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Information Flows and Policy Coordination in the Chinese Bureaucracy

Nina P. Halpern

Scholars have recently begun to argue that the structure of authority within the Chinese bureaucracy is not the centralized, hierarchical one described earlier, but rather a fragmented one.[1] They suggest that although this fragmentation is not entirely a post-Mao phenomenon, the post-Mao administrative and economic reforms have greatly increased it by promoting the dispersal of resources throughout the bureaucracy. The resources on which these scholars have focused, in addition to formal, legal grants of authority, are basically two: finances and status (including personal relations). They have paid little attention to a third source of informal authority within the bureaucracy: control of information.

This neglect is unfortunate because the dispersal of policy-relevant information among functionally specialized units can be an important cause of fragmented authority. One measure of the centralization of authority is the ability of the central government to adopt and implement coordinated policies. In this chapter I focus on the problem of policy coordination, viewing it primarily as a problem of information flows from lower-level units to the leadership and between those units themselves. Specifically, I examine a new set of institutions created within the post-Mao bureaucracy—several research centers under the State Council—and ask how they affected the flow of information and the leadership's ability to coordinate policy, particularly during the period in which Zhao Ziyang served as premier, from 1981 to 1987.

I suggest three ways in which these new institutions might have promoted policy coordination by changing information flows and the behav-


ior of lower-level units. Although the dispersal of other resources contributed to the fragmentation of authority in the post-Mao era, the changes stemming from changing information flows were more complicated and probably, on balance, produced greater centralization. But in addition to directly influencing the flow of information to the leadership and thus its ability to coordinate policy, these new institutions both reflected and promoted an ideology of rationalism, which could potentially alter—if only slowly and indirectly—the basis of authority within the Chinese bureaucracy. The discussion in this chapter thus provides insights into the cohesiveness and basis of central authority in post-Mao China.

By examining the relationship between the research centers and top leaders and bureaucratic agencies, I address the merits of two competing models of the bureaucratic process: the "command model," emphasizing the existence of a relatively unified and effective chain of command reaching from the top leadership down to the ministries and local units, and the "bargaining model," emphasizing the fragmentation of authority and the exchange nature of interactions between superiors and subordinate units. I suggest that a third model better captures the bureaucratic process in which the research centers were engaged: "competitive persuasion." This model probably has little relevance to decisions that are primarily political or a response to crisis conditions (such as the June 1989 decision to use military force against the demonstrators at Tiananmen); it is intended to apply only to normal bureaucratic decision-making processes where information and expertise are regarded as important.

The Problem Of Policy Coordination

Policy coordination is a central problem in any bureaucratic system. "Coordination" can be defined in many ways,[2] but here I borrow I. M. Destler's definition, which focuses on processes of decision making and implementation:

Coordination involves above all (1) the management of policy decision processes so that trade-offs among policy interests and goals are recognized, analyzed, and presented to the president and other senior executives before they make a decision; and (2) the oversight of official actions , especially those that follow major high-level decisions, so that these actions reflect the balance among policy goals that the president and his responsible officials have decided upon.[3]


In the Chinese context, we can substitute for "president and other senior executives" "top leadership," particularly the premier and other members of the State Council and Politburo standing committees. The above definition of coordination is useful as long as one focuses on policy decisions made at the top level. Many less important decisions are of course made at lower levels, and thus "policy coordination" should include processes of mutual adjustment (bargaining, consensus building, markets) by which trade-offs are implicitly or explicitly recognized and resolved without reaching the leadership. As Lindblom argued, coordination can be performed in either a centralized or a decentralized fashion; which type predominates is an empirical question.[4]

Although coordination may be, as Seidman and Gilmour claim, the bureaucratic equivalent of "the philosopher's stone" (i.e., the elusive key to the universe and solution to all human problems),[5] it is still possible to analyze the conditions that produce lesser rather than greater degrees of coordination, and to examine the efficacy of various devices designed to improve coordination.[6] Lack of bureaucratic coordination has two basic sources: (1) ignorance of the relevant trade-offs and complementarities between policy areas, due to functionally divided modes of information collection and communication; and (2) fragmentation of authority among relevant actors (who possess divergent goals).

Centralized ignorance and fragmented authority are interrelated problems. As Weber recognized long ago, expertise and knowledge, growing out of functional specialization, are the sources of bureaucratic power vis-à-vis its "political masters": "[Even] the absolute monarch is powerless opposite the superior knowledge of the bureaucratic expert."[7] Because information is such a valuable resource, each agency has an incentive to attempt to monopolize the information necessary for an understanding of its particular policy sphere, and not to share it fully either with other agencies or with its bureaucratic superiors. Lacking information and expertise necessary to evaluate the recommendations of lower-level units, political leaders will often permit those units to become


de facto decision-makers in their own policy spheres. The problem of dispersed information is particularly acute when policy decisions must take account of conditions and impact in many sectors. In a horizontally segmented bureaucracy, agencies have little incentive to collect or communicate information about the effect of decisions on other units' jurisdictions. Yet, if policy is to be coordinated, the leadership must somehow acquire such information.

Policy coordination can be improved through one or more of the following: (1) developing mechanisms to generate new information on policy externalities or to pool information already being collected within agencies (or some combination); (2) redistributing authority among bureaucratic actors; (3) altering the incentives of lower-level actors so that their independent actions produce coordinated outcomes. Because bureaucratic structure produces the problem of coordination, these objectives must generally be pursued through the creation of new institutions or the restructuring of existing ones, institutions here meaning formal structures as well as established processes and procedures. Informal patterns may also be altered, in part by changes in formal institutions, so as to enhance coordination.

The Coordination Problem In The Chinese Bureaucracy

Chinese media discussions and interviews with Chinese officials make it clear that serious coordination problems exist within the Chinese bureaucracy. These problems stem both from a lack of necessary information and analytical capacity at the top and from a failure of subordinate units to comply with leadership decisions. For example, a 1986 Liaowang article stated: "Because of the existing demarcation in the spheres of control of the departments and regions, the macrocontrol of technical imports has in reality become a power structure system with complex and complicated relationships which are reciprocal but not coordinated."[8] The article went on to argue the need to develop genuine, quantitative feasibility analysis that takes account of economic, financial, and social costs and benefits of technical imports. This article pointed to the inadequacy of the information base necessary for the leadership to make decisions on technical imports that take account of relevant trade-offs in terms both of economic efficiency and of alternative social goals.

Other articles pointed to difficulties of implementing coordinated policies and to the failure of bureaucratic agencies to coordinate among them-


selves. A Liaowang article entitled "On Wrangles" complained: "After a formal and correct decision is made, some refuse to carry it out under all kinds of pretexts, simply because the decision involves the interests of a certain department, unit, or locality. Arguing back and forth in so-called special circumstances, they impede the smooth implementation of the decision."[9] The article also criticized the failure of agencies to "promote horizontal ties": "Some offices and departments make arbitrary decisions, issue documents, or map out regulations on matters obviously involving several other departments. Unwilling to reconcile, the latter assume a titfor-tat attitude. As a result, something approved by one department cannot get through other departments, making those at lower levels suffer untold hardships shuttling between departments and trying to accommodate themselves to contradictions at upper levels."[10]

Although these articles were published in the mid-1980s, the problems they identified were not new. Indeed, I will argue that the institutional changes of the post-Mao period somewhat improved policy coordination. Prior to the Cultural Revolution, most bureaucratic expertise was dispersed among functionally specialized agencies, particularly ministries. Although a few coordinating institutions existed—the State Council staff offices, the commissions, and a few leadership small groups—at best these helped to address the coordination problem within a broad functional area, such as the economy, or foreign affairs, but not to bring about coordination across those "systems" (xitong ). Although the commissions, such as the State Planning Commission (SPC) and the State Science and Technology Commission (SSTC), had a broader mandate than most ministries, they have been criticized for acting too much as "administrative" bodies, suggesting that they did little to analyze or supplement the input from the ministries. It appears that policy-making in the Maoist era was generally a functionally specialized process, in which the main ministry involved often acquired a de facto monopoly on the information supplied to the top leaders about potential policy decisions. This dispersed expertise created a fragmentation of authority and the inability to coordinate policy. In science policy, for example, prior to 1982 the budgeting process consisted of adding up the relevant requests from all the ministries; the relevant commission—the State Science and Technology Commission—possessed no real authority to evaluate or coordinate these requests (i.e., to make trade-offs between them).[11]


The post-Mao leadership recognized the need to improve policy coordination, both within and across xitong . The research centers discussed in this chapter were part of an effort to reduce the fragmentation of authority stemming from functionally divided information flows so as to permit the leadership to formulate policies based on an understanding of the trade-offs and complementarities among policy areas. They were not the only such effort. Bureaucratic restructuring, particularly in 1982, altered the formal authority of some institutions. Many new interagency units—particularly the leadership small groups discussed in chapter 4[12] —modified both the formal and the informal pattern of authority, as did new planning and budgeting procedures. The research centers, however, addressed most directly the problem of dispersed expertise and monopolization of information by the ministries. Although many different factors undoubtedly motivated the creation of these centers, the discussion below concentrates on their impact on information flows and the structure of authority within the bureaucracy. I examine in turn their role in providing the information, authority, and incentive components of a solution to the problem of coordination. Through this vehicle, I explore the broader questions of the structure of authority and bureaucratic behavior in China and of the relevance of different models of such behavior.[13] In conclusion I ask whether the findings of this chapter continued to be relevant after Zhao Ziyang ceased to be premier, and particularly in the aftermath of Tiananmen.

Research Centers: Organization And Mission

Lieberthal and Oksenberg identify a set of bodies within or immediately subordinate to the Zhongnanhai (the command headquarters of the Party and government) that they label "Staff, Research, and Coordinating Offices."[14] Among the more prominent of these bodies are a set of research centers on economics, technology, and foreign affairs directly subordinate to the premier's office or to a leadership small group. Unlike the leading groups, these centers are not line organs; they are attached to the premier's office and do not modify the basic chain of command within the


bureaucracy. Six such research centers were established between 1980 and 1982: (1) the Economic Research Center (ERC); (2) the Technical Economic Research Center (TERC); (3) the Price Research Center; (4) the Economic Legislation Center; (5) the Rural Development Research Center (RDRC); and (6) the Center For International Studies (CIS). The first three were combined in 1985 into an Economic, Technical, and Social Development Research Center (ETSDRC). A similar type of research center, which also supplies some advice directly to the State Council, was created under the State Science and Technology Commission: the National Research Center for S & T for Development (NRCSTD). In the aftermath of Tiananmen, the RDRC has apparently been abolished, but the other centers remain in existence. The discussion below is based on data on the structure and workings of these institutions during the period from 1981 to 1986; accordingly, it is written in the past tense, although many of the findings may still be accurate.

As was suggested above, these research centers undoubtedly had several purposes. All were created during the period of Zhao Ziyang's tenure as premier and therefore reflected his purposes in both a policy and a power sense. As Michel Oksenberg has pointed out, the top leadership in China is relatively understaffed, and the research centers in effect provided the premier and other leaders with personal staff.[15] But the centers were not simply personal staff; several became sizable operations with a significant degree of autonomy.[16] Accordingly, even if Zhao established these centers primarily for personal political reasons, they were likely to affect the policy process in somewhat broader ways.

Improving the flow of information from the bureaucracy, permitting some independent evaluation of that information, and enhancing policy coordination were all among the stated goals for which these centers were established, goals reflected in the broader institutional restructuring undertaken since 1982. The official mandate of the centers established three general purposes for them (this varied somewhat according to the specific body): (1) as cross-departmental bodies, to provide an integrated perspective on policy problems; (2) to develop a more long-range planning perspective than would emerge from the bureaucratic rhythms generated by the annual and five-year planning cycles; (3) to serve as a general source of expert analysis and advice for the State Council. Policy coordination was most obviously a key task of the TERC (now the ETSDRC) and the NRCSTD; these two bodies were explicitly


intended to integrate scientific-technological considerations with economic ones and to provide cross-departmental and interdisciplinary perspectives on policy matters.[17] But the coordinating role of all the centers was obvious in their attempts to build staffs with several types of specialists and in their need to draw upon the expertise of a range of functional agencies.

The centers, when established, were formally subordinate either to the premier's office or to a leadership small group. The ETSDRC, for example, was formally subordinate to the Finance and Economics leading group, although center officials stated that the leading group's supervisory role was minimal. During the period when Zhao Ziyang was premier, the centers apparently operated largely as government bodies; their connections to Party bodies were obscure.[18]

Each center had a small staff of researchers (ranging from thirteen in the case of the CIS to about a hundred in the case of the combined ETSDRC) but drew largely upon relevant researchers and staff from outside the center: in ministries, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), universities, and professional associations. The CIS, for example, had fifty affiliated researchers. When the TERC was established, fourteen units from CAS and CASS participated; these units served as a source of research support.[19] The centers established subordinate groups or divisions to address particular research topics or to handle particular types of tasks.[20] However, one of the major perceived advantages of these centers was their ability to organize diverse groups of experts for purposes of obtain-


ing interdisciplinary and interdepartmental expertise;[21] accordingly, the NRCSTD declared that research groups would be formed across divisional lines, according to the nature of the research project, and regrouped when the project was completed.[22] A major difference between the research centers and the commissions, which also cross functional lines, was the nonfixed nature of the former's available research personnel: because they drew on researchers from across the bureaucracy and academia, they could make use of whatever types of expertise were most valuable for analyzing a particular policy problem.[23]

Although they were intended to facilitate the flow of information between the ministries and the premier's office (thereby serving as a link between the two levels), their primary "constituency" was the premier's office, not the lower-level units. This was made clear by their formal location directly subordinate to the premier's office (or, in some cases, a premier-led "leadership small group"); by the fact that their agendas were set either by the premier's or the State Council's office or by the centers themselves;[24] by media discussions of their mandate; and by interviews with officials of the centers, who stressed their relationship to the premier. They thus differed from the many other advisory bodies in the bureaucracy subordinate to particular ministries, which were functionally specialized and tended to see their mission as producing expert analysis compatible with ministerial objectives.[25] Officials of the research centers saw their mission as helping the premier establish "good policy." They possessed an ideology of "neutral expertise" and saw themselves in competition with the more parochial ministries for the premier's attention and approval.


The centers thus differed in three primary ways from other bodies supplying information and expertise to the top leaders. First, they were not as functionally specialized as those other bodies. The ministries are perhaps the most specialized sources of information, but even extrabureaucratic bodies on which top leaders can draw—research institutes of CAS and CASS and university departments—specialize along academic lines that most of the centers crosscut. Second, unlike the commissions, the centers lacked administrative responsibilities; they did not oversee any ministries or need to become immersed in the day-to-day details of policy implementation.[26] Their sole purpose was policy analysis. Third, of all the sources of information and expertise, the centers were the most wholly dependent on the person and office of the premier; as a consequence, they were the most likely to share his perspective on policy. That perspective included certain substantive orientations, such as a commitment to reform; it also included a broader and more integrated view of the country's needs than that possessed by any of the ministries. At the same time, it probably included the premier's political orientations or idiosyncratic desires, which might have little to do with developing coordinated policies. The post-Tiananmen decision to abolish the RDRC presumably reflects a belief that this center remained too closely tied to Zhao in both policy and political ways.

Research Centers: Impact On The Coordination Problem

Information Effects

The research centers altered the information flow to the leadership in ways that facilitated coordination. They created new information on policy externalities and trade-offs by bringing together agencies with different functional responsibilities, as well as extrabureaucratic experts, for discussion of policy problems and solutions, so that information on trade-offs and complementarities emerged from their discussion. They also pooled functionally specific information collected separately within ministries, integrated it, and communicated it to the leadership. To a far more limited extent, the centers also used their own staffs to perform policy analysis, adopting a cross-departmental perspective.

A meeting convened jointly by the Technical Economic Research Center and the Shanxi provincial government in 1982 to discuss development of Shanxi's energy resources provides an example of this information-


generating function. The meeting brought together specialists from fourteen different units and discussed questions relating to management and coordination between government levels, the relationship between new and existing mines, problems of transportation, pricing, pollution, and so on. The TERC also held a similar meeting in March 1982 to discuss the feasibility of transporting coal by means of pipelines. This meeting brought together representatives of the SPC, the State Economic Commission (SEC), State Capital Construction Commission, the SSTC, the ministries of Coal, Petroleum, Railroads, Water and Electricity, Machinery, Metallurgy, the CASS, universities, and mines.[27] In March 1985 the Price Research Center organized a meeting to discuss "questions concerning the influence of sociopsychological factors upon reform of the price system"; it included researchers in psychology, sociology, politics, and economics, as well as some economic bureaucrats.[28] Meetings of this type provided a forum for interagency discussion, for the pooling of relevant information and expertise, and for consideration of policy decisions in a multidimensional and cross-disciplinary fashion. In this way they helped develop the information base needed for policy coordination, supplying a type of information not available before the Cultural Revolution when bureaucratic research bodies were essentially all functionally specialized.

Who decided, and on what basis, which agencies and types of expertise to include in such meetings is obviously crucial, as these decisions determined to a large extent which types of policy externalities were considered. Such decisions appeared to be left to the discretion of the centers, not determined by higher-level officials. Officials of the ETSDRC stated that when the State Council assigned the center a policy study, if it was a small question, they would sometimes decide simply to utilize their own staff (which consisted of a mixture of scientists, engineers, and economists), but if it was a larger issue, they would convene a conference of relevant specialists from different units. The CIS went through a two-stage process in undertaking a policy study. The director, Huan Xiang, would first ask a staff member to organize the necessary experts. After discussion with relevant specialists, a preliminary working agenda would be drawn up listing the types of experts needed for the study. This then went to Huan for his approval. For particularly important matters, such as the drafting of the section on international affairs for the premier's National People's Congress (NPC) work report, Huan personally selected the relevant experts. The factors determining the types of agencies and experts included in a study need to be further explored; however, it is clear that one important factor was the center's ability to gain the cooperation of


different units. This aspect of the centers' work will be further explored in the next section.

Apart from generating information on policy trade-offs and complementarities relevant to particular projects or decisions, the centers also supplied new information through their role in organizing and conducting long-term planning studies. This was a formal part of the mandate of the ETSDRC (before that, of the TERC), and an important aspect of the NRCSTD's work. These long-term planning and forecasting studies served in part to add a ten- or twenty-year perspective on future developments and needs in the economy, science and technology, foreign affairs, and other areas to complement the more short-term focus of the planning commissions (the SPC focused on five-year, and the SEC on annual, planning until the two were combined in June 1988) and ministries. More important for the focus of this chapter, these studies were conducted in a manner that contributed to policy coordination by drawing in different types of experts and explicitly seeking a comprehensive perspective on the costs and benefits of different policies.

One such long-term planning effort was a thirteen-volume report on "China to the Year 2000" produced over a three-year period under the overall supervision of the TERC (later the ETSDRC). The TERC was able to draw in a much broader range of specialists than would a similar effort by the SPC, including hundreds of specialists who were members of the professional associations that form the China Association of Science and Technology.[29] Ma Hong, the director of the TERC, headed a research leadership group composed of representatives of the SPC, the SEC, the SSTC, the CASS, as well as the TERC. This group then allocated specific parts of the report to particular units: the S & T one to the SSTC; the report on the international situation to the CASS Institute of World Economics and Politics; the transportation one to the SEC and the Ministry of Railways. This allocation obviously made it possible for the study to be carried out in a functionally specialized way that took little account of policy externalities; this tendency was noted and criticized at an early symposium on the study, held in August 1983.[30] However, by drawing in a large number of units and specialists, it was also possible to produce a more multidimensional analysis than would normally be undertaken.


A second such long-term planning effort, organized by the NRCSTD, was undertaken jointly by the SPC, the SEC, and the SSTC in 1983, and resulted in the issuing in 1986 of a "white paper" on general S & T policy, and twelve "blue papers" on specialized areas of technical policy. Descriptions of this planning effort emphasize that it involved a new approach, particularly in the manner in which it integrated scientific and economic planning. The process went as follows: First, the planning bureau of the SSTC suggested some preliminary research items, which were discussed by the three commissions. Nine general areas were selected, and after discussions with relevant departments, were allocated in the form of about fifty individual research questions to those departments. Each department then organized S & T and economics specialists to carry out the research and suggest appropriate technical policies. Following this, the three commissions held conferences to discuss technical policy in each of the nine areas and produce draft documents, and they "repeatedly did overall balance work." Following these meetings, the three commissions jointly drafted the documents, sought relevant opinions, revised them, and submitted them to the State Council for approval.[31] The NRCSTD played a large role in this process: helping to organize the studies, chairing the working groups, and overseeing the compiling and publication of the final documents.[32] While perhaps not essential for such a major research and planning effort, the existence of the NRCSTD at least greatly facilitated it.

This planning effort promoted coordination in several ways. First, the very fact of cooperation between the three commissions was pointed to as an innovation.[33] Second, the many meetings held during the research process, like the TERC meetings on project evaluation and policy issues, brought together diverse groups of specialists for discussion of technical issues from scientific, economic, and other points of view, thereby generating new information on policy externalities. Third, the more long-term planning perspective meant that aspects of a problem that might be fixed in the short run, and thus be easy to ignore in routine planning, could now be considered. For example, when the SSTC Department of Comprehensive Management worked out a plan for developing Chinese energy to the year 2000, it not only invited specialists to consider the technical aspects of energy planning, but also included many economists from the TERC and Price Research Center to discuss relevant pricing questions. Although the group organizing the study had been told by the


State Council that prices could not be changed in the short run, it recognized that this was something that must be done eventually. The longer time horizon of this study made it sensible to consider the pricing aspects of energy and the consequences of altering energy prices. Finally, when the white and blue papers were publicly promulgated in 1986, the newspaper reports emphasized that these authoritative policies both permitted and required coordinated action by different departments and localities, which had not been possible before—that is, that the increased information provided by the planning process had given leadership policies sufficient authority that coordinated implementation of policy was now possible.[34] From the perspective of those writing the reports, at least, the results of the planning effort had contributed to policy coordination.

The "China to the Year 2000" study organized by the TERC and the technical blueprints organized by the NRCSTD were not the first examples in China of efforts to develop long-term plans for particular sectors while taking account of other related policy considerations. In 1979 the Energy Research Association, under the joint direction of the SSTC, the SPC, and the SEC, began work on a draft "China's Energy Policy Outline Recommendations," which was completed in December 1982. This outline put forward recommendations based on sixteen considerations, including economics, S & T research, education, and environmental policies. However, the establishment of the research centers permitted such efforts to be organized in a more systematic and regular fashion.

Authority Effects

The research centers did not formally alter the structure of authority within the bureaucracy. As staff and not line organs, they had independent authority—to conduct studies, contract with other units, and perform other tasks related to their research mission (such as, in the case of the CIS, to make contact with foreign bodies without going through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)—but they did not have formal authority over the ministries or commissions; they were of the same bureaucratic rank. Their relations with these horizontally equal units were thus yewu guanxi (professional relations). They could not demand the cooperation


of any other unit; they also could not prevent any ministry from sending its advice directly to the State Council rather than through the research center.

The vertical relationship of the centers with the premier and the State Council differed from their horizontal relationship with the ministries and commissions. Although formally the research centers' authority was equivalent, their informal authority, and the attention paid them by the premier, varied. As many have noted, the personal authority of the director appeared to be a primary source of such variation; this in turn was a function of personal closeness to the premier and general respect of the top leadership. Ma Hong's ETSDRC (and before that the TERC) appeared to be by far the most influential, and the respect that Ma Hong has enjoyed among top leaders for many years is undoubtedly a key reason. The quality of the center's staff appeared to be another source of variation in informal authority; the TERC possessed a young, energetic staff, most of whom had graduated from the CASS graduate school or top universities.

But these intrinsic factors did not wholly determine the impact of the centers. Persuasion and competition were both key to the kind of relationship the centers had with higher officials. The relationship cannot be characterized as one of bargaining; because their authority was essentially derivative of the premier, the centers did not have the resources necessary to bargain with these higher authorities and therefore had to engage in persuasion. The centers' ethos was also not one of bargaining; their personnel repeatedly emphasized that they simply advised the premier and that he could accept or reject their advice. These personnel also recognized that they were competing with other units that might offer the premier more persuasive advice. Accordingly, a better model of the relationship between the centers and the premier (and the State Council generally) is one of "competitive persuasion."[35] Only when they could


persuade the top leaders to accept their policy recommendations could they actually affect the nature of policy implementation and the behavior of other bureaucratic units.[36] Thus, to demonstrate their influence on policy outcomes, ETSDRC officials pointed to their ability to get their suggestions formally incorporated into the Seventh Five-Year Plan, and NRCSTD officials pointed to the authoritative promulgation of the white and blue papers.[37]

However, because the centers possessed limited staff, in order to make their arguments persuasive to higher authorities they had to gain the cooperation of horizontally equal ministries and other units with relevant expertise (although in some cases they were able to draw on foreign expertise).[38] The resources that the centers possessed to gain the cooperation of researchers in other units varied considerably, and in somewhat circular fashion, varied in part according to the perceived clout of the center. In this set of relationships, bargaining was a more relevant factor.

A key research center resource for gaining the cooperation of the ministries was the fact that the premier and other important leaders were known to pay attention to their reports. Thus, when the centers organized meetings or prepared studies, ministries wanted to participate so that their voices would be heard.[39] This was particularly true for a study like "China to the Year 2000," which was known to be personally


sanctioned by Zhao Ziyang. High-level leadership attention was also evident in the technical planning process organized by the NRCSTD; according to a participant in the energy-planning group, when the group organized meetings of different specialists, often a vice-premier would attend and ask questions. Since leadership attention is a scarce resource, the centers' ability to deliver it provided a strong incentive for the ministries to cooperate in their studies.

The importance of perceived influence with the premier for gaining the cooperation of ministries and research bodies is clear from conversations with researchers in different bodies. An official of the NRCSTD specializing in agricultural research said that his center maintained good relations with the Rural Development Research Center, in part because the two centers had similar policy interests, but also because the RDRC had "a great deal of clout." Although I heard no stories of TERC or ETSDRC difficulties in gaining the cooperation of ministries or researchers, the relatively less influential CIS clearly did have such difficulty. Indeed, it appears that the CIS had to struggle to find units willing to cooperate with its studies and had to rely partly on guanxi , or a personal relationship with individuals in those other units.[40]

Finally, the centers utilized financial resources and exchange of services to gain the support of researchers in other units. Here they clearly came closest to "bargaining" with those units. The CIS provided funds to fifty affiliated researchers to undertake research projects. Likewise, the NRCSTD contracted for studies by other units; its charter provided that it could sign such contracts with foreign as well as domestic entities. Some of those contracts—such as one for a study of sand-sedimentation problems related to the Three Gorges Project—were allocated through a bidding system, in which institutes from CAS and CASS, universities, and the bureaucracy could participate. Financial resources and broad contacts within the bureaucracy and academia apparently could be just as important as guanxi with the leadership, making the NRCSTD a major challenger to the ETSDRC. The NRCSTD had the resources of the SSTC behind it; the SSTC, in cooperation with the SPC, allocated all central-government funding for civilian S & T research. Indeed, when


the CIS wished to carry out a quantitative study, it had to go to the SSTC for funds.[41] Greater financial and staff resources provided the NRCSTD with another major advantage over some other centers in gaining the cooperation of ministries; it had the ability to undertake consulting work for other agencies. An official of the NRCSTD stated that a desire to have the NRCSTD do research for them was one of the major reasons why the ministries were willing to cooperate in studies organized by the NRCSTD. The ETSDRC, on the other hand, had to turn down requests by other bureaucratic units to undertake studies on their behalf, because it lacked the necessary resources.

In general, then, the research centers' main source of bureaucratic authority was their relationship to the premier and the ability to persuade him and other officials to accept their advice (these two characteristics were related, but not perfectly). To persuade other units to cooperate with them so that they could carry out their studies and try to influence decision making, they offered leadership attention, financial incentives, and exchange of services. They also sometimes made use of guanxi in the pure sense of a direct personal relationship. But these resources, used to "bargain" with other units, only allowed them to conduct their research; they did not permit the centers, independently of State Council authority, to actually alter the behavior of ministries in ways that affected policy implementation.

Although the centers did not formally alter the authority structure of the bureaucracy, they nevertheless did so informally by shifting the balance of information and expertise between the top leadership and the ministries. As was discussed in the section on information effects, they collected information from ministries and other units and transferred it upward; moreover, they generated some limited analysis of their own (more in the case of some centers than others), and could help the leadership integrate and assess the information coming in separately from the ministries. Indirectly, therefore, the centers potentially diminished the fragmentation of authority by decreasing the ministries' relative monopoly of expertise.

However, because expertise had become a more important resource in the Chinese bureaucracy, this shift in relative expertise from lower-level units to the leadership proved unstable. The ministries and commissions subordinate to the State Council had an incentive to try to reverse that shift by enlarging their own sources of information and expertise. The SSTC may have created the NRCSTD partly with this in mind; the State Planning and Economic commissions also increased their expertise by


making use of a network of expert consulting groups organized under a "China International Engineering Consulting Corporation" to help evaluate the feasibility of different projects considered for inclusion in their five- or one-year plans. The announcement of the two commissions' plan to make use of the corporation stated that the corporation planned to "recruit foreign specialists to join its consulting business in the hope of providing the state with reliable data needed for correct decision making."[42] The State Planning Commission's enhancement of its capability to supply such expertise shifted the balance between the expert resources of the State Council (enhanced by the creation of the TERC, which was set up partly to advise the State Council on major projects, such as the ones included in the five-year and annual plans) and the SPC back toward the latter. Some ministries also acted to enhance their analytical capability, either by enlarging their research staff or by moving to increase their contacts with other relevant units and experts. Thus, the exact degree to which the centers altered the balance of expertise (and thus informal authority) between the leadership and the ministries and commissions is uncertain.

Incentive Effects

In the preceding discussion I suggested that the research centers provided policymakers with information illuminating trade-offs and complementarities between policy areas, and to some extent shifted the balance of informal authority toward the leadership by diminishing the ministries' relative monopoly of expertise in their functional area. In this section I ask whether the research centers also changed the incentives of researchers and ministries so as to promote coordination through altered research strategies or mutual adjustment between ministries—for example, bargaining or consensus building. The discussion is essentially analytical, suggesting some propositions that might be tested through interviewing researchers and ministerial personnel; thus far, I do not have the data to do more.

First, the research centers provided different incentives for research personnel than did the rest of the bureaucratic structure. As I have already noted, researchers organized into functionally specialized research institutes subordinate to ministries have little if any incentive to consider the impact of ministry actions on other units. The tendency of such researchers to produce research results oriented toward fulfilling the goals of their superior ministries has been noted often in the Chinese press. Researchers working for the research centers, on the other hand,


had no such incentives; indeed, their incentives were to consider the impact of policies in the broadest possible perspective and thus to take account of externalities between agencies. By building staffs that included individuals with a variety of expertise and from multiple agencies, the research centers attempted to provide both the capability and the incentives for researchers to consider the interrelationship between policy areas. Of course, the primary incentives of those researchers were to respond to the priorities of the centers' directors and, ultimately, of the premier. Policy coordination was one such priority, but hardly the only one; accordingly, researchers in these centers could not be expected always to adopt such a perspective.

What effect did the establishment of the research centers have on the incentives of the ministries? One effect, discussed earlier, was to motivate them to increase their expert resources in an effort to maintain their relative authority vis-à-vis the center. However, this ministerial strategy need not necessarily promote policy coordination, and might even interfere with it. Don K. Price has suggested that a major source of fragmentation in the American bureaucracy is precisely the cultural tendency for special interests to appeal to "science" (or expertise) in support of their special goals.[43] The key question is whether the research centers created incentives for the ministries to seek out and provide information regarding policy externalities and to propose policies that took account of such externalities.

The research centers might have done so in three ways. First, without altering the incentive structure, the centers provided information necessary for the ministries to respond to already-existing incentives for coordinating behavior. That is, ministries always had an incentive to make clear the externalities for them of policies proposed by other agencies; prior to the establishment of the research centers, however, it appears that they often could not do so because policies were frequently considered in a unidimensional manner, with many potentially affected agencies being ignored during the decision-making process and not even aware that the policy was being considered until after its adoption. A major function of the research centers was to collect views on policy proposals from all relevant agencies. Thus, when a ministry proposed a major policy, other units were much more likely to be made aware of it and thus be able to provide information on the externalities of that decision for their particular policy jurisdiction.

Second, the research centers might actually have altered the incentives of the ministries to seek out information on policy externalities and to


adjust their policies to take other agencies into account. Because the centers supposedly provided an "unbiased" view, taking account of interdepartmental effects, any ministry wishing to argue against a research center's view would have to make a better case. This should have encouraged the ministries not only to enhance their analytical capacity (as we have already seen), but also to seek out information on other functional areas so that they could make a case that the policy was good, not only for them, but also for other agencies. This hypothesis about the incentive effects of the centers remains to be tested, however, through interviews exploring whether the ministries' behavior actually changed in this manner.

Finally, the research centers probably promoted bargaining among ministries. The meetings they organized provided an important forum in which such bargaining could occur. Although ministries could provide their own views independently to the State Council, they had every reason to believe that a document reflecting agreement among multiple agencies would carry more weight than one expressing the opinion of a single agency. It therefore would be in the interest of each agency to reach some kind of compromise with other agencies, unless it had reason to believe that it could do better on its own. The latter might be true either because the goals of the agency diverged so greatly from those of others that compromise seemed impossible or, alternatively, because it reflected a belief that the ministry's resources were large enough to allow it to prevail against the opinions of the research center and other ministries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example, appeared to feel secure enough in its influence to go directly to the premier rather than reaching accommodation with the CIS or other units; according to one of its officials, its suggestions were sometimes overruled but were accepted on other occasions. A researcher from the CIS argued, however, that the ministry usually managed to get its preferred policies adopted.

The centers promoted bargaining—in the form of logrolling or quidpro-quos—between agencies in other ways than simply providing the forums in which such discussions might take place. The centers altered the nature of interdepartmental discussions in both horizontal (cross-departmental and even cross-system) and vertical (long-term planning) ways that, as Robert Keohane has argued for the effect of international regimes on cooperation between nations, made the striking of deals between ministries more likely. First, the centers organized discussions that "cluster issues." As Keohane argued about international regimes: "Clustering of issues under a regime facilitates side-payments among these issues: more potential quids are available for the quo . Without international regimes linking clusters of issues to one another, side-payments and linkages would be difficult to arrange in world politics; in the absence of a price system for the exchange of favors, institutional barriers


would hinder the construction of mutually beneficial bargains."[44] The interdepartmental discussions organized by the centers may have served a similar function. Second, the ongoing discussions and particularly the long-term planning efforts altered the policy process in ways that effectively placed the participants in a repeated-game situation: they could expect to interact repeatedly with other agencies that formerly they might only occasionally have encountered. Incentives were thereby created to cooperate now in exchange for future cooperation. Moreover, some of that future cooperation could be institutionalized in the present when policy documents were formulated that planned ahead many years. Like policy clustering, long-term planning created more potential "quids."

If the meetings organized by the centers promoted bargaining between ministries, they clearly did not produce total consensus on policy. One would expect that agreement would be reached primarily in those cases where ministries could discover complementarities between their desired policies, or where they could obtain desired concessions from other agencies without making more costly concessions of their own. This did not necessarily always happen. Center officials speak of normally providing final documents to the State Council that laid out remaining areas of disagreement. That these meetings did not produce total consensus is not undesirable from the point of view of the leadership: where basic value conflicts were revealed, the leadership obviously would prefer to make the needed trade-offs itself.

Conclusion: The Structure Of Authority And Models Of Chinese Bureaucratic Behavior

The above discussion of the role of the research centers was limited to analyzing the impact of these new institutions on information flows within the bureaucracy and the ability of the leadership to adopt and implement coordinated policies. I suggested three ways in which the centers promoted policy coordination: (1) by increasing the leadership's information on policy externalities (through independent research and the pooling of ministry-collected data and analysis, the organizing of interagency discussions of policy choices, and long-term planning procedures) so that coordinated policies could be formulated; (2) by shifting the balance of informal authority between the leadership and the ministries (by diminishing the latter's relative monopoly of expertise) so that coordinated policies could be implemented; and (3) by altering the envi-


ronment of researchers and ministries so as to produce both new capacity and new incentives for coordinating behavior (causing the ministries either to take account independently of the impact of their policy proposals on other policy spheres or to reach accommodation through bargaining with other units).

Although the centers clearly did not eliminate the fragmentation of authority, unlike other institutional changes of the post-Mao era they generally promoted centralized authority, if centralization is measured by the ability of the leadership to adopt and implement coordinated policies. This does not mean that such centralization was sufficient to overcome the fragmenting tendencies produced by the dispersal of resources other than information; most likely it was not. But my analysis should steer scholars away from any simplistic assumption that the post-Mao reforms uniformly altered the structure of authority in favor of subordinate units.

I suggested above that the model of "competitive persuasion" more accurately describes the relationship between the research centers and the top leaders than does either the command or the bargaining model. The research centers' attempts to formulate persuasive arguments about appropriate policy, in competition with other agencies offering alternative advice, fits neither the command model, with its emphasis on lower-level units' obedience to leadership commands, nor the bargaining model, which focuses on exchange and mutual veto power between different levels. Instead, it suggests a political relationship in which personal relations and expert analysis both play a role.

The continuing importance of personal relations for the research centers' ability to persuade top leaders—as well as for their ability to gain cooperation from other units—has been noted several times. Even while Zhao Ziyang was premier, personal relationships were an important element determining the influence of the research centers. As I suggested above, the research centers' authority was largely derivative of their relationship to and influence with the premier; the centers' ability to gain the cooperation of other units depended partly upon this derived authority, but sometimes upon a personal relationship with the head of one of those units.

At the same time, personal relations appear to be only a partial explanation of the centers' influence on decision making. The centers' staff and officials believed that their ability to persuade the premier and other leaders depended greatly upon the quality of the advice they were able to offer. Moreover, fluctuations in the research centers' overall and relative influence, and even their formal existence (such as the decline in influence of the CIS, the expansion and rise in influence of the TERC, and the abolition of the RDRC), are only partly correlated with leadership


change and the politics of Tiananmen. Both Li Peng, who replaced Zhao Ziyang as premier in 1987, and the new Party general secretary, Jiang Zemin, seemingly rely more heavily on other sources of expertise, which they regard as personally loyal and perhaps ideologically more in tune with their policy orientations.[45] However, according to a former member of the CIS, that center's loss of influence predated both the death of its original director, Huan Xiang, and the removal of Zhao Ziyang as premier; apparently the CIS lost out in bureaucratic competition with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (although the latter reportedly tried, but failed, to have the CIS eliminated during the bureaucratic reshuffling of 1987–88). And although the RDRC is being dismantled, seemingly as a direct result of the politics of Tiananmen, the ETSDRC has steadily expanded its scope and influence and, if anything, seems to have become more powerful after Zhao's removal. The NRCSTD also appears little affected by the events at Tiananmen. The mixture of personal and rational factors underlying the research centers' influence means that the centers' authority has not, and probably will not soon, become highly institutionalized. But the reliance upon expert advice and the use of such advice to counterbalance the authority of individual ministries appears more stable than the influence of any particular institution.

The events at Tiananmen do not invalidate these conclusions about the role of the research centers and similar advisory bodies in promoting policy coordination. They do, however, suggest that we must recognize the limitations of any study of bureaucratic politics for illuminating and predicting the behavior of China's top leaders. In a crisis, those leaders are unlikely to consult either with bureaucrats or with members of their advisory institutions; indeed, even in noncrisis conditions, they may sometimes choose to ignore them. However, in ordinary decision making, bureaucratic considerations loom large, and in the post-Mao period, even after Tiananmen, the distribution of information and expertise is one important factor shaping the nature and outcome of bureaucratic processes and authority.


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