that Bo Yibo encountered in efforts to reduce the overlapping and duplicative organizational structure in the shipbuilding industry:

The solution which Bo and other top leaders embraced ... was to group factories in a single industry into a single, independent corporation operating directly under the Machine Building Commission. A pilot project in the shipbuilding industry was to group the major shipyards in Shanghai into a single corporation. Previously, the shipyards were under several jurisdictions: the Sixth Ministry of Machine Building, the Ministry of Communications, and several municipal departments. However, neither the Sixth Ministry nor Communications wished to lose their shipyards. ... Bo Yibo, with the staff of the Machine Building Commission behind him, nevertheless had to conduct the extensive negotiations for the formation of the new corporation personally. Several trips to Shanghai were necessary. Even then, with all of his prestige, the result was a hybrid organization. The ministries concurred only when it was decided the head of the new corporation would be one of the vice-ministers of the Sixth Ministry and the head of its board of directors would be a vice-minister of communications.[27]

Concisely, therefore, bargains are struck over revenue sources, budgets, personnel, organizational jurisdictions, market shares, production rights, subsidy levels, investment allocations, and jobs. Anything that is scarce and is sought by organizations can provide the raison d'être for bargaining.

Water Projects: The Bargaining Process Up Close

Because water is a scarce resource with multiple uses (with one use frequently precluding another), and because water traverses administrative boundaries (with upstream users affecting the interests of those downstream), analyzing how decisions are made in this field clearly reveals the bargaining dimensions of Chinese politics. The controversies swirling around the planning, construction, and management of the Danjiangkou and Three Gorges dam projects reveal both the complex constellation of interests that must be accommodated and the broader character of the political system, at least with respect to economic, organizational, and technical decisions. Further, both of these projects involve ongoing decision processes that straddle the Maoist and post-Mao eras;


they thereby reveal the continual role of bargaining in the Chinese polity, as well as its even more prominent role in the era following the Chairman's death.

The Danjiangkou Dam

The middle and lower reaches of the Han River in Hubei province flood often; it is a constant menace to the major metropolis of Wuhan at the confluence of the Han and Yangtze rivers. In 1955 China's government began a flood-diversion project along the Han (Dujiatai), which was part of a more comprehensive development plan for the entire Han River Basin. In 1958 the State Council approved construction of the Danjiangkou Dam as stage two of that development effort.

During its construction a number of problems slowed the project, as is detailed elsewhere.[28] Here the focus is on several issues that became the foci of protracted bargaining during the planning, construction, and management phases: the dam's height; the priorities to be assigned irrigation, flood control, and electrical power generation; the problem of relocating displaced persons; and the issue of local opposition.

When construction started on Danjiangkou, the dam's initially planned height was 175 meters, with the water level to be maintained at 170 meters (above sea level).[29] However, throughout the entire construction phase (which ended in 1974), there was intense controversy over what the dam's height should, in fact, be. During construction, the bargaining process produced agreed-upon dam heights of 140 meters, 152 meters, and 162 meters, as well as the initial height of 175. Throughout much of the construction period, no one knew how high the dam would be; the foundation that was built could support a much higher dam. Further, even in 1989, debate was still going on about whether to heighten the dam—sixteen years after construction was "finished."

In 1965 the planners (who wished to minimize construction and displaced-person costs) accepted a dam height of 152 meters, but Hubei and Henan provinces (the two provinces that shared the resulting reservoir) wanted a higher dam (so they would get more electrical power and irrigation water). In 1966 the dam was approved for 162 meters (which Hubei and Henan wanted), but the water level was to stay at the 145-meter level (as in the 152-meter dam) until the problem of what to do with displaced persons could be solved. The negotiating process produced a perfectly predictable outcome. The difference between the two sides was split down the middle, with one side getting an acceptable dam height and the other avoiding the immediate problem of displaced per-


sons and attendant costs.[30] One interviewee explained: "In 1965 ... the Center approved a revised dam height of 152 meters with a water level of 145 meters. Because Hubei and Henan were unhappy with this ... the Center agreed in 1966 to a 162-meter dam, with an initial water level of 145 meters to gradually be raised to 157 meters as the relocation problem was solved."[31]

The essence of the problem was that as the dam's height rose the opposition of counties and special districts that would be inundated became more intense; the number of persons who would be displaced would grow, and the number of cadres who would lose jobs would escalate, and all of this would greatly magnify political conflict and increase expenditures. The kernel of the bargaining outcome was that nobody got all of what they wanted, when they wanted it; few persons, organizations, or localities lost everything (at least immediately); and the number of dislocated persons and financial expenditures rose more gradually than would have been the case had they proceeded with the initial plan.

Though we cannot see the entire bargaining process, aspects of it are clear. One of the most contentious issues concerned the fact that Hubei province would get most of the flood control and electric power benefits and Henan province would get excessive numbers of refugees (in proportion to its benefits). Intense negotiations between the two provinces were conducted to redress this imbalance.

The leadership of the two provinces got together and Hubei agreed to take 80,000 of Henan's displaced persons (yimin ). According to central figures, there were a total of 356,000 refugees, with 130,000 in Henan and 226,000 in Hubei province. ... They said the local figures put the total number of displaced persons at 390,000 [obviously higher than the central estimate]. I asked why Hubei agreed to assume the burden and was told plainly that Henan was poor, their displaced persons' plight was worse, and "Henan's benefits from the reservoir were not as great."[32]

Perhaps because the Center pays local authorities for each displaced person, the central authorities had an estimate for displaced persons well below that of the local authorities, whose receipts went up with the number of refugees. In this kind of bargaining situation, proponents tend to minimize costs imposed on others and puff up the benefits to localities; the localities whine about the damage and mafan ("bother") and deprecate their benefits.

These negotiations resulted in a written agreement between Hubei and Henan, an agreement that specified the distribution of electric


power, water, and displaced persons.[33] Henan, though poorer and weaker than Hubei along many dimensions, did quite well in the bargaining process. Why? First, desperation can be a valuable political resource. Henan's provincial leaders could continually argue that if the refugee problem was not adequately solved, they would be unable to effectively remove people from areas to be inundated. In all political systems, people who are highly motivated to resist can exact large tolls. Second, the delays that Henan could impose on "closing" a deal were, in themselves, very expensive for Hubei. Every year that Wuhan's industries were starved for power and floods caused destruction all along the Han River proved enormously costly to Hubei. Just by being able to slow progress, Henan could inflict costs on Hubei higher than the concessions Hubei would have to provide Henan to close a deal. In short, the weak can be strong!

A second ongoing issue has been whether the principal use of Danjiangkou should be electrical-power generation, flood control, or irrigation. To manage the dam to maximize one objective is to diminish the extent to which the other purposes can be fully realized. To use water for irrigation means that less water flows through the turbines to generate power. "The contradiction is sharp," I was told in one interview.[34] To maximize power output, the water level needs to be kept high; to provide insurance against flood, the water level should be kept low. To irrigate fields, the water level should be high, but water should not run through turbines and thereafter "uselessly" (from the vantage point of the local farmer) flow downstream.

Each of these purposes is not only of more importance to some mass constituencies than others (e.g., electrical power for industry and water for peasants, to greatly oversimplify), each purpose is also organizationally embodied in a particular ministry or set of bureaus within ministries. Agricultural concerns are the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Animal Husbandry. Electrical power has its bureaucratic proponents in the Electrical Power Ministry (or in the Electrical Power Bureau when there is a consolidated Ministry of Water Resources and Electrical Power), heavy industrial organizations, and big urban areas with great concentrations of population and industry. As for flood control, the Ministry of Water Conservancy historically has seen itself as the defender of the peasantry against flood. Territorial actors also have different interests. For instance, with respect to Danjiangkou, Henan province (upstream) was concerned primarily about irrigation water (although Zhengzhou did want more electrical power), and Hubei's provin-


cial government (downstream) was more concerned with flood control and Wuhan's electrically starved industry (e.g., Wuhan Iron and Steel). One sees, therefore, a Byzantine process of negotiation within provinces (between the province and "its" special districts and municipalities and the many vertical functional organizations that intersect in its domain) and between and among provinces.

In the case of Danjiangkou, complex and literally never-ending discussions among ministries and localities occurred over the dam's utilization priorities. Initially, flood prevention was the first priority, followed by electrical power, irrigation, navigation, and aquaculture, in that order.[35] Since then each ministry keeps raising the issue of the priority of "its" use, continually trying to reopen the case in order to better its position.[36] Issues frequently are never resolved; they just ebb and flow over time.

Another contentious issue that resulted in the dam's not being built to its designed height, an issue that still weighed against raising it in the late 1980s, is the opposition of localities along the reservoir's edge. My interview notes recount:

Another reason the 175-meter dam was not built as planned ... was because of the displaced persons problem. The fact is, I was told, that Henan province, even though it had no particular need for the flood control aspects of this dam, would agree to the higher dam, but it was Henan's Nanyang Special District which adamantly opposed it then, and does today, for the obvious reason that it would be one of the areas to be inundated heavily.[37]

In Hubei province, it is Jun Xian [county], with a long and illustrious history dating from the Tang, and Yun Xian. In Henan province it is Zhechuan Xian. These three old county towns would go under water and Xiangyang Special District in Hubei province and Nanyang Special District in Henan opposed it. According to ... [my interviewee], the provincial government in Henan would go along with this [raising the dam] because of the benefits to Zhengzhou [the provincial capital] and irrigation, but they can't persuade the affected localities.[38]

The Three Gorges Project

The Three Gorges, which sits astride the Hubei and Sichuan border, is a strategic choke-point at which floods that originate in Sichuan province (and devastate Hubei, Hunan, and other localities downstream) could theoretically be contained. Moreover, the reservoir that would be formed by a dam in the Three Gorges could drive turbines that would energize


much of central and eastern China's energy-starved industry. Finally, raising the water level in the gorges could improve navigation and increase the size of ships able to reach Chongqing, now China's largest city. So strategic is the Three Gorges that leaders from Sun Yatsen, through Mao Zedong, to Deng Xiaoping, Zhao Ziyang, and Li Peng have considered the project.

The undertaking has been approved at least twice "in principle" in the post-1949 era (once in 1958 at the Chengdu Conference and again in April 1984),[39] only to have the start of construction aborted because approval to commence actual building had been made contingent upon the resolution of myriad, presumably minor, technical, financial, and political details, such as, How high should the dam be? What is to be done with the displaced persons, inundated factories, cadres out of work, grain production and tax revenues that would evaporate, and administrative centers? Who pays, how much, for all this relocation, and where do you put the people? What would be the effect of such a huge project on upstream fisheries and estuaries and harbors above and below the dam? What would be the useful life of the dam, given siltation? How will shipping across the dam be affected, and how much shipping growth is it prudent to plan for? Is flood control best achieved by one gigantic project, or several smaller ones? Who will receive the resulting electrical power? Can it be efficiently transmitted to distant locations where it is most urgently needed, and at what cost? Is a dam of this scale safe? Or would it be, as Mao and the Ministry of National Defense at times feared, a huge "bowl of water on our heads"?

Each of these questions has no obvious answer, and the various possibilities all have their popular and bureaucratic constituencies, which are not averse to making their case in protracted consultations. I shall not recount here the more than three decades of the project's tribulations; these have been well documented elsewhere.[40] But I can advance a generalization that I believe will accurately predict both bureaucratic and local behavior most of the time—an "iron law of bargaining." The locality or bureaucracy will almost always exaggerate the costs that another unit's proposal will inflict, minimize the benefits received, exaggerate the mafan (bother) to itself, exaggerate the benefits others receive, understate its own resources, overstate the resources of others, and generate one-sided data supportive of its case.

As a result of such processes, in the case of the Three Gorges Project, promoters of the project face a bargaining dilemma: to weld a coalition big enough to win support for the dam, they must provide benefits to a


vast constellation of groups. But this requires a dam so enormous that the resulting costs and negative outcomes create intense opposition, high financial expenditures, and other risks that top decision-makers are loath to ignore.

The system has been unable to reach closure on this issue after almost three decades of wrangling. In May 1983 the State Planning Commission (SPC), then headed by Yao Yilin, convened a meeting to assess the Three Gorges feasibility study, which had been submitted to it by the MWCEP and the Yangtze River Valley Planning Office (YRVPO). This study assumed a water level of 150 meters, which was comparatively low and thereby would reduce both negative outcomes (displaced persons and inundated urban and rural land) and simultaneously reduce benefits (to shipping, flood control, and electrical-power generation). Yao declared:

For more than twenty years the debate over the Three Gorges water resources project has concentrated principally on the problem of the dam's height. That a high dam generates more electricity and that the flood control results are better is easy to see. However, the inundation is too much, the investment is too big, the masses upstream are unable to agree, the burdens on the state finance also cannot be borne. However, the relevant ministries and localities have not been reconciled to the low dam and, because of this we have debated for many years and still are unable to decide. If we continue to debate, I think this generation of ours will be unable to accomplish anything on this.[41]

The battle continues without respite. In December 1988 the cover on Beijing Review proclaimed, "Three Gorges Project Given the Go-Ahead." Scarcely a month later Vice-Premier Yao told the fourth meeting of the Standing Committee of the Seventh Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, "In the next five years, it is absolutely impossible to start the Sanxia Project, so people do not need to spend too much energy debating the issue for the time being."[42]

Who Bargains, In What Arenas, And What Strategies Are Employed?

Who Bargains?

Generally, only proximate leaders bargain—that is, equals in the hierarchy, and entities (persons, organizations, factions, localities) one step above and one step below that level. These are the actors that can legitimately make demands. For instance, provinces bargain with one another and


with ministries as equals, with prefectures and counties immediately below, and with the primary central commissions (e.g., the SPC, the State Economic Commission, etc.) immediately above.

One's capacity to affect policy content (as distinct from implementation) diminishes greatly as one moves downward from the point of decision . In policy formulation, bargaining goes on between the principal bureaucracies and territorial administrations, except at the lower reaches of the hierarchy, where low-level territorial and bureaucratic actors must take account of the very real, albeit more diffuse, social forces that they seek to manage. Nonetheless, there is a representative quality to the process, inasmuch as each bureaucratic or territorial actor sees part of its job as being to reflect at least the minimal interests of subordinates, not so much out of democratic considerations as out of the realization that effective implementation requires the cooperation of subordinates and the realization that one's own interests are inextricably linked to one's organization or locality.

Depending on the policy issue, the implementation process not only involves intense bargaining among the territorial and functional bureaucracies, it also frequently involves officials dealing with a broad range of individuals and small social groups that have no formal standing or political role, yet who must be reckoned with if policy is to be effectively implemented, at least without coercion. As the modernization of China proceeds, the fragmentation of Chinese society proceeds apace, and as it does, the array of social forces affecting implementation will multiply. As this occurs traditional Chinese fears of chaos and immobilization are not unwarranted.

How to meet urgent problems, of a vast scale in a timely manner, in a bargaining system that seeks consensus amidst increasing pluralization is a genuine problem for the system. Obviously, there are alternative tools at hand, such as command and hierarchy or greater use of the market. Each of these also has liabilities; more command and hierarchy reduces flexibility and innovation; increased use of the market increases inequalities and accelerates pluralization.

In What Arenas Does Bargaining Occur?

There are several arenas (or types of arenas) that play central and recurrent roles: the SPC, other commissions, the Standing Committee of the State Council,[43] the Politburo, state councillors, ad hoc interprovincial and interministerial committees, the National People's Congress, the national finance and planning conferences, materials-allocation confer-


ences, central work conferences, and specific policy-issue committees. These forums are replicated at all system levels . At this, we see only the tip of the iceberg of conflict-resolving arenas. Below I concentrate simply on national arenas.

The SPC (in 1989 consisting of the pre–April 1988 State Planning Commission and the old State Economic Commission) is one of the most important bargaining arenas. As a commission, the SPC stands as a buffer between individual ministries and the State Council. In an interview I was told that the way in which allocations among ministries are determined is "complicated" and that there is "lots of discussion." The interviewee went on to say that every province and municipality wants allocations that they consider small but that become a huge sum when aggregated. The SPC is the organ charged with mediating these conflicting claims and avoiding deficits and material bottlenecks.[44] Because the SPC is divided into functional bureaus, conflict patterns within the organization tend to reflect those in the wider bureaucratic environment.[45]

Another, and indeed higher, arena for bargaining among territorial and functional interests is the State Council, meaning either its Standing Committee (with a large permanent bureaucracy of its own, which needs a great deal more study) or the entire State Council. Conflicts that cannot be resolved by individual commissions or ministries are referred upward to this next higher level. For instance, to paraphrase one interviewee, "Say there is a high value investment to be made ... and say four provinces or municipalities all want it ... obviously this is a difficult task. ... The SPC can reach agreement with mayors, but if that is not possible, it then goes to the Standing Committee of the State Council."[46]

It appears from my interviews, as well as from the work of Oksenberg, that one of the key systemic problems is that an excessive number of issues cannot be resolved by the ministries and localities themselves, even though, as Susan Shirk says in chapter 3, there is a desire to resolve issues at the lowest possible level. This can overwhelm the top echelons of the State Council (and Politburo) in a Niagara Falls of issues, a torrent whose volume is greatly increased by the fact that market mechanisms are not in place that elsewhere greatly reduce the number of items requiring conscious bureaucratic (political) decision in the first place.

In an effort to reduce the number of issues kicked to the next higher level, the Chinese have repeatedly tried to merge organizations that habitually conflict (and yet need to coordinate policy). The Water Conservancy and Electric Power ministries are just one of several such cases. In 1982, for instance, the Water Conservancy and Electric Power


ministries were merged. As one interviewee expressed the logic of the move, discussions would now be "in the family" rather than "between families."[47] This union ended in divorce in April 1988, once again, with the re-creation of the Ministry of Water Resources and the merger of the Electric Power Ministry and other units into a new Ministry of Energy Resources.[48] What is fascinating is that even when the water-conservancy people had been joined in a "shotgun union" with the electric-power people, individuals from each of the old ministries still referred to their new organization as the Ministry of Water Conservancy and Ministry of Electric Power, respectively.

Not only are conflicts resolved in the SPC and the State Council, there also is a rich repertoire of regularized and ad hoc procedures, conferences, and committees to resolve disputes in both the formulation and the implementation phases of the policy process at all system levels. Among the most important are the National Finance Conference and the National Planning Conference. One informant described the National Planning Conference as a Chinese market in which delegations from various provinces and ministries worked out deals. Lieberthal and Oksenberg explain that in the planning process the Ministry of Finance (MOF)

must go over the draft plan from the SPC with a view to its financial feasibility and implications. Not surprisingly, the perspectives of the three major participants in this process (the line ministries and provinces; the SPC; and the Ministry of Finance) often differ as to both the revenue and expenditure implications of their proposals. ... The key forums for resolving the differences among these various groups in the annual planning cycle were generally the National Planning Conference and the National Finance Conference. ... Since not all problems could be solved at these meetings, a central work conference that brought together provincial Party first secretaries as well as Politburo members and other key officials usually met to reach final decision on particularly contentious issues. The Politburo itself met separately to determine its position, where necessary.[49]

When the Politburo finds itself deadlocked, the supreme leader, in this case Deng Xiaoping, and before him Mao Zedong, becomes the court of last resort. From a system-development perspective, the critical questions for the future are these: Will the system be able to reduce the number of issues bumped up to this level for resolution? And will individual leaders assume less importance as institutions achieve greater legitimacy?

Finally, one of the most interesting developments of the first decade of reform in the post-Mao era was the rise of the National, and local,


People's Congress (NPC) as an arena for bargaining. For instance, during the March 1989 session of the NPC, Xinhua carried the following report, quoting one NPC deputy named Yang Lieyu: "However, he noted, as most provincial governors and mayors of major cities are NPC deputies, who usually spoke a lot, asking for everything ranging from favorable policies to energy and raw materials, from cabinet members and ministers, deputies' group discussions sometimes became bargaining sessions between the central government and local authorities."[50]

Strategies for Bargaining and the Necessary Resources

Strategies are contingent upon the actor under consideration, the policy issue in question, whether one is trying to promote, or frustrate, a specific initiative, the bundle of interrelated issues on the agenda at the same time, one's resources and position in the hierarchy, and the wider social-political-economic contexts. A few examples may serve to illustrate the rich and sophisticated diversity of strategies employed.

Foot-In-The-Door And "Fishing Projects."

In this gambit, the bargainer tries to secure a commitment that will permit work on a project to start. The idea is to obtain an initial commitment that is nonthreatening to potential or actual adversaries but that will not preclude the possibility of enlarging the project at some later date, thereby creating a situation in which each stage's sunk costs (combined with the presumed benefits of the next phase) become justification for taking the next step toward the initiator's ultimate objective.

At the Fourth Session of the Sixth National Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a speech by Qian Jiaju concisely explains the strategy: "In the past 30-odd years ... we had a fondness for big projects but ignored actual effects, and thus paid an enormous price ... from those "fishing projects" (which were said to need limited investment at the beginning according to the planners but later involved more and more additional funds after they were started). We should not follow this stupid practice any more."[51]

For this strategy to work, several conditions must be met and several resources must be in the bargainer's possession. First, and most important, the decision under consideration must be separable into stages, and each stage must generate sufficient benefits to be defensible in its own terms. For instance, dams can be raised, and each level of dam can, at least possibly, provide benefits that justify each step in its own terms. Obviously, some decisions are all or nothing, and any benefits are contin-


gent on completion of the whole process. Such issues make this strategy difficult to employ.

The bargainer seeking to use this strategy must have the capacity to disguise "his" ultimate objective, or at least convince potential opponents that the first step will not offend their interests and that subsequent steps are not preordained. Some decisions cannot credibly meet this condition, and some bargainers simply are too identified with the ultimate objective to disassociate themselves from it. For instance, because the YRVPO has worked for a high Three Gorges Dam for decades, any attempt by it to promote a more modest project would be seen as the entering wedge for its more expansive ambitions.

Whipping Up Support and Faits Accomplis

In this strategy, local or ministerial leaders use the media to fan support for a project, begin work on it, and then point to their responsiveness to "public opinion" as the rationale for, in effect, having presented superiors with a fait accompli. "And, if one whips up opinion through newspapers and broadcasting stations and starts the so-called preliminary work before the feasibility study of a project is completed, so as to make the project an accomplished fact and force the central authorities to agree with the plan, one's practice, I think, is definitely a violation of the basic procedure."[52]

For this strategy to be feasible, the bargainer must have resources that he or she can independently deploy without central approval. As Naughton points out in his study of the loss of central control over investment resources, the "localization" of control over capital was one of the most profound changes of the first decade of post-Mao reform.[53] The combination of decentralized resources and decentralized decision authority have created a situation in which the Center has been presented with faits accomplis on an enormous scale in the capital construction area.

Another precondition for this strategy to be effective is that the sanctions for presenting higher authorities with faits accomplis cannot be too severe. The fact that so many local leaders have felt free to proceed in defiance of central preferences is one indication of the Center's diminished reach in the wake of 1980s reform.

Painting a Rosy or a Black Picture—Cooking the Books

In the same way that supporters of an initiative try to minimize perceived costs and uncertainties, opponents frequently exaggerate them. For instance, in one interview I asked about the price tag for the Three Gorges Project,


noting that I had seen cost estimates that varied by a factor of five. My respondent, who was an ardent supporter of the project, bluntly replied that those who advance extremely high estimates "oppose the Three Gorges Project."[54]

For this strategy to be effective, the bargainer must possess seemingly credible information. It is no accident that each ministry and locality has its own statistical units that tend to produce data supportive of local or organizational goals. I noted above, for instance, that central and local estimates concerning the number of refugees that would be generated by the Danjiangkou Dam diverged in a predictable fashion, with each side of the dispute promoting data most consistent with its interests. Similarly, respondents at one ministry at which I interviewed assumed that the figures I quoted from another ministry had been distorted in a way consistent with that other ministry's interests. One implication of this process is, of course, that more information will not necessarily speed up the decision process, unless the data are collected using agreed-upon methodologies in the first place.

A Little Something for Everyone

This is a coalition-building process in which the scale of an undertaking is enlarged to provide benefits to all of the strategic groups that could obstruct agreement. In cases such as the Three Gorges Project, there may exist a situation in which any enlargement of the scale of the project not only attracts some wavering elements, it also scares away others by virtue of the project's very size. The costs of building a big enough coalition may simply be prohibitive, both economically and politically.

Getting to Key Decision-Makers, "Old Friends," and Relatives

The utilization of political networks cannot be overlooked.[55] In the bargaining process, one's success may hinge on the "connections" (guanxi ) one possesses and the IOUs that can be collected. Personal networks, though not limited to organizations, are built into them. A leader, such as Yu Qiuli, who has extensive personal networks throughout the planning, energy, and military bureaucracies has great power and influence, not only because he directly controls powerful organizations, but also because he has been able to place loyal friends into a broad range of other organizations.[56]

When asked how political actors promote their interests, one inter-


viewee placed particular emphasis on face-to-face meetings with decision-makers and contacts with old friends. Close personal ties with decision-makers, he asserted, could be decisive.[57] Also not to be overlooked, in the "new China" as in the "old", marriage patterns establish lines of influence and obligation that can be decisive in certain bargaining settings (we need to know a great deal more about this).

The Implications Of A Bargaining System View

What are some of the practical consequences of bargaining for both the process of making policy and the outputs and outcomes of that process? I believe that five consequences are of particular importance:

Decisions generally are slow in coming; the process of consensus building and negotiation is protracted. The more geographic areas and functional systems that must be involved in the process the more laborious will be the process of negotiation.

It is difficult to definitively say when a decision really has been made. Frequently, decisions are made "in principle," with nettlesome details left for future resolution. The requisite resolution of these details may never occur. Decisions concerning the building of nuclear power plants and the Three Gorges Project are excellent examples of this phenomenon.[58] There is an indeterminacy to outcomes. Issues seem to rise like Lazarus on the agenda; they never stay buried. This process is the political equivalent of protracted guerrilla warfare.

Even once a policy is formulated and adopted, the implementation process is characterized by negotiation among and between levels of the hierarchy, sometimes all the way down to the grass roots. Each level slightly deflects policy in a direction favorable to its interests; by the time one has moved through six, seven, or more layers of the system, the cumulative distortion (not to mention bureaucratic constipation) can be great. Almost invariably, unanticipated and unwelcome consequences are part of the implementation process from the Center's perspective.

One of the biggest mistakes that the Center can make is to set too many high-priority goals simultaneously. For both formulation and implementation to be effective, the elite must be united on the objective and willing to expend considerable political and economic resources as a seemingly endless bargaining process unfolds. There


is no substitute for elite attention and the focused use of resources in the bargaining process. However, the ability to focus elite attention and resources is often diluted by divergent priorities among elite members, their different support bases, and the shared desire of the entire leadership to produce rapid change. This shared desire to produce rapid change almost assures that the elite will bite off more than it can chew.

Because bargaining is extensive, the legal framework is poorly developed, and social norms and system legitimacy suffered egregious harm in the Cultural Revolution era, it is exceedingly difficult to separate legitimate and necessary bargaining activity from corruption. It is essential that the system create a legal framework and affirm widely shared values, procedures, and norms to govern this activity. The race is between the process of establishing these norms and the loss of system legitimacy. This may be the most important race in which Beijing's leaders are running.


The Chinese Political System and the Political Strategy of Economic Reform

Susan L. Shirk

The greatest challenge of China's economic reform is the political one. The national leaders who seek to improve the functioning of the economy by introducing market reforms must formulate and implement these reforms through the Communist political system. Their political strategy of economic reform, if it is to succeed, must reflect the actual power relationships operating in the political realm. The political system is not static, however; economic reforms in communist states usually are accompanied by some reform of the communist political system. Changes in the political institutions and rules of the game modify the context in which bargaining over economic reform policies occurs. From the standpoint of communist political elites, political reforms, such as modification of the relationship between the Communist Party and the government, are instruments for furthering economic reforms, important elements of their political strategy of economic reform.

Political bargaining over policy proposals for economic reform is very intense. A transformation of the economic structure involves redistributing authority and rewards among sectors, bureaucratic agencies, and regions. Those who benefit from market reforms naturally support them and strive to get the best possible deal under the new rules. The groups who were favored and protected by the old command economy and who feel threatened by changes in the economic system resist the reforms or fight to retain as much of their original privileges as they can. As Vice-Premier Tian Jiyun observed in a 1986 speech: "The overall reform of the economic structure is, in a sense, a readjustment of power and interest, in which a large amount of contradictions exist. Among them, there are contradictions between the central authorities and the localities; between the state, the collective, and the individual; between


one department and another; between one locality and another; between departments and localities; and so on and so forth" (Tian 1986).

Theoretically, these changes in the economic system, by increasing efficiency, should benefit everyone. But as economic theorists have observed, the redistributive effects of changes in the rules of the economic game are bound to create group conflict (Pratt and Zeckhauser 1985). Only if there is an institutional framework for resolving these conflicts through bargaining will economic restructuring occur.

In this chapter I examine the formal institutional relationships and rules of the game governing national economic policy-making as they have evolved during the 1980s in China. I argue that the political strategy of economic reform devised by Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang has used effectively the institutions of the Chinese political system to bargain with various groups and build support for reforms; but by compromising and postponing the most contentious issues, the strategy created new economic problems, which put political obstacles in the path of reform.

The Relationship Between The Communist Party And The Government: Principal And Agent

The relationship between the Communist Party and the government is at the core of any Leninist political system. The Party is "the organized expression of the will of society" (Schurmann 1968, 110). It leads the work of the government (usually called by Chinese the "state," guojia ), but remains distinct from the government.

Although the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is intertwined with the state and with the society, it is a distinct political institution.[1] The CCP is an elite membership organization with 47.75 million members, less than 5 percent of China's total population (Xinhua , 17 June 1988). Most Party members are employed as workers, farmers, professionals, and so forth and only participate in Party activities part-time. Yet they are required to obey the direction of Party committees within their work unit and at higher levels. When I talk about the "Party" I am referring to it as a formal bureaucratic institution with over 1 million professional, full-time staff called Party cadres and a permanent structure at all levels of the political system. At the apex of the CCP is the national Party organization headed by the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the Politburo, and


the Central Committee, which are served by a Secretariat and other departments. At provincial, municipal, and county levels there are similar leadership bodies (CCP committees) and staff offices. Every agency of the national, provincial, and county governments has within it a Party committee and, until recently, a Party leading group. Although some members of these Party oversight bodies play two roles, as both government and Party officials, these bodies are clearly defined as part of the Communist Party.

The language of Western institutional economics is useful for conceptualizing the formal authority relationship between Communist Party and government: It is an "agency relationship" in which the Communist Party is the "principal" and the government is the "agent." The Party has formal political authority over the government, which does the actual work of administering the country. The Party's authority over the government is based primarily on its authority to appoint and promote government officials (nomenklatura ) (Burns 1987).[2] The Party also sets the general policy line (luxian ), which the government implements, and oversees the work of the government. Finally, it is responsible for the ideological remolding of government cadres and of all other members of society.[3]

The relationship is analogous to the relationship between the ruling party and the government bureaucracy in a democratic system. (In a parliamentary democracy, the majority party in Parliament appoints the cabinet and directs the work of the bureaucracy. In a presidential democracy, two principals, the president and Congress, lead the bureaucracy.)[4] The Party politicians oversee the work of the government bureaucracy. The bureaucrats may appear to work autonomously, because the politicians intervene infrequently. But the bureaucrats know that they cannot stray too far from the preferences of their principals. If they do, they will be publicly criticized and fired by their political masters, a lesson that Ann Burford (head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and Yang Zhong (PRC Minister of Forests) learned the hard way.

The crucial difference between communist and democratic systems is


the political accountability of the principals. In communist systems the Communist Party is not formally accountable to the citizenry; it claims to reflect the will of the people by leading them toward a communist future, but there is no institutional mechanism making them accountable to citizens' present preferences. In a democracy, the politicans are elected and therefore are the agents of their constituents. If they enact policies or allow their bureaucratic agents to take actions that violate their constituents' perceived interests, they will be voted out at the next election.

Although the Communist Party has the ultimate authority in a communist polity, it cannot administer the country on its own. Like any principal in a large organization, it has limited information. The only way for a principal to solve this problem of limited information is to delegate authority to agents. The Communist Party allows the government bureaucracy to make and implement policies because the bureaucrats have better information than Party leaders can possibly have. The bureaucrats have specialized information, while the Party leaders must know about everything; the bureaucrats are close to the problem, whereas the Party leaders are remote.

Once a principal has delegated authority to its agents, the problem of control arises. How does the Communist Party know whether government bureaucrats are carrying out policies that conform with the Party's preferences? Bureaucratic agents naturally distort the information they pass up to their political masters, in order to place themselves in a good light. In democracies, elected politicians manage the agency problems of "hidden action" and "hidden information" through various mechanisms (Arrow 1985). They require regular submission of reports, hold public hearings, or enfranchise interest groups to scrutinize administrative actions. By empowering concerned groups to oversee bureaucratic agencies, they reduce the costs of constant monitoring while guaranteeing that their influential constituents are satisfied. As elected politicians, they do not need to know about all actions of appointed officials, only those actions that might displease their constituents. As Mathew McCubbins and Tom Schwartz put it, democratic politicians prefer a "fire alarm" approach to the control of bureaucratic agents to the much more costly "police patrol" approach (McCubbins and Schwartz 1984). In communist political systems, however, the Communist Party is reluctant to enfranchise constituent groups to oversee government operations; the Party's political monopoly depends on the political demobilization of the population. Without the help of citizen groups, Party leaders have a particularly difficult time acquiring information about government actions. Despite their two-thousand-year tradition of bureaucratic authoritarianism, the


Chinese are no better than any other communist regime at monitoring bureaucratic behavior.[5]

Faced with this structural problem (and the immediate practical problem of controlling bureaucrats who had served the pre-Communist regime), Soviet Communist Party leaders in 1919 developed a method that we now call "parallel rule." The Chinese system of Party control over the government is essentially identical to the Soviet system on which it was modeled. Communist Party members are appointed to the top positions in government agencies, and in each agency all Party members are organized under a Party committee (subordinate to the Party committee at the next level). The hierarchy of government organs is overlaid by a parallel hierarchy of Party committees that enables Party leaders to supervise Party members in the government and lead the work of the government.

The Communist parties in both the Soviet Union and China established specialized functional departments at central and provincial levels to oversee the work of government economic agencies. Staffed by specialists, these Party organs for agriculture, industry, finance, and so forth gradually took over the policy-making functions from the government, especially at the provincial level.[6] The state administrative apparatus became redundant, a "duplicate administrative structure," as Lin Biao described it in 1969 (Harding 1981, 284). The Communist Party became the locus of bargaining over economic policies. A 1953 regulation, "The Decision on the Central Authorities' Leadership Over the Work of the Government," formalized this fact: "All the major and important general and specific government policies, and all major questions concerning the government's work, must first be submitted to the central authorities for examination and approval. And only after the relevant discussions are carried out by the central authorities, and the relevant decisions or approval given by the central authorities, can major and important general and specific government policies begin to be implemented" (Zhou 1987).


The Chinese Communist Party leaders, for reasons not yet entirely clear, took the method of parallel rule even further than the Soviets. As former Premier Zhao Ziyang said, "China is one of the socialist countries most seriously afflicted by lack of separation of party and government" (Zhao 1987c).[7] The Chinese established in all government agencies Party "leading groups" or "fractions" (dang zu ) responsible for actually administering the work of the agency. Although these institutions originated in the Soviet Union, they came to play a more significant role in China.[8] The Party leading group within a government agency is much more powerful than the Party committee (author's interviews). The Party committee only supervises the lives and thoughts of the Party members within that agency. But the Party leading group has authority over the non-Party bureaucrats as well as those who are Party members. The Party leading group plays a decision-making role, setting policy for the entire sector (xitong ), not just for the agency.[9] For example, the Party leading group in the Ministry of Metallurgy leads the work, not only of the ministry, but also of subordinate provincial and municipal bureaus and even of steel mills run by the ministry and bureaus. It has the authority of appointment, removal, and transfer of officials for the entire sector (Burns 1987). The Party leading group is much smaller than a Party committee, consisting only of three to five people (usually the Party secretary, the minister, and several vice-ministers). The Party leading group essentially appropriated the authority of the official heads of the government agency, creating a confusing system of dual administrative leadership.[10]

At the enterprise level, the Chinese Communist Party also went beyond the Soviet Party in playing an administrative role (Ma 1987; Zhao 1987c). Soviet Party committees have always limited their role to supervision of Party members in the enterprise while allowing the manager full responsibility for production. The Chinese, since the Eighth Party Congress (1956), have put the manager under the leadership of the Party


committee. As Zhao Ziyang himself said in 1987, the issue of Party control over factory management became a "yardstick for supporting or opposing party leadership. ... Every time we undertook a campaign, this setup was strengthened, to the extent that the Party committees monopolized many administrative matters" (Zhao 1987c).

Under this system the Chinese Communist Party not only controlled the government with a tight, constant "police patrol," it actually substituted itself for the government. The organizational lines between the Party and government blurred, and the delegation relationship disappeared almost entirely. For example, the head of the CCP committee overseeing all the Party leading groups and committees within the agencies of the central government sat (and still sits) in the government's State Council (author's interview). The Finance and Economics Leadership Small Group, five to seven top leaders who make most of the important economic policy decisions, although formally a Party unit, was located in the government section (Northern) of Zhongnanhai when Zhao Ziyang, as premier, was in charge of economic policy; when Zhao was transferred to Party secretary, the Finance and Economics Leading Group moved to the Party section (Southern) of Zhongnanhai (author's interview).[11] Carol Hamrin in chapter 4 in this volume describes the extent to which Party and government functions merged in all of the leadership groups that make decisions in specialized policy domains.

Such tight control could only be achieved at a tremendous price. The informational advantages of bureaucratic delegation, that is, expertise and specialization, were lost. Poorly educated veteran Party officials made policy decisions on the basis of political instincts rather than technical knowledge. Party members serving in government agencies were promoted more for political loyalty than for professional accomplishment (Harding 1981).

No longer willing to pay the price of poor-quality decisions and inefficiency, the Party leaders moved to transform the relationship of Party and government in the 1980s. The Party delegated more responsibility to the government bureaucracy, especially in economic policy-making. The Standing Committee of the State Council, meeting twice a week, took charge of the economy (although it still received recommendations from the Finance and Economics Leadership Small Group). The Politburo, having earlier abolished its specialized economic units, limited itself to setting the overall political line of economic reform and ratifying


important economic policies made by the government. At the provincial level, specialized Party departments overlapping their counterpart government departments were abolished (Zhao 1987b). In enterprises, the Party's role was reduced, and administrative responsibility was restored to managers. The CCP Constitution was revised to gradually eliminate the Party leading groups within government agencies (Renmin Ribao , 2 November 1987).[12] Civil service reforms were proposed to establish a dual structure within the bureaucracy, a cadre of professional civil servants, selected by meritocratic examination and promoted on professional criteria, alongside the administrative officials appointed and promoted by the Party organization departments (Zhao 1987b; Yan 1988; Xinhua , 18 November 1987; Burns 1988).

The expanded discretion of the government bureaucracy is illustrated by a recent example of conflict over agenda setting in the State Council. (Agenda setting is a prerogative of the bureaucracy typical of most political systems.) In February 1988, Bo Yibo, vice-chairman of the CCP Central Advisory Commission, came to a regular State Council meeting with a commission proposal on transportation safety, probably designed to embarrass the government bureaucracy for recent accidents. Wan Li, the vice-premier chairing the State Council meeting (the premier, Li Peng, had left to participate in a Politburo Standing Committee meeting) refused to alter the agenda to allow discussion of the issue. According to the unofficial report of the incident, the State Council leaders had learned in advance about Bo's intention and had obtained Deng Xiaoping's support for sticking to the original agenda. Bureaucratic authority has widened, but at this stage it still is fragile and dependent on the support of the preeminent leader, Deng Xiaoping (Lo 1988).

The widening of government's discretionary authority did not destroy the principal-agent relationship between Party and government. Zhao Ziyang emphasized that the CCP Central Committee should retain its leadership over the government "in political principles and orientation and in major policy decisions," and continue to appoint leading cadres for central state organs; and that the provincial Party committees also should retain political leadership and personnel appointment powers.


The 1984 reform of the nomenklatura system decentralized the authority to appoint, remove, and promote government personnel to lower-level Party organizations but still left it in Party hands. Chinese leaders promise that in the future the Party will supervise the work of the government but not substitute itself for the government. Separation of Party and government will actually strengthen Party leadership of the government. "Leaders must keep very cool; they must stand high and see far, consider things carefully, and avoid getting entangled in a pile of routine affairs. They cannot truly play a leading role if they are entangled in trivia all day long" (Zhao 1987c). Another commentator pointed out that while state organs "can choose either to accept or not accept the Party's policies," if a state organ refuses to follow the Party's policies, which are "absolutely correct," "then Party organizations and Party members within the state organs should supervise and ensure the correct implementation of the Party lines and the general and specific policies, by giving play to the exemplary role of the Party members within the state organs" (Zhou 1987). In other words, if the government does not agree with the preferences of the Party, then the Party should use its authority over Party members in the bureaucracy to impose these preferences on the government.

The Party's control over the government has made the economic reform drive possible. Party leaders have the power to propose new directions for reform and prod the bureaucracy to action. The government bureaucracy would never have taken such bold initiatives on its own. Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang were able to dominate a conservative minority within the CCP to promulgate a Party line of economic reform. By making support for economic reform the current political-ideological line, the Party has made it impossible for anyone, inside or outside the government, to publicly oppose the reform drive (although people's definitions of reform vary widely). And by replacing thousands of incompetent or conservative government officials at central and local levels, the Party has empowered a new cohort of officials, eager and able to promote economic reforms.

The delegation of greater discretion to the government bureaucracy also offered substantial advantages to a Party leadership intent on economic reform. Enhancing the independence of the bureaucracy gives government officials a greater incentive to be efficient and to take actions that are economically rational but politically risky. As Tang Tsou has observed, modernization requires that the Party grant all professionals, including government bureaucrats, greater autonomy (Tsou 1983). By shifting the locus of economic policy-making from the Party to the government, reformers made it more difficult for Party conservatives


(who until recently retained their power in the Politburo) to sabotage the reform drive.[13] And by delegating policy-making to government commissions and ministries, they devised a reform package acceptable to key economic groups.

On the other hand, Party conservatives were obviously unhappy with moves to restrict the Party's powers. Party resistance to limiting its role was even stronger at the provincial and local levels, where Party officials continued to meddle in economic affairs. Some of the formal organizational reforms, such as eliminating Party leading groups within ministries or closing down specialized Party departments in provinces, were implemented only halfheartedly and were reversed by the conservatives after 1989. Nonetheless, the locus of bargaining over national economic-reform policies was moved over to the government side, where it remained even after 1989.

The Policy-Making Process: Management By Exception

Under the revised delegation relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the government, the locus of bargaining over economic policy has shifted to the government arena. The Communist Party sets the general line for the economic reforms, but it delegates to government the formulation and implementation of specific policies. The Standing Committee of the State Council has become the main policy-making arena, while the Standing Committee of the Communist Party Politburo is much less active.[14] The State Council is advised by a network of recently established policy research centers, described by Nina Halpern in chapter 5.

The Chinese government bureaucracy makes policy according to the decision rules characteristic of "management by exception" (Lawler 1976). At each level of the organizational hierarchy, agency representatives make decisions by a rule of consensus. If they all agree, the decision is automatically ratified by the higher level. If the bureaucrats cannot reach consensus, then the decision is referred to the higher levels, and if the higher levels cannot agree, then either nothing happens or the ultimate principal, the Communist Party, intervenes to impose a solution.

The advantages of management-by-exception, from the standpoint of the principals (the leaders of the government and the Communist Party) are that (1) it exploits the superior information of subordinates; (2) it


relieves the principals of the costs of constant intervention in the policy process; (3) it gives all the agents who will implement a policy a voice in the formulation of that policy; and (4) it gives agents an incentive to resolve their differences and come to agreement.

Most corporations and many political systems delegate policy-making to subordinate agencies and use management-by-exception as the most efficient way to manage this delegation relationship. Parliamentary systems like Japan or France may appear to be dominated by their bureaucracies, but they are actually ruled by parliamentary party majorities who have effectively used management-by-exception to allow their bureaucratic agents to work out policy packages. If the politician principals seem invisible and rarely intervene to overrule a bureaucratic decision, it is because they have structured the bargaining game to produce outcomes satisfactory to them (and to their most influential constituencies).[15]

The structure of the government bureaucracy reflects the Communist Party's notion of which groups should be represented in policy deliberations. Establishing a particular set of bureaucratic agencies, and organizing collective choice so that individuals represent the preferences of their agencies, enfranchises certain groups but not others (it is striking, for example, that the national labor organization is represented in key economic meetings in Hungary but not in China [Comisso, personal communication, 1984]). Just as a ruling party in a democracy structures decision-making processes so that its most important constituents are satisfied, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party structure decision-making processes so that their most important constituents are satisfied.

The Chinese bureaucracy is organized by function (education, culture, public security) and by economic sector (agriculture, coal, machinery). Ministries are expected to articulate the interests of their particular sector. When ministers or vice-ministers are called together to discuss a policy proposal, they are expected to represent the perspective of their


particular ministries. Press articles criticizing "selfish departmentalism" (e.g., Renmin Ribao , 21 January 1983) seem futile and naive when we recognize that Chinese government institutions are structured to encourage expressions of departmental points of view.[16]

At higher levels, the commissions (State Planning Commission, State Economic Commission, State Science and Technology Commission) and the State Council promote the aggregation of departmental interests, but they also reinforce the articulation of sectorial interests. Within the State Economic Commission and the State Planning Commission bureaus are divided by economic sector, so that the head of the energy bureau, for example, argues for resource allocations to the coal, petroleum, electricity, and nuclear power industries. Within the State Council the degree of aggregation is greater. Each vice-premier and state councillor is assigned responsibility for a sector or a function, such as agriculture, industry, or finance. While such divisions of responsibility encourage specialized expertise in policy-making, they also guarantee that sector-based bargaining continues right up to the top of the government hierarchy (Chen 1987).[17] The comprehensive agencies have their own organizational viewpoints as well: The State Planning Commission represents the macroeconomy, the State Economic Commission represents the enterprises, and the Ministry of Finance represents the central state (author's interviews).

When the Chinese CCP leaders set up their national economic bureaucracy in 1953, they gave industry a stronger voice than agriculture. There was only one ministry representing agriculture, but over ten ministries representing various industries. Because the fiscal system was set up to obtain revenue almost entirely from the earnings of state factories, central-government officials had a financial interest in keeping agricultural prices low and industrial profits high. This bias toward industry reflected the policy of Soviet-style industrialization, which prevailed at the time. Once institutionalized in the government structure, the bias


was perpetuated, as the continuing underinvestment in agriculture illustrates (Lardy 1983).

The bureaucratic reorganizations that have been a frequent occurrence since the 1950s are efforts to change the structure of interest articulation and aggregation, as well as to improve efficiency. Whenever ministries are merged or divided, raised to commission level or demoted to bureau level, the voices of various sectors are strengthened or weakened. The elevation of education from ministry to commission status in 1987, for example, was designed to give education more clout in the contest for government resources, in addition to enhancing coordination of educational activities under different ministries. Lynn Paine, in chapter 7 in this volume, describes the disadvantages the education sector suffers because of its organizational weakness.

Management-by-exception requires a bureaucratic hierarchy with formal equality among the units at any one level. If one ministry could impose its preferences on the entire group, then the advantages of management-by-exception would be lost. The Chinese government, by putting all ministers (as well as all bureau heads, all vice-ministers, etc.) at equal rank, satisfies this requirement. (An important exception is the Ministry of Finance, which by virtue of its revenue function, which is critically important to the survival of the state, ranks at the commission level [Lieberthal and Oksenberg 1988]). Although each ministry's actual influence varies with the prestige of its minister (and State Council overseer), its function, its control over subordinate enterprises, its financial contribution, and so forth (Oksenberg 1982; Lieberthal and Oksenberg 1988), the formal status of each ministry is the same. It is also crucial that the ministries are subordinate to organizations at the next level of the hierarchy. The State Planning Commission and the State Economic Commission (and to a lesser extent the State Science and Technology Commission) have formal leadership relations (Lieberthal and Oksenberg 1988) over the ministries and can resolve issues that ministries have been unable to agree on. At the apex of the government sits the State Council, which has leadership authority over all its subordinate agencies and can impose a solution when neither the ministries nor the commissions can find one.

The obvious fact that bureaucracies are organized by sector and function, not by geographic region as legislatures are, is worth emphasizing. Regional concerns are brought into government policy-making in a number of ways. The State Economic Commission and the State Planning Commission have regional as well as sectorial bureaus that voice the demands of the Northeast, the Southwest, and so forth. And whenever economic policy proposals are being debated, the heads of the relevant provincial (and some municipal) bureaus are invited to participate; pro-


vincial governors or vice-governors attend the most important policy work conferences. Each province sends a delegation to the annual national planning and budgeting meetings to lobby in its own behalf. Provinces are equal in rank to ministries, and disputes between provinces and ministries often filter up to the commission or State Council level. Yet, provinces do not have permanent formal representation in the bureaucratic arena where most economic policy-making now occurs.

The lack of formal regional representation in government policy-making is an institutional anomaly if we consider that since 1957, and especially since 1980, the provinces have received an increasingly large share of resources and authority. Moreover, the two most important constituencies for top Communist Party leaders currently are the central-government bureaucracy and the provincial officials. The institutional "payoffs" to the first group are quite clear, that is, extending bureaucratic autonomy and expanding the size of the bureaucracy. Yet the resources and authority of the provinces have not been recognized by institutional changes. (Provincial demands for an institutionalized voice at the Center could result in a strengthening of the national legislature, the National People's Congress. Or provincial officials might advocate shifting economic policy-making from the State Council, where they are not represented, back to the Politburo, where they currently are the largest bloc of votes.)

The Chinese government has been making economic policies according to management-by-exception at least since the early 1980s.[18] Research by Lieberthal and Oksenberg (1988) and by Lampton (1987) found that consensus was the rule governing economic decision making in the central government, and that any participant could veto proposals.[19] In contrast to a legislative setting in which majorities rule, minorities have the power


to obstruct action in bureaucracies run by management-by-exception. Whenever an agency refuses to compromise and consensus cannot be reached, the issue is "tabled" or is referred to a higher level for resolution. As the secretary-general of the State Council complained, "many problems remain unsolved for a long time simply because of the objection from a minority. ... Too many people exercise veto in our public organs" (Chen 1987).

Much of the time of the government bodies above the ministries is taken up by what the Chinese call "coordination" (xietiao ) work, which means resolving conflicts among subordinate units. The State Economic Commission (SEC) and (to a lesser extent) the State Planning Commission are supposed to provide final resolution to interagency (as well as interregional and agency-region) disputes.[20] But because the internal organization of these bodies reinforces sectorial and regional divisions, disputes often are passed up for resolution at an even higher level. The Standing Committee of the State Council spends much of its twice-weekly meetings resolving interministerial (or interprovincial or ministerial-provincial) differences over relatively minor issues (author's interviews). A temporary institution called the "Adjustment Office" (tiaojie bangongshi ) was established under the premier during the mid-1980s (Lieberthal and Oksenberg 1988) to settle conflicts that were obstructing the progress of reforms and take some of the load off the Standing Committee of the State Council.

Bargaining among bureaucratic agencies is structured by management-by-exception. Every agency representative must decide whether to sign on to a lower-level decision that does not entirely satisfy its preferences, or hold out and force the intervention of the higher levels. To make this decision the agency representative must seek information about the preferences of the higher-level bureaucrats to anticipate what their decision would be. Unless the agency representative has reason to believe that the higher levels would make a decision more favorable to their agency's interests than the lower-level decision, the representative will compromise to reach agreement at the lower level. After all, a bureaucrat or an agency that consistently refuses to compromise will certainly not be popular with upper-level leaders. Agency officials are the


employees of the State Council and are appointed by the Communist Party. A reputation for rigidity may be punished by demotion or other measures.[21] Therefore, in most circumstances an agency will settle for a less-than-optimal decision at the lower level instead of gambling on a better decision at a higher level. From the standpoint of the principal, management-by-exception works well when it allows key groups to articulate their interests but creates incentives for them to compromise their differences without forcing the principal to intervene.

By this standard, Chinese management-by-exception has not worked well during the late 1980s. From the perspective of the top leaders of the government (articulated by Chen Junsheng, then secretary-general of the State Council), the work of the government has been impeded by constant arguing and "the escalation of coordination." Problems that once were solved at lower levels are now being pushed up to the State Council (Chen 1987). There are several reasons why the management-by-exception system is working poorly. First, divisions within the Party leadership encourage intransigence among subordinates. Conflicts among principals increase uncertainty for agents and lead them to gamble on the higher-level resolution of the conflict. Even without specific information (usually acquired through factional relationships) that someone at the top will support their position, subordinates expect more favorable treatment when there is leadership conflict. Central and provincial officials currently are the two major constituencies within the CCP Central Committee.[22] Top Party leaders compete for power by building up support among these two key groups. They welcome opportunities to appeal to particular officials by pressing their interests when policies are decided. Yet even while top leaders are glad to have opportunities to build support by helping ministers or provincial officials, they complain that incessant bureaucratic wrangling has overloaded the system.

A second reason for the growing burden of coordination work is that participation in policy deliberations has been expanded to include representatives of more groups. Each policy is debated in a series of meetings to which a large number of affected units, both local and central, as well


as technical experts, are invited. The composition of these meetings is not set by any rules (in contrast to policy deliberations in Congress or other democratic legislatures), allowing the top government leaders who are orchestrating the process a high degree of flexibility. The widening of consultation is designed to prevent overconcentration of power in the hands of a few individuals in the Party. Deng Xiaoping, in his important 1980 speech "On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership," argued that it was this overconcentration of power that had produced the Cultural Revolution and other excesses of Mao Zedong's rule (Deng 1980). By expanding participation in the policy process, Deng and other top Party leaders hope to improve the quality of decisions and build support for them among key constituent groups. But inviting more groups to sit at the bargaining table also complicates the process of building consensus. Instead of a small, stable group of participants who are willing to trade votes on one issue because they trust others to pay them back on the next issue, there is a larger, ad hoc group that finds agreement much more problematical.

Finally, economic reform, by creating new financial interests among bureaucratic and regional agencies, has made bargaining among them more intense. Policies designed to improve economic incentives by allowing ministries, provinces, local industrial bureaus, and so forth to retain a share of their renminbi (Chinese currency) and hard-currency earnings have made bureaucratic agencies more profit-conscious. They fight more fiercely to obtain preferred policies because the stakes are higher. For example, the dispute about which ministry would take charge of the production of refrigerators and washing machines, which took five years to resolve in the era of economic reform (Renmin Ribao , 17 July 1984), would have been settled more quickly and easily under the old system. The creation of new financial incentives sometimes makes it easier to work out a compromise by giving all affected parties a share in the deal. There are many examples, especially at the local level, of potentially profitable joint ventures and other projects that were approved only because every agency with approval authority was given a percentage of the profits (Lieberthal and Oksenberg 1988). But, on the other hand, this new mode of resolving differences by dividing the profits encourages agencies to press their demands in the bargaining process. They recognize that assertiveness can pay off in several percentage points of a profitable venture. As the secretary-general of the State Council notes, "A profitable undertaking invariably draws the intervention of many departments, with every department demanding a slice of the cake, and none will make any concession. Sometimes this ends in a confrontation" (Chen 1987).

Management-by-exception tends to bog down in the Chinese govern-


ment bureaucracy because the bureaucracy is so poorly institutionalized. There are few rules about who participates in which decisions. The sequence of decision gates is ambiguous in all policies except those related to the planning and budgeting cycles. Policy decisions are not permanent, because a leader who does not like the outcome of one work meeting can call for another with a different set of participants.[23] When Chinese officials talk, they often differentiate between "hard" and "soft" decisions (author's interviews). Moreover, all the conflicts among agencies, among provinces, and between agencies and provinces, must be resolved by higher-level bureaucratic organs. There is no administrative law or independent judiciary to settle jurisdictional disputes among them. The absence of judicial institutions puts the entire load of conflict resolution on the central government and the Party.

Policy Outcomes Under Management-By-Exception

The policy outcomes produced by the Chinese system reflect the structure of the government bureaucracy and the process of management-by-exception. Scholars of communist political systems have noted that policies in such systems tend to be incremental (Hough 1977; Bunce 1981). Drastic changes in policy direction or massive shifts in the allocation of resources are inhibited by the requirement that every agency must agree to them. The consensus rule produces policies under which everyone benefits, or at least no one loses too much. As one high-level policy adviser in China put it, "We must use all our policies to 'coordinate' interests among agencies and localities" (author's interview). Radical change is rejected, delayed, or watered down in the process of building consensus. Party principals occasionally can impose policies on their bureaucratic agents if the issue is of overwhelming urgency. But such instances are rare because the cost of dictating policy to a reluctant agency usually is failure of implementation.

An example of a major policy change delayed by lack of consensus is the restoration of ranks in the Chinese military, first proposed in 1980 but not implemented until 1988. (The military-ranks issue is discussed by Jonathan Pollack in chapter 6 in this volume). In 1984 the People's Liberation Army received new uniforms with epaulets in preparation for


the restoration of ranks. The final decision to restore ranks was delayed until October 1988 because of conflict between retired officers and active officers over whether the retired officers should receive formal ranks. As a Hong Kong newspaper account described the situation, "These two opinions were locked in stalemate for a long time, and a consensus of opinion could not be achieved. This slowed down the process of restoring military ranks." The stalemate was broken by a compromise that restricts formal ranks to active officers but "soothes" the retired officers with special medals and an affirmation of their previous ranks (Fu Meihua 1988).

In China the normative reflection of consensus decision making in economic policy-making is an ideology one might call "balancism" (pinghengzhuyi ). According to this ideology, the function of the state is to balance out inequities among units created by arbitrary policies, particularly administratively set prices. Fairness (gongping ) requires that no unit lose too much because administrative prices make them less profitable than other units or because past decisions (such as investments in fixed assets) work against them under current formulas. All government bodies are supposed to adjust their policies to prevent large disparities in benefits among units. The expression "ku le bu zhun ," meaning "disparity between sadness and happiness," is frequently used by government bureaucrats to explain that a particular policy modification was necessary to guarantee equity. Representatives of ministries, localities, or enterprises who are in a strong competitive position to benefit from economic reforms (i.e., their products are in demand in the market, the irrationalities of the price system work for them, and they are more efficient and productive in their operations) often complain that government organs worry too much about taking care (zhaogu ) of the weak and not enough about promoting the strong (author's interviews). (In chapter 11 in this volume Andrew Walder analyzes this redistributive tendency in economic policy-making at the municipal level.)

The conservative bias of management-by-exception makes the political challenge of economic reform formidable. Introducing a market through a bureaucracy, especially one operating under management-by-exception, is extremely difficult. Under the consensus rule even a minority of ministries or provinces who prefer the status quo to the proposed changes could obstruct progress in reform. The Party principals retain the authority to take significant policy initiatives—the reform drive has been sustained despite short-term economic problems and group conflicts because Deng continues to promote reform ideas—but they must obtain the agreement of at least most of the bureaucratic institutions that will implement the policies.

Zhao Ziyang's political strategy of economic reform was designed to


meet this challenge. First of all, it was a strategy of gradualism. Rather than rushing ahead with a comprehensive, radical transformation of the entire system, which would threaten the vested interests of many, Zhao was extremely cautious. Zhao recognized that there were many political risks inherent in economic reform and that therefore they were "required to act carefully in reforms, like wading across a river by holding on to the rocks in it" (Gongren Ribao , 13 March 1985). He understood that "the reform of the economic structure is actually a process in which various interests and relations are readjusted and redistributed" and that if the interests of a particular department or locality were harmed by a particular reform, it would oppose the reform (Hongqi , March 1987). Gradual reform might be a long-term process, requiring as long as several generations, but no other strategy had a chance of success in the context of China's political system.

To minimize the threat to central economic agencies, Zhao Ziyang made the crucial decision to create a dual-track system, gradually expanding the market sector while maintaining the plan sector, instead of replacing plan with market at one shot. The policy allowing enterprises to sell their above-quota output on their own at market prices created an economic incentive for managers to press for more market opportunities and allowed central planners to save their functions and their face. Stimulated by the new incentives, the economy grew rapidly, especially in the market sector. This strategy of "letting the economy outgrow the plan" (Barry Naughton, personal communication, 1984) created a transitional dual economy, with numerous accompanying economic problems, but it was politically very successful.[24]

The sequencing of reforms also reflects the political realities of the policy-making process. Zhao Ziyang decided to postpone the most redistributive policies, which would create the most intense conflict within the bureaucracy, namely, the "hard budget constraint" (i.e., bankruptcy) and price reform. Forcing enterprises to take sole responsibility for their own profits and losses (zi fu yingkuei ) is an essential component of market rationality, but it is politically infeasible under current conditions. From the perspective of "balancism" it would be unfair to punish enterprises that cannot make profits because of external, "objective" (keguan ) causes (i.e., prices, demands of planners, fixed assets, etc.). The burden would fall mainly on a few sectors (coal, steel, heavy machinery) and the inland provinces where these sectors are concentrated (author's interviews).

Zhao Ziyang began talking about price reform in 1984. He set up a


group to prepare price reform policies and announced in early 1985 that the State Council would soon take action on price readjustment in industry as well as agriculture (Xinhua , 1 January 1985). The fact that a thorough adjustment of industrial prices (i.e., raising the prices of raw materials such as coal, iron, and steel) was continually postponed and has yet to be introduced,[25] whereas food prices have been liberalized, suggests that it is the potential for intense bureaucratic conflict, as well as the public reaction to inflation, that stopped Zhao from pushing ahead with urban price reform.

Participants in economic policy-making often explain the delay in these two key dimensions of reform as a reflection of Zhao Ziyang's caution on tackling issues that would be opposed by the most powerful agencies within the government bureaucracy, namely, the State Planning Commission, the Ministry of Finance, and the heavy-industry ministries. Zhao pushed up against the stone wall of the state bureaucracy, they say, and he went through only where he found loose stones; he did not waste time pushing against stones that would not move (author's interviews).

The policies that have emerged from the bureaucracy since 1980 suggest that the progress of economic reform was sustained by appeasing the powerful heavy-industry ministries. When reform proposals were first introduced, heavy-industry interests expressed open opposition to them (Solinger 1982). As the prime beneficiaries of the Soviet-style command economy, they viewed economic reform as a direct threat. By replacing some ministers and making reform the ideological line, the Party discouraged outright opposition from the heavy-industry ministries. And over time, the bureaucrats in these ministries came to recognize that they could do better by demanding a larger share of the benefits of reform than by opposing all reforms (author's interviews).

In exchange for their support of various reform policies, the heavy-industry ministries received valuable side-payments. The clearest example of such a side-payment is the "departmental contracts" (bumen chengbao ). The ministries in charge of fuels, raw materials, and transportation perceived that they were falling further and further behind under the dual economic system. Sectors with many enterprises operating under low (or no) plan quotas could sell on the market and reap high profits from the higher market prices, while their sectors had to continue to produce almost entirely for the plan. The petroleum, coal, metallurgy, railroads, and communication ministries, and the airline, petrochemical, and nonferrous metals corporations demanded and received special "departmental


contracts." The ministries contracted with the State Planning Commission to receive a certain amount of investment and inexpensive plan inputs in exchange for delivering a certain amount of output to the plan for the next five years. Any production above this amount the ministries and their subordinate enterprises were free to sell on the market at higher prices (Xinhua , 10 February 1985; Shijie Jingji Daobao , 25 May 1987). The contracts guaranteed access to the market and higher profits to these particular agencies, which allocated the plan burdens and market opportunities to the enterprises under them. The departmental contracts were very popular with the State Planning Commission, because they helped guarantee plan procurement (the lure of the market sector had made this task increasingly difficult), and naturally with the ministries, which benefited from them (author's interviews). The departmental contracts violated the reform principle of increasing enterprise autonomy from administrative control, but they were politically expedient.

The need to obtain the support of the influential heavy-industry ministries for the package of economic reforms probably also explains the striking stability of the shares of central budgetary investment allocated to economic sectors during the period of economic reform. Heavy industry, which claimed the lion's share of state investment under the old system, found its investment allocation cut drastically in 1979–80 when top leaders sought to improve proportional balance by shifting resources to light industry (Solinger 1988). The blow to heavy industry was so severe, and its representatives complained so persuasively, that heavy industry's share of investment was increased again after 1982 (State Statistical Bureau 1985). Since that time heavy industry has continued to receive favored treatment by the Center, and light industry has increased its share of total investment only because most investment is now controlled at the local, not the central, level. Meanwhile, agriculture, which is weakly represented in the central government, has seen its share of central investment reduced despite a 1979 promise that it would be increased (Xinhua , 5 October 1979).

Many reform policies bear the mark of consensus decision making. One example is the decision to create a new tax system for industrial enterprises with a policy called "substituting tax for profits" (li gai shui ). The goal of this policy was to place the financial relations between enterprises and the central government on a stable, institutionalized basis. Instead of each enterprise bargaining for a particular rate of profit retention, all enterprises producing the same product would have to pay at a uniform tax rate. When this policy was originally proposed in 1983 the Ministry of Finance recommended a moderately high tax rate. At a series of meetings called to discuss the proposal, representatives of


heavy-industry ministries and inland provinces complained that under such a heavy tax burden their many unprofitable enterprises would be forced to close. To achieve consensus it was necessary to revise the policy. The tax rate was reduced, but then the Ministry of Finance came in with simulations predicting that the policy would reduce state revenues. The revenue gap was filled by tacking on a so-called adjustment tax (tiaojie shui ), which was applied only to the most profitable medium-sized and large state enterprises (most of them in coastal cities like Shanghai). The adjustment tax was set on an individual-enterprise basis, thereby violating a fundamental principle of reform but creating the compromise necessary to win approval of the policy (author's interviews).

The constraint of consensus building also requires that every policy change leave no one substantially worse off than before. The li gai shui tax regulations guaranteed enterprises that they would pay in taxes no more than the profit they remitted the year before. Whenever the li gai shui policy resulted in a loss of revenues to a particular province, the central government made compensation by reducing the share of total revenue the province was required to remit to the Center (Lieberthal and Oksenberg 1988). Officials agree that the only politically feasible approach to price reform is to compensate those who are hurt by it, with wage subsidies to urban consumers in the case of food prices, and with tax exemptions for manufacturing enterprises in the case of raw-materials prices. One reason that industrial price readjustment has become more elusive over the course of reform is that as the central treasury becomes increasingly strained (because local governments and enterprises are allowed to retain a larger share of financial revenues), it is more difficult for the Center to come up with the financial side-payments necessary to make the package broadly acceptable (author's interview).

Gradualism, postponement of the most divisive issues, side-payments, and compromise—all are the marks of a market reform filtered through a political system characterized by management-by-exception. Zhao Ziyang's strategy recognized the necessity of building consensus of support for economic reform. As he himself put it, "When adopting a reform measure, we must do our best to benefit all quarters concerned so that our reform will always have the support of the broad masses of the people and its success will be guaranteed" (Zhao 1987a).[26]


Center And Locality: Federalism In A Unitary State

The People's Republic of China is a unitary state, with formal authority constitutionally held by the central government. Yet in reality, China, even before the introduction of economic reforms, was much more decentralized than the Soviet Union (Schurmann 1968). Beginning in 1957, the Center shared with the provinces the authority to approve projects, control industrial enterprises, plan production, allocate materials, and collect fiscal revenues. Despite periodic attempts at recentralization, the trend since 1957 has been progressive decentralization to the provincial level (Naughton 1985, 1987; Wong 1985, 1986).

Why China took the path of administrative decentralization is a highly significant but as yet unanswered question. Schurmann suggests that decentralization was made possible by the strength of the Communist Party at the provincial level; in contrast, the Stalinist purges decimated the Soviet party at the regional level (Schurmann 1968). Building on Schurmann's point, we might speculate that because of the strong Party base in the provinces, the CCP leaders created a Central Committee in which provincial representatives played a major role. The leadership enfranchised three major blocs within the Central Committee, officials from the (government and Party) Center, officials from the provinces, and People's Liberation Army officers.[27] Leaders competed for power by building support among these key constituencies. Whenever a Party leader perceived that rival leaders were blocking his policy initiatives by their control over the central bureaucracy, he attempted to build support for his initiatives by "playing to the provinces." According to this analysis, Mao Zedong stressed administrative decentralization to win provincial support for policies promoting revolutionary transformation in 1957, 1964, and 1967-70, and Deng Xiaoping used the same strategy to win provincial support for economic reform policies in 1980.

Administrative decentralization offers economic as well as political advantages to the central leadership. Provincial officials are the agents of the central Party and government. Delegation of authority, whether to government ministries or to provincial departments, improves efficiency by exploiting the superior information of agents. And in a state-run economy, a profit-sharing rule, like the one included in the fiscal decentralization policies promulgated in 1980, improves the incentives for agents to be more efficient.

The prior decentralization of the Chinese system has had profound consequences for the course of the post–1978 economic reforms. The


cumulative effect of the progressive devolution of authority and resources from 1957 through the Cultural Revolution was to create a political system in which a substantial share of the planning decisions, management of factories, control of raw materials, and receipt of fiscal revenues was in the hands of local officials. Provincial Party secretaries also had an important voice within the CCP Central Committee. When Deng Xiaoping looked around for a group that could become the core of a reform coalition and that could counter the vested interests of the central economic bureaucracy in the command economy, he soon identified provincial officials. These local officials would play a key role in the implementation of reform policies because they controlled most of the enterprises in the country. And as the largest bloc within the Central Committee (36.8 percent in the twelfth and 39.4 percent in the thirteenth [South China Morning Post 1987]) they could provide critical political support within the Party if and when conservative leaders tried to challenge the reforms.

To win the support of provincial officials for the reform drive, Deng Xiaoping introduced a radical fiscal decentralization in 1980. This policy, officially called "apportioning revenues and expenditures between the central and local authorities, while holding the latter responsible for their own profit and loss" (Caizheng 1980) allowed provinces to fix for five years the amount of revenues they must remit to the Center and keep a proportion or all of the revenues over that amount. Provinces were assigned to five different categories of treatment, ranging from Guangdong and Fujian, who retained 100 percent of their above-quota revenues, to the three municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, who retained none of their above-quota revenues. In addition, provinces and the lower levels were permitted to keep all the profits from the enterprises controlled by them (Donnithorne 1981; Fujimoto 1980; Han 1982). The main advantage of this policy, colloquially called "eating from separate kitchens" (fen zhao chifan ), was the strong incentive for local authorities to expand their revenue base by developing their local economies. True, the growth motivated by new fiscal incentives produced some undesirable consequences: uncontrollable local investment, most of it going into profitable but reduplicative and wasteful processing plants, leading to supply shortages, inflation, and budget deficits; local protectionism; and excessive local imports, causing national imbalances in foreign exchange.[28] The results of fiscal decentralization were dis-


torted by the irrational price structure and the lack of hard budget constraints, rather than by the fiscal policies themselves. The entrepreneurial energy sparked by fiscal decentralization was impressive nonetheless. And as a political strategy to win provincial support for economic reform, it was extremely successful.

Many of the other reform policies introduced in the 1980s also reflect the strategy of "playing to the provinces." Under the leadership of Zhao Ziyang, whose entire career was based in the provinces, administrative decentralization became a key element in the political strategy of economic reform. Central ministries were told to send down (xiafang ) control of their enterprises to provincial or municipal authorities. Local authorities were authorized to retain enterprise depreciation funds and expand other sources of extrabudgetary revenues. The financial freedom of provincial officials was further enhanced by transforming capital-construction funds into bank loans and by granting more autonomy to provincial bank branches. In the realm of foreign trade, provinces were permitted to set up their own trade corporations and delegated authority to approve imports and joint ventures. And after the implementation of the 1988 foreign trade responsibility system, provinces contracted with the Center to share the foreign exchange revenues from trade (as well as the local currency profits and losses from trade), much as they do local fiscal revenues (Yao 1988). The one reform policy that harmed the interests of provincial authorities, the 1983 li gai shui tax system, which took the financial profits of local enterprises away from provinces, was scrapped after four years; in 1987 it was replaced with profit-sharing contracts (chengbao ), which restored the provinces' claim to local-enterprise profits (author's interview). Policies granting special financial and planning authority (called jihua danlie ) to eleven cities (fourteen, as of February 1989), special foreign trade and investment authority to four special economic zones and fourteen coastal cities, and full provincial status to one region (Hainan Island) enhanced the economic power of China's most flourishing cities and brought these cities into the reform coalition along with the provinces.

The result of all these reform policies has been to shift the center of gravity in economic administration from central agencies (tiao ) to local government (kuai ).[29] This shift is more valuable for provincial and munici-


pal authorities than previous decentralizations because it occurs in the context of an increasingly marketized economy. With the market offering everyone new opportunities for making money, whoever controls access to the market has the opportunity to collect "rents" (Krueger 1974). Reform policies have both expanded market exchange and decentralized from Center to locality the rents collected by administrative regulation of the market. Having been delegated the authority to approve construction projects and imports, and to set license fees and other local commercial taxes, provincial and municipal authorities can, in effect, sell tickets to the market (Xinhua , 5 May 1988). If they charge money and use it to develop local infrastructure, as the Tianjin mayor, Li Ruihuan, was famous for doing (author's interviews), they are called statesmen. If they charge money and put it in their own pockets, they are called corrupt criminals. And if they take their payment in the currency of political support, they are called political bosses. The rent-decentralizing implications of many reform policies explain why provincial and municipal authorities are such enthusiastic supporters of economic reform.

At least some of these local rents were spent on expanding the size of local government. Top Party leaders, eager to win the support of local officials (and appease central ones), have tolerated a dramatic buildup of the national administrative apparatus. The average annual increase in the number of government cadres reached 330,000 per year; before 1980 the average increase was 110,000 per year. By the end of 1986 the total staff of government offices and organizations was 7.34 million, 78.2 percent higher than 1978 (Tang 1987). The increase in administrative expenditures that accompanied this growth in the size of government (a 250 percent increase over 1978) can be seen as a side-payment to keep local-and central-government officials satisfied during the period of reform.


The prior dispersal of resources and authority not only laid the foundation for Chinese leaders to make local officials the core of its reform coalition, it also had the surprising effect of motivating central economic bodies like the State Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance to support important reform policies. These central organs were frustrated after years of trying to sustain central management of the economy in an environment characterized by dispersed material inputs and revenues. Planning and financial officials saw their actual control over the economy slipping away over the years. From their perspective, a formal sharing rule, dividing the functions, resources, and revenues between Center and province, was preferable to a continuing erosion of de facto control. At least the sharing rule would prevent further deterioration of their position and permit them to retain their current degree of economic control. This perspective of central comprehensive agencies explains why the Ministry of Finance proposed the 1980 fiscal decentralization, the State Planning Commission proposed the 1984 planning reform, and the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade proposed the 1988 reform in foreign trade contracting (author's interviews).

China's form of decentralized communism has helped the Party leadership build political support for economic reform. Not only did it make provincial and municipal officials a natural constituency for reform, it also gave central economic officials a reason to support reforms that would preserve the sharing of control between Center and locality. One hypothesis that stems from this analysis is that the Soviet Union, which begins reform as a much more centralized system, will find the political challenge of economic reform even more difficult than China's.

Conclusion: Evaluating The Political Record Of Economic Reform

The political challenge of economic reform in communist states is to devise policies that build a coalition of support for the reform drive while also improving economic efficiency. The reformist leaders at the top of the Communist Party, Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang, appeared to have done a masterful job at designing a political strategy of reform that suited the Chinese political institutions. While maintaining the CCP's leadership over the government, they delegated to the government bureaucracy increased discretion. This modification of the principal-agent relationship between Party and government seemed to dilute the influence of conservative Party leaders who might have sabotaged the reform drive, at the same time that it improved the quality of policy decisions. Yet, as the ultimate principals, the top Party leaders retained the power to take policy initiatives, set the ideological line, and replace government


cadres. The management-by-exception method of decision making employed under this revised delegation relationship between Party and government provided the framework for bargaining out reform policies that could be supported by key bureaucratic agencies. Although the widening of consultation within the government bureaucracy made the task of building consensus more difficult, it meant that the policies that emerged would be satisfactory (or at least tolerable) to all groups. Zhao Ziyang's strategy of gradual reform, playing to the provinces while postponing the most redistributive measures and working out compromises by giving side-payments, was effective at sustaining the momentum of reform until 1988.

The political choices made during 1980–88 built a coalition of support for economic reform but made the political challenge of future reforms much more difficult. The path of reform reflected more a political logic than an economic logic. By postponing industrial price reform and the introduction of a hard budget constraint, the reformist leaders stimulated rapid economic growth accompanied by material shortages, budget and foreign exchange deficits, inflation, and corruption. These new economic problems backfired on the reform drive at both the elite and the mass level. They provided ammunition for Party conservatives who opposed radical reforms and made a play to reclaim dominance within the Party. At the mass level, the social mobilizational effects of market reforms and public dissatisfaction with inflation and corruption sparked social protest, beginning in late 1986 and building to the massive demonstrations in eighty-four cities during spring 1989. The conservatives pointed to protests as evidence that reform was leading to social chaos (luan ) and that new Party leadership was needed to restore stability. Despite the achievements of Deng and Zhao at brokering reform policies through the Chinese bureaucratic system, the combination of elite power struggles and social unrest destroyed the momentum of reform in 1988–89. As the principal-agent framework would predict, once the conservatives strengthened their hold on the Communist Party leadership organs (with the firing from the Party secretary position of Hu Yaobang in 1987 and Zhao Ziyang in 1989), the policies emerging from the government changed from reform to retrenchment. Whether the reform drive will recover its momentum in the future depends on the outcome of the competition for Party leadership after Deng Xiaoping's death.


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