Preferred Citation: Lieberthal, Kenneth G., and David M. Lampton, editors Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

Part Two The Center

Part Two
The Center


The Party Leadership System

Carol Lee Hamrin

Changes in the Chinese Party and state political system during the 1980s were important efforts after Mao's death to redress serious flaws in a governing structure that has inhibited economic development, exacerbated social conflict, and suppressed personal freedoms. Discussions of political reform by Chinese researchers over the past decade indicated, however, that they have had much difficulty in understanding the exact nature of the leadership system and in identifying necessary and possible changes. The tragic events of 1989 showed clearly that reforms of the Party leadership system over the decade were far from sufficient to prevent the recurrence of economic instability and large-scale social disaster.

In any effort to understand the purposes and flaws of the system, a large part of the analytical problem is that the formal institutions and flow-charts discussed in the public domain do not capture the essence of the actual functioning system, which includes organizations and relationships not discussed in public. In part, this opaqueness seems intended to obscure the extent and means of Party control over Chinese society; it originated in the underground mentality of the 1930s and 1940s when secret Party control of ostensibly independent organizations was a central element of united-front policies. Many Chinese themselves are only vaguely aware of the "shadow" structure and process that links the Party with the more visible formal bureaucratic organs and that guide, coordinate, and interact with the latter.

This study presents the personal views of the author, not those of the U.S. Government. Because of the continued sensitivity of this topic in China despite some recent public mention of previously secret leadership arrangements, I use information obtained from formal interviews and informal conversations with Chinese citizens without any details. No classified information is used. My special thanks go to Doak Barnett, Christopher Clarke, and Kenneth Lieberthal for their suggestions on revising this chapter.


Lack of clarity in part also reflects the many changes over time in China's relatively unstable governing structure. To say there are gaps in knowledge is thus an understatement. Information restrictions make us feel like the unfortunates gazing at the shadows on the wall in Plato's proverbial cave. Recent information has allowed us to discern the basic shapes of the shadows, and their movement. For now, we still "see through a glass darkly."

In this chapter I attempt to generalize about the hidden part of the system at its apex, where a handful of senior leaders are the nerve center for three gigantic bureaucracies with at least 5 million cadre (600,000 Party, 4.4 million government, and an unknown number military), assigned to scores of central units and subordinate clone structures in the localities. This elite in turn supervises 10.8 million cadre in state enterprises and 13 million in state education, science, and health units.[1] How do the top leaders organize themselves to use this structure to understand and direct developments in China?

Not surprisingly, there is constant fluidity here, and there has been much evolution over time. Problems change; political considerations and socioeconomic crises intervene; powerful leaders with quite different personalities shape the system to suit their preferences. Nevertheless, a rough outline sketch of the structure and process of the Chinese leadership system can be drawn.

In this sketch, a little-understood level of Party organization emerges as particularly important in defining leaders' duties, shaping their relationships, and linking them with the bureaucracies—the powerful central commissions (weiyuanhui ) and central leading small groups (lingdao xiaozu; hereafter this type of organization will be referred to in a generic sense as leading groups or LGs). These organs, each led by a member of the Politburo or its standing committee, include in their membership the senior Party, state, and military officials with expertise and responsibility in a given specialized functional sector or system (xitong ). Their primary task is the formation of major policy goals and guidelines. Lower-level organs, including State Council leading groups, work out concrete policies and oversee policy coordination and administration.

The following description and analysis of the leadership system leads to the conclusion that control of leading groups is a key aim of actors in China's perennial power struggles, which implies that the groups have considerable effectiveness in centrally coordinating and directing complex policy programs. But direct evidence is still insufficient to resolve the issue of how, and how effectively, leading groups actually function to

[1] These figures came from a high-level official, in an interview with Doak Barnett in the summer of 1988. I am grateful to Professor Barnett for sharing this and other information below.


shape the vast and fragmented Chinese bureaucratic system. No doubt this has varied over time and under different leaderships.

Evolution Of The Leadership System

In late 1987 two researchers in the Party History Research Institute provided new insight into how the central leadership structure had evolved prior to 1978, as follows.[2] Beginning in 1942, with a reorganization of the wartime base areas to overcome lack of coordination among Party, government, military, and mass organizations, the fundamental principle of highly centralized Party leadership was established. Policy directives by Party committees at the various levels were to be implemented unconditionally by the Party groups (dangtuan ) of the military-political commissions (junzheng weiyuanhui ) set up within each military, government, and mass organization. Party committee members divided functional responsibilities among themselves.

A variation of this structure, modified according to the Soviet system, emerged after 1949. Party committees were set up in each non-Party organization and given responsibility for supervising (not actually engaging in) administrative work. This was done through subdivisions corresponding to the propaganda, organization, and united-front departments of the Central Committee. But at the same time, Party core groups (dangzu ) in each organization were responsible directly to the next higher level (whether Party committee or core group is unclear) for actual implementation of policy. This central-command system was closely related to the militaristic mass-campaign approach to governance continued into the immediate post-1949 period of reconstruction and reorganization. There were periodic attempts to limit Party involvement in direct administration, but these ceased with the campaign against "decentralism and localism" following the purge of Gao Gang and Rao Shushi.[3]

During the 1950s the leadership structure was modified several times in attempts to suit the increasing complexity of state administration and the proliferation of cadre, but without weakening overall Party control. A small handful of senior leaders (at that time a small Politburo or a small Secretariat, eventually the Politburo standing committee) decided

[2] The following history, except for specific items of information taken from the source cited in notes 3 and 4, came from Pang Song and Han Gang, "The Party and State Leadership Structure: Historical Investigation and Prospects for Reform," Social Science in China 8, no. 4 (December 1987): 29–56.

[3] Reporter, "Major Change in the Form of CCP Leadership," Liaowang overseas edition 43 (26 October 1987), 3–4, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, China Daily Report (hereafter FBIS-CHI) 87-209 (29 October 1987), 22, cited two central Party directives dated February 1951 and November 1951, which spelled out a separation of functions between Party and state organs.


macropolicy and supervised governance through bodies responsible for daily administration in three separate bureaucracies: Party and mass work was handled in meetings convened by Deng Xiaoping as secretary-general or after 1956 in the Secretariat led by Deng as general secretary; military affairs were under the military commission; and government matters (economic and foreign affairs) were discussed in State Council plenary session attended by all vice-premiers and ministers. (The source does not discuss legislative, judicial, and police work.)

In October 1955, in addition to the normal central committee departments responsible for Party work, the central committee and each provincial Party committee set up new subordinate departments as functional counterparts to the main government and judicial subsystems. These included industry and transport, finance and trade, culture and education, and judiciary departments.[4] After this time there was little cadre mobility across systems. These new departments originally were intended to manage personnel affairs but not professional, policy matters. There was an effort to separate responsibility for three stages of the policy process: Party organs making general policy decisions; judicial and planning organs fleshing them out as laws and economic plans; followed by government implementation.

Beginning in June 1958 at the height of the Great Leap Forward with a decision to foster recentralization of leadership in the Party, however, the Party exercised more and more direct administrative authority, greatly reducing the autonomy of state, judicial, and social institutions, as well as of the press. The Politburo retained the power of decision over major principles and policies, but transferred authority for concrete policy, legislation, and oversight from state and judicial bodies to the Secretariat. The government became essentially the executive organ of the Party rather than the state, with only minor authority for policy details. In 1959 judicial organs were merged into the public security organs at all levels, and the Ministry of Justice and notary offices were abolished. All state supervisory organs were replaced by Party supervisory committees (jiancha weiyuahui ). Meanwhile, the Party's Military Commission strengthened its control over the military bureaucracy as well.

Great Leap Forward slogans, like "The Party exercises overall leadership" and "The Party secretary in command," were institutionalized when Party committees took direct control in economic enterprises and social institutions; Party core groups did the same in state and judicial organs. Policy execution often took the form of mass campaigns.

[4] Ibid. This source contradicted that in note 2 by saying that the Party and the government departments performed the same functions. I believe that this latter article, which telescopes the history dealt with at greater length in the former article, was telling us the end result, not the original intent, of setting up the Party departments.


Central to this change in structure was the formation, beginning in 1958, of the Central Committee's leading small groups (lingdao xiaozu ), duplicated in lower-level Party committees. This introduced dual subordination in professional affairs for each organ—to the relevant LG at the same level, as well as in the next higher level. The original central leading groups were responsible for policy oversight of five sectors: finance and economics; political (legislative and security) and judicial work; foreign affairs; science; and culture and education. It would appear that this reorganization was aimed in part at creating one group to consolidate and coordinate the economic subsectors; using one group to coordinate both Party and government foreign affairs work; and giving science-and-technology higher priority and autonomy by separating it from culture. These leading groups have remained the most important leading groups through the 1980s.

At first, during the Leap, the concentration of power in Party organs accompanied a general decentralization of power. But over time there was a reconcentration of power at higher and higher levels. In the 1960s regional Party committees with no counterpart governments took over much of the authority of lower-level committees. The Maoist personality cult reflected and fortified a structural bias toward personal dictatorship in each Party organ. The Party secretary in charge of any unit, functional system, or leading small group had considerable discretion in his sphere of authority and often ended up making arbitrary, uninformed decisions on major matters of state. Yet not he but the powerless administrators were required to achieve actual policy implementation. Authority and responsibility were increasingly divorced, resulting in ineffective government. The Cultural Revolution was the natural product of the development of the negative aspects of this monolithic (yiyuanhua ) Party leadership structure, the basic structure that reemerged after the institutional anarchy during that time.

Norms Of The Leadership System

Functional Systems and Coordinating Points

Formal organization charts of the Chinese political system showing the three main bureaucracies, as well as academic studies of the functional systems that cross bureaucratic lines, still tend to leave mysterious the actual working relations among bureaucracies, systems, and units. During the 1980s new information about the details of this leadership system revealed attempts to institutionalize horizontal coordination mechanisms to overcome the inherent tendency of the vertical hierarchies to produce uncoordinated or even conflicting demands and policies. There were informal personal ties and professional communications, of course. But


at least in the mid-1980s there were also "comprehensive coordination points" (zong.kou zi ) and subordinate coordination points (kou ) intended to integrate related functional systems and subsystems so as to create general policies and to effect coordinated policy implementation.[5]

This coordinating system was referred to as gui kou , that is, administration according to fixed or specified coordination points (kou could be translated more literally as "channels" or "gates"). This xitong and kou system was replicated further down the line, in the provincial and municipal leadership setups.

There was a pyramidal structure to this coordinating system, such that from bottom to top, there were tiers of organs and groups that had an increasingly broad scope of responsibility and weight of authority. Presumably, as a policy problem was kicked up the pyramid because of either urgency or controversy, it was more apt to be considered in a comprehensive, strategic context. The tiers of coordination points might be envisaged as these:

1. Paramount leader (zuigao lingxiu ) with ultimate overall authority, who had the strongest (sometimes sole) influence over divisions of responsibility within the Politburo.

2. Politburo standing committee members plus select elders who were responsible for coordinating all major policy decisions. With the leader, they decided who among them would oversee each of the handful of penultimate policy arenas. They had to answer both to each other and to the paramount leader.

3. Party leading small groups or committees that oversaw each of the main policy sectors (related functional systems). Each was headed by one or two Politburo standing committee members, although the actual work might be coordinated by a deputy head or a secretary-general.

4. Administrative offices or departments (in the Central Committee, State Council, and army) that channeled policy information and recommendations upward and decisions downward to appropriate implementing organs. These usually would be headed by members of the Secretariat, the State Council standing committee, or the Military Commission, and might also be Politburo members.

[5] Editor(s) of the "Current China's Economic Management" Compilation Group, Zhonghua renmin gongheguo jingji guanli dashiji (Chronicle of the Economic Management of the People's Republic of China; hereafter referred to as Chronicle ) (Beijing, China Economics Publishers, 1986), a major source of information for this chapter, used these terms, as have Chinese officials and scholars, but without precise definition of their meaning and usage. Doak Barnett informed me that in the summer of 1988 he was told by Chinese officials that these terms were no longer in use, at least at the State Council level.


Division of Responsibilities

The central leading groups and commissions and their subordinate bodies typically had sweeping mandates. Detailed descriptions of the work of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission and the Science and Technology LG, for example, revealed similar broad tasks of policy planning, command, and coordination, as well as supervision over personnel and implementation.[6]

The Finance and Economics LG had similar responsibilities, including coordination, investigation, and research, proposing major policies, supervising policy implementation, and sponsoring reform experiments. The Foreign Investment LG was to

(a) draw up policies and plans for using foreign investment and submit these suggestions to the State Council; (b) supervise the work of localities and government departments involved with foreign investment and undertake arbitration and adjustment when major problems arise; (c) and supervise the relevant authorities in their task of drafting investment laws.[7]

Units subordinate to the LGs were responsible for actually carrying out these many varied tasks, since LGs themselves had very small staffs. For example, in 1984 the administrative body for the Foreign Investment LG was upgraded from a "Special Economic Zones (SEZ) work group" in the State Council General Office to an SEZ Office, with a mandate to

(a) research, draft documents for and to manage the SEZs, the implementation of Guangdong and Fujian Provinces' "special policies and flexible measures," and the relevant general programs and policies of development and construction of Hainan Island and the opening up of coastal cities; (b) coordinate and resolve contradictions that appear in implementation; (c) examine and study the situations and experiences of all countries concerning the running of economic development zones, export processing zones [etc.]; and (d) to assume the burden of other matters assigned by the Central Committee and State Council pertaining to the work of opening to the outside.[8]

A number of tentative conclusions can be drawn regarding the policy process according to the system of LGs:


"Central authorities," meaning the Politburo, reserved the ultimate right to determine general programs and major policies.

[6] See Appendix A for details, which were taken from Chronicle (PLC, 376; S & T LG, 487; and the SEZ Office, 543).

[7] China Business Review , January–February 1987, 10, citing the National Council for U.S.–China Trade files.

[8] Ibid.


These high-level decisions probably were made most often at the Politburo standing committee level, which met once each week.[9] Decisions were heavily influenced by information and recommendations brought to it by the responsible head of the LG or commission involved. He would be held responsible by peers and elders for developments in his policy arena.

The full memberships of the Politburo and of the State Council met only about once a month, in plenary session, judging from official Chinese press reports on their activities that were released regularly for a time after the Thirteenth Congress. Their agendas appeared to include only the most major issues, such as the coastal development strategy or the reorganization of the State Council. Their executive bodies—the standing committees—probably met once or even twice each week, for several hours at a time. Each time, the agenda was likely to be limited to one or two major topics for discussion, perhaps with minor issues presented for pro forma approval. Given the heavy work load, it is quite likely that much of the thorough consideration of policy was done by the LGs, while the drafting and shaping of policy documents was done by their staff offices.[10]

The frequency of LG meetings was unclear. A. Doak Barnett's study of the foreign affairs apparatus indicated that the Foreign Affairs LG had no regular schedule for its meetings, but met "fairly frequently," and at times "as often as once a week."[11] Outside specialists on an LG agenda topic were often invited to provide briefings or even join in the discussion. The openness of discussions in LGs may well have differed markedly, depending on the personal style of the leader. Barnett was told that Li Xiannian was "fairly permissive," thus creating an atmosphere for genuine discussion in the Foreign Affairs LG. Others have said that Zhao Ziyang often would come to the Foreign Affairs LG meetings with decisions already made at higher levels, just informing them and giving directions for implementation. This LG might not be typical, however, given the sensitivity of the issues and the limited distribution of information. The business of the other LGs might have been more open.

There was a tradition of annual meetings convened by LGs as part of

[9] A high-level Party official, in an interview with Doak Barnett, summer 1988.

[10] For example, in 1988 the State Council discussed and approved provisional regulations on leasing small-scale state enterprises. These regulations (8 chapters and 40 articles) presumably were drafted by the government's staff office for the Finance and Economics LG, following a decision—presumably at the Politburo level—several years earlier to allow the practice.

[11] A. Doak Barnett, The Making of Foreign Policy in China: Structure and Process (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press; and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Foreign Policy Institute: SAIS Papers in International Affairs, 1985).


the annual planning process. These meetings passed on instructions and vetted the opinions of lower-level units in a given functional system. Such sessions were probably used to discuss longer-term plans as well. The Foreign Affairs LG brought ambassadors home each summer for a wide-ranging discussion and briefing session with Beijing-based staff. The national political and legal affairs conference usually was held in March. Some functional national conferences, however, were very irregular. The Science and Technology (S & T) conference met only in 1985 and 1988.

The LG offices were responsible for delegating the task of "fleshing out" general policy guidelines as specific, concrete policy work plans and supervising their implementation. Staff offices did not make formal policy decisions but rather coordinated policy research and experiments, channeled information and draft policy papers, and made the formal assignments for actual implementation by the relevant organs. And of course, as in any bureaucracy, many policy adjustments no doubt were made "on the ground," in the very process of guiding daily operations at lower levels.


The LGs through their staff offices were supposed to perform a wide variety of tasks that would protect burdened (and often elderly) decision-makers. They were troubleshooters, problem-solvers, and arbitrators, particularly for complex, major issues that crossed geographic and bureaucratic lines of responsibility. If the Planning and Economics commissions failed to resolve a policy disagreement, for example, something all too common in fact, it was bucked up to the Finance and Economics LG staff office or higher.


LGs and their offices were clearly much more than coordinating bodies, however, since they were tasked with coming up with new ideas and future plans and with conducting experiments with policy. They were responsible too for recommending organizational changes to improve management.


Major crises would either come to an LG or prompt the creation of a special temporary LG or commission. An example in early 1988 was the investigation group under state councillor and secretary-general of the Finance and Economics LG, Zhang Jingfu, that looked into an air crash and a train accident. The group investigated, assigned blame, and recommended both remedial measures and punishment for those responsible—including the resignation of the new Central Committee alternate and minister of railways, Ding Guangen.



In the course of carrying out their duties, LGs touched on many personnel issues: coordinating more rational assignments; checking on the ideological and organizational environment of cadre; and inspecting and chastising irresponsible officials. We know that the Organization Department shared some of its personnel responsibilities with both the United Front Work Department[12] and the Propaganda Department.[13] It seemed probable that the LGs also would have had at least an advisory or veto role in assignments of leading officials in the organs under their supervision. The fact that control over LGs was such a sought-after political prize for senior leaders tended to corroborate their influence over personnel and organization decisions as well as financial and material resources within their arena.

Lines of Authority

The leading groups officially were not line authorities. Documents and requests, as well as research papers, were sent directly to the formal Party, state, or military institutions, not funneled solely through the LGs. Policies shaped within the LGs had to be endorsed by the relevant formal organization, whether the Politburo or the Secretariat, the State Council, or the Military Commission, and then documents were issued by the relevant general office.[14] Nonetheless, the possibility remained that LG leaders and members may have passed orders directly to unit leaders, bypassing official channels.[15]

The exact process of interaction between formal and informal authorities was not known and probably differed considerably by issue and system. Theoretically, the LGs would frame policies, and their staff offices would draft documents for discussion and approval by other bodies. The directors of the LGs presumably had considerable flexibility in determining which issues needed to be brought before the Politburo for

[12] John P. Burns, ed., "Contemporary China's Nomenklatura System," Chinese Law and Government (Winter 1987–88): 48–49, indicated that beginning in 1980, control over cadre in the political consultative conferences, nationalities and religious affairs organs and associations was shared with the united-front departments.

[13] Burns, pp. 38–47, indicated that also beginning in 1980, control over cadre in the propaganda and culture system was shared with the central Propaganda Department, the Party core groups of the relevant ministries, and the lower-level Party culture and education departments.

[14] Chronicle , p. 376, in discussing the Political and Legal Affairs Commission, for example, insisted that each political and legal department still should send requests and reports directly to the (general offices of the?) Central Committee, State Council, and Military Commission.

[15] See Appendix B for ways in which Politburo members may carry out their oversight responsibilities.


decision or just to the Secretariat, State Council, or Military Commission for administrative action; which should be brought to full plenary sessions or just to the smaller executive standing committees; and which warranted full discussion or merely rubber-stamp approval.

Chronic Problems And Post-Mao Reforms

The sub-Politburo level of organization, including LGs or committees and staff offices, for the sake of analysis could be likened to the White House staff organizations, such as the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget, and the domestic affairs councils, such as the Council of Economic Advisors, in that they provided personal policy support for the president. In both systems, these organizations could operate something like an "inner cabinet" chosen and shaped personally by the top leader. In both systems, short-term domestic political considerations and personal and party loyalties tended to weigh heavily in policy recommendations and decisions within these bodies. These staff organizations were largely immune from outside oversight.

A brief comparison of the two functionally similar setups in the United States and China is helpful in pointing out the vast differences between the Chinese and the American "inner cabinets" in terms of independence and scope of power and influence. In the United States, the many limitations on the independence and influence of the inner cabinet include most importantly the limits on the president's own powers posed by constitutional limits on tenure, the electoral process, the need to obtain rather than command congressional cooperation, and the independence of the courts and the press. Major White House organs also have statutory definitions of their authority and composition. These types of limits on power are either nonexistent or very weak in China.

Moreover, the power of the inner cabinet in the United States is reined in by the stability and strength of the regular executive bureaucracies, with their professional permanent staff, and the direct and independent access to the president by most regular cabinet members, whose experience and stature usually outweigh that of White House staff. In China, by contrast, the inner and outer cabinet members are often the same people wearing two hats, as concurrent Party and government officials; as a result, there are much weaker checks and balances between bureaucracies.

American cabinet members, even though they too are political appointees, are constrained in their work by the congressional approval and review processes, and their limited ability to change and control their own permanent employees, protected by independent personnel sys-


tems. The institutions and processes of both Party and state that might have provided checks on the "cabinet" in China, however, have been severely weakened over the decades by constant reorganization, purges, and abrupt changes in policy direction. The informal as well as the formal norms of operation are easily ignored or overridden.

The most obvious difference between the Chinese and the American "inner cabinet" is in the scope of authority. The Politburo's policy groups are ultimately responsible for the direction of all government, economic, and social institutions nationwide. All countries, of course, face the problem of how to link concentrated executive leadership with administrative bureaucracies and nongovernmental groups. But most systems have large social sectors that are autonomous of the government. In China the enormous confluence of leadership over all sectors within one small body, and often in practice one individual at the apex of the system who has wide discretionary authority, greatly magnifies the impact of personality and politics on the system.

Beginning in August 1980, Deng Xiaoping periodically expressed an urgent need for reforming this Party and state leadership system, not merely making changes in personnel. He blamed poor governance on overconcentration of power, arbitrary and patriarchal personal rule, life tenure and special privileges, the holding of concurrent posts, overstaffing, lack of distinction between Party leadership and government administration, as well as a general lack of accountability according to rules. He called for "radical reform," focused on the organs at the highest levels. Deng's stated priorities—in reaction to the disaster of Mao's latter years—were to ensure against personal dictatorship and to create realistic policies.[16]

After the restoration of the Party Secretariat in February 1980 under Hu Yaobang as general secretary, and the reorganization of the State Council in September under Zhao Ziyang as the new premier, Deng, Hu, and Zhao experimented with major changes in the Party and state structure as well as in personnel. In general, the changes were modeled after the Eighth Party Congress setup of 1956–66, with some innovations, such as the creation of the Central Advisory Commission. Procedural, institutional, and legal reforms in this period are best viewed as mechanisms for the Party to delegate authority and responsibility and to create forums for the expression of public opinion, but without giving up its monopoly on power.

By 1986, however, these changes were viewed by many as insufficient

[16] Deng Xiaoping, "On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership," 18 August 1980, in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (1975–1982) (Beijing, Foreign Languages Press).


and even superficial. It was openly acknowledged that the bureaucracy had quickly regained and surpassed its former size—like mushrooms after the rain. Corruption was spreading; oligarchy had replaced autocracy. Partial streamlining, rejuvenation of the cadre ranks, and professionalization of policy research and implementation served to regularize procedures and create more realistic policy. But many in the elite became convinced that only the symptoms had been treated, while the disease—labeled "bureaucratism," for short—remained chronic, even potentially fatal to the effectiveness and legitimacy of Party rule. Chen Yizi, a senior adviser to Zhao Ziyang on economic and political reform (who fled China after June 1989), listed some of the continuing flaws resulting from Party monopoly of power: (1) the Party is immersed in routine work and ignores major policy problems; (2) the Party becomes absorbed in addressing conflicts of interest, and social disputes over specific policy decisions by Party and government lead to endless confusion and disputation over trifles; and (3) Party monopoly of all policy decisions means that public grievances over policy failures inevitably create discontent with the Party.[17]

In June 1986 Deng Xiaoping again lent the weight of his authority to a new phase of political restructuring; on Party Day, July 1, his August 1980 speech on leadership reform was republished as the "blueprint" for political reform. Over a dozen cities were allowed to begin experimenting with political reform, and a central Political Reform Study Group was organized in September, with a mandate to draft a reform plan, only some of which was publicly endorsed at the Thirteenth Party Congress.

Continued Political Abuse of the Leadership System

Knowledge of these political-reform preparations in 1986 motivated leading intellectuals to speak out in speeches and articles recommending far-reaching changes in the system, even touching on separation of powers and multiparty elections. This in turn raised expectations and demands of students for democracy when election of candidates to the National People's Congress (NPC) began in the fall. The student demonstrations in turn precipitated the fall of General Secretary Hu Yaobang, but a major cause was his conflict with key Party elders over control of high-level Party leadership organs, where Hu had been forced to share

[17] Chen Yizi, "Socialism in the Course of Practice and Exploration," parts one and two of a speech of July 1986 originally titled "The Economic Reform and the Political Reform," Shijie jingji daobao (World Economic Herald), 10 August 1987, 3–4, in FBIS-CHI-87-174 (9 September 1987), 20-26; and "Reform of the Political Structure Is a Guarantee of Reform of the Economic Structure," part three, same newspaper, 13 July 1987, 3–14, in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Political, Sociological, and Military Information on China.


power ever since the Twelfth Party Congress.[18] This clash over senior shares of power was a classic example of how the politicization of the system continued to work against stable, effective government.

In 1985–86 Deng and Hu had been trying to turn over some of the functional leadership responsibilities to younger people affiliated with Hu, most notably Hu Qili in Party administration and ideology, Qiao Shi in political-legal and personnel affairs, and Qin Jiwei in military matters. Their plans included reorganizing the leadership units responsible for these arenas to make them more responsive to the needs of the reform program. There were calls for changes in these management systems along lines already pioneered by Zhao in economic and science affairs. But Hu Yaobang's competitors perceived a grab for power wrapped in the mantle of reform.

Much of the actual power struggle was carried out through reorganizing and reassigning membership in Party leading groups or commissions. As a result, institutional reforms became intertwined with—and subverted by—the power struggle. For example, from 1983 to 1986 each ideological campaign had involved a name change and reorganization in the propaganda LG, with the directorship (under supervision of Hu Qiaomu) passing back and forth between Deng Liqun and Hu Qili. Whereas in early 1987 Deng Liqun was in charge of the group set up to "combat bourgeois liberalization," Hu Qili regained influence in the spring when the slogan shifted to include "promote reform and opening up." It is likely that there was a similar shift in control over economic policy in early 1987, when a new campaign to "increase production and practice economy" probably required Zhao Ziyang to share his authority in this sphere with more cautious economic leaders, including Li Peng.

Through 1987, although Zhao nominally became the acting general secretary and supervised the drafting of the Thirteenth Congress work report, most of Hu's responsibilities were assumed by a group of Party elders whom Deng assigned to head new leading groups with responsibilities for the personnel and organizational arrangements to be announced at the congress.[19] In a sense, this group acted as a functioning

[18] Bo Yibo and other elders shared control of the Party Rectification Commission; Chen Yun controlled the Discipline Inspection Commission; Hu Qiaomu controlled ideology and propaganda work; Xi Zhongxun was involved in Party administration; Peng Zhen controlled the Political and Legal Affairs Commission, and a number of older generals had a say in military affairs.

[19] The Hong Kong South China Morning Post , 19 June 1987, 10, in FBIS, 19 June 1987, K6, stated that Bo Yibo and Yang Shangkun were involved in a leading group overseeing preparations for the congress. Bo and Yang took respective responsibilities for civilian and military arrangements, with input from Peng Zhen, Xi Zhongxun, Song Renqiong, Yao Yilin, and Wan Li; the Central Party School president, Gao Yang; and for the military from Wang Zhen, Yu Quuli, and Wu Xiuquan. Cheng Ming 122 (1 December 1987): 6–9, in FBIS 87-230 (1 December 1987), 13, mentioned a Thirteenth Congress personnel or nominating group, which was to recommend members of the Central Committee, the Discipline Inspection Commission, and the Advisory Commission. It was headed by Bo and included elders Yang, Wang Zhen, Song Renqiong, and Wu Xiuquan as members. Later, Yao Yilin and Gao Yang joined. Both groups were reported to have subordinate working groups of younger leaders.


Politburo while reformist leaders like Wan Li, Hu Qili, and Tian Jiyun were under a cloud. By summer 1987, however, a more balanced group was responsible for the congress arrangements: Zhao, Yang, Wan Li, Hu Qili, and Yao Yilin. The changing composition and focus of the special groups set up to look into political reform also reflected the political struggle of 1987.[20]

Trends under Zhao Ziyang

In his report to the Thirteenth Congress, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang proclaimed the intent to continue earlier efforts to create a more efficient and open governing structure by defining—and enforcing—a more limited role for the Party. Because of pressures from conservatives and Zhao's need to strengthen his grip on Party organs, it became clear that political reform would involve dividing functions, not separating powers, among China's governing institutions. That is, the Party would delegate authority to, but not share power with, legislative, executive, and judicial bodies. The logic of the approach was spelled out in a lengthy article from the Party History Research Office published in December 1987: (1) solving problems in leadership structure is the fundamental step required to democratize the state; (2) reform of the leadership structure is the key to political reform and an important component of comprehensive reform; and (3) separating the Party from the government is the key link in changing the leadership structure.[21]

The Party was to limit its direct involvement to the strategic policy-making and personnel functions essential to its continued dominance of the political system. By the late 1980s the Party leadership had delegated a modicum of concrete policy-making and executive power to the government, legislative power to the National People's Congress, and judicial authority to the courts. In addition to further progress on these fronts, in 1988 there seemed to be some incipient movement toward reducing the independence of the military bureaucracy and making it truly a state institution. The legislative "branch" is clearly in transition as a result of the turnover of leadership from Peng Zhen to Wan Li; but little was said about plans for future reform in elections or lawmaking. Greater future

[20] For details of the personnel and activities of these groups, see Appendix C.

[21] Pang Song and Han Gang, "The Party and State Leadership Structure," 49–50.


autonomy was also being promised to nonstate organizations, but again little movement in that direction has occurred.

This strategy of separating functions and delegating authority was limited to the lower and middle reaches of the system and is premised on changes in precisely the opposite direction at the very top. The power of the Politburo standing committee and its leading small groups or commissions, which had macropolicy decision and command authority over all three bureaucracies, was being strengthened. This trend was clear in changes at this level reported in the Hong Kong press in the months following the congress.

The primary motive of reformers in making such changes seemed to be to improve bureaucratic accountability and efficiency as well as policy realism, rather than to introduce democratic checks on the exercise of power. In speeches in 1986, both Vice-Premier Wan Li and the State Council secretary-general, Chen Junsheng, complained of continuing poor work performance in the bureaucracy, as manifested in lack of policy creativity, avoidance of responsibility, persistent wrangling, and nondecision. Chen highlighted both a cultural and an institutional inability to resolve conflicts of interest and coordinate consensus decisions in a positive manner at the lowest possible level. He referred to a chronic "escalation of coordination," such that decisions were constantly being referred up the ladder of authority, and blamed this phenomenon on overcentralization of power, overstaffing, and a too detailed division of labor. As a result, the central leadership was bogged down in details, with no time, energy, or ability to determine strategic programs.[22]

In response to such problems, Zhao Ziyang emphasized the importance of delegating power, clarifying responsibility, and introducing work evaluation and internal supervision systems at every tier. One approach to improving coordination was to expand membership in the central leading groups to include representation from all relevant organizations, with some overlapping membership between groups.

Public supervision was viewed as a necessary but distinctly secondary aim of reform; it still was to be achieved indirectly, through public opinion surveys and appointed or indirectly elected representatives to the legislature and united-front organs. There was only hesitant progress

[22] Wan Li, "Making Decision Making More Democratic and Scientific Is an Important Part of Reform of the Political System" (speech given to a national research symposium on soft science in July 1986), Renmin Ribao , 15 August 1986, excerpts in Benedict Stavis, ed., "Reform of China's Political System," Chinese Law and Government 20, no. 1 (Spring 1987): 21–25, and Chen Junsheng, "Increase the Work Efficiency of Public Organs," excerpts from a speech delivered at a forum for secretary-generals of eight provinces and municipalities, 29 June 1986; originally published in Mishu Gongzuo (Secretarial Work) 1987, no. 1; in Renmin Ribao (People's Daily), 19 March 1987, 5, in FBIS 1 April 1987, K33–38.


toward achieving "transparency" (toumingdu ) of the political process through freer press discussion of government structure and actions. Yet this is a prerequisite for any public supervision, given the general public ignorance regarding the purpose, functions, and laws or regulations related to China's governing bureaucracies, not to mention the habitual fear of critiquing government performance.

Another goal of leadership reform—to diminish high-level factionalism—was never mentioned explicitly but seemed implicit in the obvious effort under Zhao to limit the involvement of Party elders in the central leadership organs as well as to make membership largely statutory and thus less open to personal factional appointment and manipulation. The plans to eliminate Party core groups in the government and introduce a civil service system were intended to regularize the functioning of the government, by helping to insulate it from appointment and command according to personal loyalties rather than professional qualities. It also would have helped to clarify duties and lines of authority. But expanding the scope of the civil service and introducing similar mechanisms into other bureaucracies, including Party and security apparatus, would have been critical to the success of civil service reform. So would an expansion of the transparency and supervision of the government from the outside, whether it be in sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress or the public media.

Events of late 1988 and 1989 were traumatic setbacks for this political-reform process. Succession politics took over the leadership agenda, focusing energies once more on control of elite organs of power. The reemergence of this style of politics at the end of Deng Xiaoping's ten year tenure indicated the enormous difficulty of digging up the roots of flaws in the system. Leadership instability in late 1989 and 1990 was characterized by institutional reorganization and an ongoing purge of personnel throughout the bureaucracy. A hiatus in political reform seemed inevitable until some time after Deng's passing when a post-Deng leadership had taken solid form.

Politburo Leadership Arrangements

The work arrangements of the Politburo remained the heart of the leadership system—in terms of both power politics and policy coordination—throughout the 1980s. Despite instability in the system and changes over time, elements of pattern regularity or "norms" for Politburo behavior were discernible that will continue to shape China's future into the post-Deng era. The select group of Politburo standing committee members and elders who oversee broad arenas of specialized responsibilities rely to a great extent on personal leadership of the Politburo commissions and


LGs to do this. The Military Commission and the Discipline Inspection Commission are the only functional groups established by the Party constitution, but they appear to play roles in the leadership arrangement similar to that of the other groups, which are established and defined by policy directives.

These organs thus are a prime focus of the constant maneuvering for power. And the organizational norms shape the unwritten rules of behavior. An important but largely invisible strategic aim of the power game is to "lock up" one or more policy arenas under sole control of yourself and your supporters, while making sure the control of the others is divided among two or more individuals, preferably also including your own supporters. Creating, abolishing, reorganizing, and renaming leading organs is a favorite tactic. Enhancing the authority or scope of a policy arena increases the status of its leader, and vice versa. But all of this politicking must be done without blatantly violating the rules of collective leadership and informal requirements that leaders and members of LGs have some relevant functional experience and expertise. To inhibit monopolies of functional power, the norms require dual or even multiple lines of authority, a practice endemic throughout the political system.

The preeminent power of the senior leader can here be seen in practical institutional terms, for he exercises a great deal of discretion in assigning the functional responsibilities within the Politburo and intervening in any policy arena. But ideological and institutional norms provide a means of checking his power as well, although they are weak. The top leader is constrained to balance appointments at this level among factions based on personal loyalties. The chronic nature of the problem of succession is also easily understood in institutional terms. An aspiring successor seeks to place loyalists in positions of influence in all arenas, as Hu Yaobang sought to do in 1985–86, and Zhao Ziyang in 1987–88. But in doing so, he must avoid either threatening the power of the incumbent leader or galvanizing opposition from rivals claiming the high moral ground of collective leadership—nearly impossible tasks.

The flexibility, ambiguity, fluidity, and personal nature of these lines of authority thus should be underscored, but a general outline sketch of the unwritten norm follows.[23]

1. National security (guojia anchuan ) affairs. This arena usually is kept in the hands of the top leader as chairman of the Military Affairs Commission (Deng, like Mao before him). Little is known about this powerful arena, but it seems that at times it may have had wideranging authority for both military affairs and internal security.

2. Political-legal (zheng[zhi] fa[lu] ) affairs. Normally, internal security,

[23] Personal communication.


along with the legislative and judicial functions, is channeled through a Political and Legal Affairs Commission or LG, which oversees the National People's Congress, the procuratorate and court systems, as well as the police and intelligence forces. Currently, the ministries of state security, justice, public security, and probably civil affairs and supervision are in this arena, judging from official cabinet lists. In the 1960s this arena included the Party's Investigation Department.

3. Party (dangwu ) affairs. These normally are overseen by the top Party executive—now the general secretary, perhaps with a senior deputy. Intra-Party communication, record keeping, and research is the responsibility of the General Office.

Closely coordinated supervision over propaganda and personnel work—what is often referred to in the Chinese press as "ideological-political work"—is sometimes channeled directly through the Propaganda and Organization Departments and sometimes first through a Propaganda and Ideology (xuanquan sixiang ) LG and an Organization and Personnel (zuzhi renshi ) LG. The former group has had a variety of names over the years; the latter group may have been reconstituted only recently or may function only prior to national Party meetings, which confirm high-level appointments. For an unknown length of time after 1969, the two were combined. The Discipline Inspection Commission and various temporary organs, such as the Rectification Commission (1983–87), have served as overlapping (sometimes competing) forums for oversight of cadre.

A United Front (tong[yi] zhan[xian] ) LG oversees both reunification work (through the Taiwan Work LG and the Hong Kong—Macao Work Committee) and domestic "united front" relations with non-Party groups. The United Front Work Department oversees the People's Political Consultative Conference, the noncommunist parties, policy toward intellectuals, and government and social organs for religious and minority affairs.

Traditionally, Party work includes rural policy—originally conceived of as "peasant organization work" in the broadest sense, and thus covering rural population control, youth-to-the-countryside work, rural education, and so forth.[24] There are specialized youth,

[24] At least in the late 1980s, rural policy appeared to be set by a party Rural Affairs Work Department; one of its leaders was Du Runsheng, who supervised related policy-research work as director of both the Party's Rural Policy Research Center and the Rural Development Research Center in the State Council. Tong Li, "Choice of Thoughts on China's Rural Reform—An Introduction to Du Runsheng's Book 'Choice for Rural China,'" Nongmin Ribao (Peasant Daily), 25 January 1989, 3, in FBIS-CHI-89-022 (3 February 1989), 31, contained the only reference I have found to the Central Rural Work Department and Du's position in it, but I accept the source as authoritative on this particular issue.


labor, and women's organizations. Political reform, too, appeared to be a policy arena tightly controlled by party organs.[25]

4. Foreign affairs (waishi ) work. This arena often has been narrowly conceived as diplomatic relations and is supervised by the Foreign Affairs LG. Under both Mao and Deng the senior leader has retained responsibility for China's overall foreign policy orientation, including relations with the superpowers. This would be a logical duty for the "commander-in-chief." Geographic or functional responsibilities in foreign affairs are delegated to other senior leaders, and decisions for foreign military, Party, cultural, and economic relations are shared with the appropriate functional LGs.[26]

5. Government (zhengfu ) affairs. Traditionally, these have been conceived of largely as economic affairs and normally are run by the top economic administrator (premier), often with another leader (ranking vice-premier).[27] This work is channeled through the Finance and Economics LG and its subordinate specialized leading groups or work groups, and the Science-and-Technology LG.

This outline of leadership organs strongly suggests that much of the actual work of the Politburo is done "in committee," with the functional commissions or LGs serving as forums for policy discussion by the members of the Politburo, supported by advisers and policy research organs. Recent reports of Politburo plenary meetings reveal what most have suspected, that the full body meets briefly and infrequently (now once monthly for a morning) to consider policy options already researched and discussed in the LGs, approved by members of the Standing Committee and privileged elders, and then packaged for ratification by the Politburo.

The importance of knowing the unofficial divisions of labor at the top

[25] See Appendix C.

[26] Barnett, 43 ff., discussed this group. He referred to it as a "small group." The Hong Kong press and FBIS translation services are inconsistent in using "small group," "leading group," "work group," etc.; most references seem to be to lingdao xiaozu , which Xinhua translates either as "leading group" or as "leading small group."

Personal communication has indicated that under Deng's overall leadership, shared secondarily with Li Xiannian since 1977, Hu Yaobang had special responsibilities for relations with Japan as well as Party relations; Zhao Ziyang, for Sino—U.S. relations; and Li Peng, for Sino-Soviet relations. This picture matched a division of labor evident in leaders' public appearances and commentary.

[27] Personal communication, buttressed by the obvious concentration of leading State Council officials in economic duties, and Chinese media references to Yao Yilin's nearly coequal role to Zhao Ziyang in overseeing the economy after 1980. See Xinhua (in English), 2 November 1987, FBIS-CHI-87-211 (2 November 1987), 46, which said that Yao at some unspecified point was "head" of the Finance and Economics LG.


is reflected in comments by economic specialist Ma Hong, while visiting Japan in April 1987: "As Party general secretary, Hu Yaobang was only in charge of Party affairs. He was not involved in the business of economic reform. Comrade Deng Xiaoping and Premier Zhao Ziyang have been leading economic reform. I myself never discussed reform plans with Mr. Hu. It seems that people in Japan were unaware of the parameters of his job. It is wrong to think that he had overall authority."[28]

Hu Yaobang ran into political difficulty by 1986 in part because he sought to expand control beyond Party affairs, thereby encroaching on the turf of key elders. And Zhao Ziyang's irregular practice of retaining control of economic affairs after leaving the premiership was one source of his problems in 1988–89 (along with his efforts to restrict interference from "retired" elders). It was widely assumed that he was forced to share more of his economic authority with Li Peng and Yao Yilin in late 1988. Thus, the norms of functional divisions of power continued to play a critical role in Chinese politics.

The Sub-Politburo Leadership Structure

The normal membership of a central leading group or commission comprises (a) the group head; (b) usually a deputy or even two; (c) statutory members (defined by regulations) who sit on the LG because of formally assigned functional duties in the bureaucracy; and (d) discretionary members such as advisers, who are often outgoing retirees, or a secretary-general chosen personally by the leader. The head and the deputies are most likely appointed by the senior leader or general secretary, no doubt through an arduous process of political balancing and compromise with other factional leaders. An LG typically brings together all the senior officials in China with responsibility for different aspects of a comprehensive functional arena.

An important question for further research is the extent of involvement in LG deliberations—as full or "ex officio" members, advisers, and observers—by elders seemingly "retired" to the Central Advisory Commission or to the NPC standing committee. Deng Xiaoping in 1980 envisaged that both the Discipline Inspection Commission and the Central Advisory Commission would give "guidance, advice, and supervision," and the NPC constitutionally supervises the State Council. The definition and scope of these duties is unclear.[29]

A report by Bo Yibo on the work of the advisory commission in 1983 revealed that a number of its standing committee members had been assigned specific leadership duties much beyond the level of mere ad-

[28] Yomiuri Shimbun , 17 April 1987, 5.

[29] Deng Xiaoping, "On the Reform of the System."


vice.[30] This type of involvement may have helped to set the stage for the "comebacks" of the elders in 1987 and 1989, including membership in leading groups responsible for preparing the Thirteenth Party Congress, when they recommended key organizational and personnel changes.[31]

The staff work for an LG may be done either through a section of the relevant General Office or a separate office (bangongshi ) that has a ministry-level or vice-ministry-level ranking.[32] The staff will be located in the Party, the government, or the military, depending on the post of the leader assigned. For example, when Zhao Ziyang gave up the premiership after the Thirteenth Congress, he retained control of the Finance and Economics LG. However, its office in the State Council was abolished, and a new section opened up in the Party's General Office, with new personnel. The office physically moved from the State Council section to the Party section of the Zhongnanhai compound.[33]

Both LGs and offices are subdivided functionally. For example, in the Finance and Economics LG before the Thirteenth Congress Li Peng was in charge of "such industrial sectors as energy, transportation and raw material supply."[34] The office had three sections: policy investigation and research; daily work (administration); and Party affairs (propaganda and personnel).[35] In the State Council, the deputy secretaries-general each have responsibility for the sectoral LG offices or sections of the General Office.[36]

[30] Bo Yibo, in an interview with Liaowang , cited in Xinhua (in English), 19 October 1983, in FBIS, 20 October 1983, K1, said the Advisory Commission members had made arrangements for appointments of cadre to central organs, taken part in streamlining the government at all levels, and taken part in preparing for designating some new economic-planning regions (such as the Shanxi Coal Base and the Shanghai Economic Region). James L. Huskey, "China: Working Directory of Selected Foreign Policy, Cultural and Media Institutions," USIA Office of Research, November 1987, 9, listed the Huangs and Geng as members of the Foreign Affairs Leading Group.

In personal communication, a foreign expert working with the Computer Leading Group mentioned another example—Party elder Li Da's membership in the Computer Leading Group and the participation of NPC vice-chairmen Huang Hua, Huang Zhen, and Geng Biao in Foreign Affairs LG meetings. Li's group would appear to be the "electronic computer and large-scale integrated circuit LG," different from and perhaps subordinate to the Electronic Vitalization LG.

[31] See note 18 above.

[32] Personal communication, and Chronicle .

[33] Personal communication. Regarding the physical move of the office, see chapter 3 in this volume, by Susan Shirk.

[34] Xinhua (in English), 9 April 1988, FBIS-CHI-88-069 (11 April 1988), 15.

[35] Personal communication.

[36] Personal communication, buttressed by the widely known functions of the deputies during the 1950s and 1960s.


Politburo members have their own personal sources of policy information and advice, of course. But there is also an extensive system of policy research offices (zhengce yanjiushi ) and investigation-and-research small groups (diaocha yanjiu xiaozu ), sometimes referred to as "brain trusts" (zhinengtuan ), operating at several levels within this leadership system. These organs and their personnel probably would be comanaged by the Propaganda LG and the relevant LG's office staffers responsible for research. For instance, in 1979 four research small groups were organized for the new State Finance and Economics Commission (functioning as an LG) by Party propaganda specialist Deng Liqun under the supervision of Politburo member Hu Qiaomu, but they were also responsible to the commission's secretary-general, Yao Yilin. At the same time, all government organs were told to create policy-research offices.[37]

I suspect that a desire to "liberate" policy-research specialists from the propaganda czars partly explained the proliferation in the 1980s of research centers answering to Zhao Ziyang's office in the State Council and to the various LGs rather than to the Secretariat. Examples included the State Council's General Office policy-research office; the Economic, Technical, and Social Development Research Center under the Finance and Economics LG; the S & T Development Research Center jointly under the Science and Technology Commission and the S & T LG; and the Economic System Reform Institute under the Reform Commission, which serves the Economic Reform LG.

Following the retirement of Hu Qiaomu and Deng Liqun in late 1987, as decision-making power had been shifted back from the Secretariat to the Politburo, the Secretariat's policy-research office was disbanded and new research organs were set up under the Politburo. There was mention of an investigation and studies room of the Party General Office.[38] The structure and membership of many such research groups is fluid, with individuals pulled in from permanent bodies, such as the Academy of Social Sciences or the research sections of commissions and ministries. Staffers from the general offices and these research organs together provide most members for temporary drafting groups (qicao xiaozu , or weiyuanhui , or tanzi ) set up to draft policy documents.

[37] Chronicle , 292. The choice of Deng Liqun was logical, given his several "hats" at the time: deputy director of the Party's General Office, probable deputy director (to Hu Qiaomu) of the Propaganda LG, director of the Secretariat's Policy Research Office, and vice-president (with Hu as president) of the Academy of Social Sciences. Both men spent most of their careers from Yan'an days ownard supervising policy-research organs, such as those at Hongqi, Renmin Ribao , and the Central Party School, as well as the Academy.

[38] Personal communication; see People's Daily , 14 August 1988, 1 and 2, in JPRS-CAR-088-052 (2 September 1988), 14–15, for an article by the research organ of the General Office.


A Working Model

On March 6, 1958, a joint circular from the Central Committee and the State Council established a Central Foreign Affairs Small Group (zhonggong zhongyang waishi xiaozu ) and a State Council Foreign Affairs Office. This directive can serve as a simplified basic model of the normative structure and function of LGs.[39] Chen Yi, Politburo member, vice-premier, and foreign minister, became director (zu zhang ) of both organs, with responsibility for "leading all aspects of foreign affairs work."

Other LG members were the Politburo alternate and vice-foreign minister Zhang Wentian; Secretariat member Wang Jiaxiang; vice-foreign minister (and probably also a leader in the Party's Investigation Department), Li Kenong; head of the State Council's Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and deputy director of its Foreign Affairs Office, Liao Chengzhi; deputy director of the State Council Foreign Trade Office and president of the Chinese People's Institute for Foreign Affairs, Liu Ningyi.

Foreign military and Party relations were represented respectively by Chen Yi as a marshal and member of the Military Commission, and by Wang Jiaxiang, who oversaw the Party's International Liaison Department. In recent years the statutory members of the LG have included the equivalents to those of 1958 but have been expanded to include official representatives from the International Liaison Department, the Ministry of National Defense, and the NPC's Foreign Affairs Committee.[40]

The 1958 circular went on to specify that the State Council Foreign Affairs Office was to be the "working body" (banshi jigou ) of the LG and the "general coordinating point" (zong kou zi ) for the State Council's management of foreign affairs work. All the (meager) evidence thus far suggests that staff offices are fairly small, ranging from ten to forty staffers.[41] Actual administrative responsibilities are handled by the organs with formal responsibility. Thus, in 1958 management duties for international activities of the government and mass organizations were assigned to six lower-level coordination points (kou zi ).[42]

The circular called on the localities to set up corresponding systems to "unify the leadership over foreign affairs work." At the local level, military relations are included, but not Party ties, which are likely handled through parallel Party staffing and administrative organs.

The foreign affairs system probably has changed less than others over time, but there have been permutations. In 1985 there were two foreign

[39] Chronicle , 106.

[40] Kuang Chiao Ching 184 (16 January 1988): 10–13, in FBIS-CHI-88-012 (20 January 1988), 9–12.

[41] Personal communication, and Barnett, The Making of Foreign Policy , 67.

[42] See Appendix D for a list of these points.


affairs offices, ranking as "first-level organs directly subordinate to the Central Committee and to the State Council" and, in regard to relevant problems in foreign affairs, they could separately issue documents directly to relevant units.[43]

By the mid-1980s there was a large research apparatus serving the Foreign Affairs LG. This included the small staff of the State Council's International Studies Center, the foreign affairs section of the Secretariat's policy-research office, the Institute of Contemporary International Relations, and the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, for all of which senior adviser and former ambassador Huan Xiang had some responsibility before his death. The Foreign Ministry's Comprehensive Issues Bureau and Institute of International Relations also are used by the LG.

Variations and Conundrums

Variations on the basic LG model have been apparent over time. An obvious one is that some of these functional leading organs are called commissions, and some, LGs. In early 1980 the Political and Legal Affairs Commission replaced the Political and Legal Affairs LG; this was reversed in mid-1988 and was rumored to be changing again in 1990. The use of commission format only for military and for political and legal affairs suggests a throwback to the powerful "political-military commissions" set up in the CCP in the early 1940s, patterned after the Soviet and Comintern system of the 1930s. "Commission" may imply more direct command rather than guidance over subordinate administrative units. This distinction was suggested in a report on the 1988 change in political-legal work, but in fact it has been a distinction without a difference for most of the PRC's history.[44]

At times, leading groups have been established in the name of the State Council rather than the Party. For example, the equivalent of the Finance and Economics LG from 1948 to 1953 and again in 1979 was a state Finance and Economic Commission. The State Council Science and Technology LG, set up in 1982 under Zhao Ziyang's leadership, seemed in every way but name to be a central Party group. I was told by the staff of the Science and Technology Daily that the paper was subordinate to the Central Committee, even though it was officially the newspaper of this "State Council" LG. These anomalies may largely reflect the tactical use of reorganization for specific power or policy purposes.

Regarding the ranking of these leadership organs, the Military Commission both constitutionally and in practice ranks higher than the oth-

[43] Chronicle, 614.

[44] See Wen Wei Po from Hong Kong, 24 June 1988.


ers; for a time, the Party constitution mandated that its leader must be a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. The other LGs are also perceived by Chinese officials to differ in power and influence, but it seems that this depends largely on the personal status of the group leader.[45] For example, Zhao Ziyang automatically gave extra clout to the Finance and Economics LG by remaining its leader for a time after he was appointed general secretary, just as he effectively upgraded the S & T LG and the Economic System Reform Commission by heading them as premier.

Other, more specialized LGs, headed by lesser-ranked vice-premiers or state councillors, would appear to be subordinate to the more comprehensive LGs, although the exact relationship is not known. Obvious examples are the Foreign Investment LG and the Electronics LG; directors of both were also members of the Finance and Economics LG, responsible, respectively, for foreign economic relations and for industry and communications.

Other variations in the model, which may in part reflect the relative importance of a given arena, include the size, number, and stature of the staff office(s) and the addition of an administrative layer, such as a small group or a working group in between the LG and its office or offices.[46] As an example, in 1986 the Finance and Economics LG set up a State Council economic-reform-plan work group headed by Tian Jiyun, served by an existing economic-reform planning office with its six subgroups for reform in prices, finance and taxation, investment, monetary policy, wages, and foreign trade.[47]

Another point of confusion is the exact relationship of LGs to the Secretariat and the Politburo, and their relationship to each other. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Secretariat appeared to operate as a central layer in a vertical line of authority running from the Politburo

[45] Dr. Christopher Clarke of the Department of State has discussed with me some indicators that the functional sectors may have had relative ranking at times, perhaps reflecting the ranks of the LGs, but the evidence is inconclusive.

[46] To illustrate, according to Chronicle , 614, in May 1985 a circular was sent out jointly by the Central Committee and State Council general offices stipulating that "the foreign affairs section of the State Council General Office change its title to the office of the State Council foreign affairs small group (waishi xiaozu ), to operate in conjunction with the office of the Central Foreign Affairs Work LG (zhongyang waishi gongzuo lingdao xiaozu )." (Note the name change of the latter since 1958.) It would appear that the State Council small group is the same organ as the "waishikou " mentioned by Doak Barnett in his 1985 study, headed by State Councillor Ji Pengfei. Barnett's group included the state councillor and foreign minister, Wu Xueqian, and minister of foreign economic relations and trade, Chen Muhua, under Ji. Ji also coordinated the State Council small group for Hong Kong Macao affairs as part of a Party Hong Kong Macao Work Committee, and the State Council Hong Kong Macao Office, which served both.

[47] Personal communication.


down to the State Council, but in the early 1980s the Secretariat and the State Council appeared more equal in stature. Barnett in 1985 referred to the Foreign Affairs LG as belonging to the Secretariat even though it has always been headed by a member of the Politburo Standing Committee.[48] One possible explanation for this seeming contradiction would be dual leadership; one media article said that LGs answer to "the Secretariat and Politburo." Another possibility is that Barnett's findings reflected a temporary de facto shift of decision making from the (increasingly aging and inactive) Politburo to the Secretariat as of 1984, a trend reversed at the Thirteenth Congress in 1987.


Through the decade of the 1980s, despite periodic professions of intent to introduce more democratic and efficient reforms into the Party leadership system, each round of reform was in fact aborted by leadership struggle. In every instance reform leaders perceived and acted on the prior imperative to consolidate control of the central Party apparatus, thereby rendering "reforms" meaningless in terms of the secondary priority of improved governance. In early 1990 the leadership publicized new regulations that strengthened Party control over the "multiparty cooperation" system in a transparent and cynical effort to justify a halt to serious political reform. These setbacks along the way jeopardized the prospects for maintaining the gains of economic reform. But the collapse of similar Leninist political structures in Eastern Europe fueled not only a growing conviction within the bureaucratic elite that only a fundamental change in this system could offer hope for China's future, but also a fearful determination in the leadership never to let that happen.

Appendix A: Typical Central Leading Units

The Political and Legal Affairs Commission was set up in 1980 and "(a) under central guidance, researches and handles the major problems in political and legal work nation-wide and submits proposals to the Center; (b) assists the Center in handling requests from subordinate units for instructions on reports (which are still to be sent directly to the Party, government, and military organs, not to the commission); (c) in coordinating the work of all political and legal organs, fosters a uniform consciousness and uniform action regarding problems common to each, in accordance with the general program and policies of the Center; (d) examines and studies the conditions of thorough execution of the program and policies, and of state laws and decrees; (e) examines and studies the

[48] Barnett, The Making of Foreign Policy , 43.


organizational and ideological situation of the political and legal cadre; (f) and handles other work as assigned by the Center."

The S & T LG was set up by the Central Committee and the State Council in 1982 (and the S & T Commission reorganized) "for the purpose of strengthening leadership of S & T work and to put each aspect of S & T work of the army and the people nationwide under the unified planning and unified command of an authoritative and efficient elite organ and to advance work in coordination." (This is a nearly exact quotation from Deng Xiaoping, when demanding changes in the irrational assignments of technicians and use of S & T resources by the Planning Commission, in Deng Xiaoping, "Decide on Major Construction Projects, Make Proper Use of the Talents of Scientists and Technicians," 14 October 1982, in Build Socialism with Chinese Characteristics [Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1985], 8.)

The LG's essential tasks were to "(a) unify, organize and manage the ranks of personnel in S & T nationwide, and transfer, concentrate, and employ them according to need; (b) unify the long-term plan for leading S & T, including the S & T restructuring plan for industries and key-point enterprises, and make each plan able to interpenetrate and to dovetail; (c) study policy decisions on important technological policies; (d) decide on the introduction and absorption of important technology; and (e) coordinate the S & T work of each department."

Appendix B: Leadership Mechanisms

Politburo members may carry out their oversight responsibilities in a variety of ways, of course, informal as well as formal. Besides family members, personal assistants and bodyguards, each has a staff of aides (secretaries), who may be assigned as liaison for specific arenas (political, military, and so on). In the Chinese system, like the Soviet system, these secretaries tend to be better educated than the leaders and actually do much of the work, making important decisions on their own. According to one foreign expert who worked in the propaganda system through the 1960s, each unit knew to call directly to the secretary assigned it by Lu Dingyi, who headed the Propaganda LG.

Little is known about the workings of the secretarial system at this level, but the fact that former political secretaries of top leaders have regularly become prominent officials in their own right was suggestive of the key roles they play. Examples include Gan Ziyu, science, planning, and propaganda official, once Nie Rongzhen's secretary; Wu Mingyu, former State Science and Technology Commission vice-chairman and later deputy director of the State Council Economic, Technological, and Social Development Research Center, Zhang Jingfu's former secretary; Zhou Taihe, Economic System Reform Commission adviser, Chen Yun's former secretary; and He Guanghui, the Reform Commission's deputy director, former secretary to Li Fuchun and Bo Yibo; Wang Xicheng, former Finance and Economics LG office director and later Propaganda Department deputy director, Li Xiannian's former secretary; and so on. Zhao Ziyang appointed his own political secretary, Bao Tong, as the secretary to the Politburo


standing committee. What his role was, or his relationship to staff offices and other secretaries, personal or organizational, is not known.

Appendix C: Evolution Of Political Reform Group

The Central Political Structure Reform Study Group was established in September 1986 under Zhao Ziyang, according to Ta Kung Po , 7 April 1988, 2, in FBIS-CHI-88-070, 12 April 1988, 30–31. The group included Hu Qili, Tian Jiyun, Bo Yibo, and Peng Chong. Its staff office was the Political Reform Research Center (Xinhua , 27 February 1988) run by Zhao's secretary and Politburo Standing Committee secretary, Bao Tong. Staff members included Zhou Jie, deputy director of the Party's General Office; Yan Jiaqi, director of the Political Science Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and the vice-minister of the Economic System Reform Commission, He Guanghui, former secretary to Li Fuqun and Bo Yibo. At that time, reformers Hu Qili, Tian Jiyun, and Bao Tong seemed to play the leading roles. In November they set up seven special groups to study the separation of Party and government functions, Party organization and inner-Party democracy, delegation of powers and structural reform, the cadre and personnel system, socialist democracy, the socialist legal system, and the basic principles for political structural reform.

One of the seven special study groups, on cadre and personnel-system reform, originated several months earlier as a joint work team of the Organization Department and the Ministry of Labor and Personnel; see Liaowang Overseas Edition 20 (16 May 1988), 16–17, in FBIS-CHI-88-101 (25 May 1988), 23–25.

Beginning in September 1986, experimental political reforms were carried out in some localities, and these speeded up after the Thirteenth Congress. Examples include the abolition in the Chengdu Military Region of 109 redundant or "temporary" organizations such as excess cadre offices, self-study university offices, and policy-implementation(!) offices. In June 1987 the Hunan Party and government dissolved 72 of their 141 nonpermanent offices. In December 1987 the Beijing Haidian district Party committee closed down its departments for commerce, education, and rural affairs, as well as its street affairs committee.

After the fall of Hu Yaobang, however, Hu Qiaomu, Deng Liqun, and the Central Party School president, Gao Yang, joined the work of the main political reform groups as "visiting members," and gradually through 1987 leadership shifted to less reform-minded officials. Early in the year a new group was set up under He Guanghui to focus on the practical and immediate issue of restructuring the central organs in the course of the upcoming Party and state congresses. It may have been this group that recommended the return of power to the Politburo and the effective downgrading of the Secretariat to an administrative status similar to that of the State Council.

The central study group was disbanded in September, and a new LG for the Reform of Central Government organs was set up under Li Peng, with the Organization Department director, Song Ping, as deputy director, and as members the General Office director Wen Jiabo; the State Council secretary-general,


Chen Junsheng; the minister of personnel, Zhao Donghuan; and He Guanghui, who headed the LG's office. After the Thirteenth Congress, in mid-December, the Politburo agreed on an overall framework for restructuring the central organs, to be implemented through the Secretariat and the State Council. Liaowang Overseas Edition 17 (25 April 1988) [no page numbers given], in FBIS-CHI-88-080 (26 April 1988), 23–26, mentions that the group under Li Peng was responsible for formulating implementation procedures. They substantially revised the plan, which was then approved on 28 November 1987 by the Politburo Standing Committee prior to review by the Second Plenum of the new Politburo.

Appendix D: Coordination Points For Management Of International Activities (1958)

1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs: for the NPC Standing Committee, the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, all political and legal affairs departments in state organs, the Red Cross, and General Relief societies. (It is not clear to what extent intelligence and counterintelligence is coordinated with the MFA).

2. Ministry of Foreign Trade: for the Ministries of Finance and Commerce, the People's Bank, the International Trade Advancement Society, and "various units" involved in industry and commerce.

3. Foreign Cultural Liaison Committee: for departments concerned with the arts, education, science, sanitation, sports, news, publishing, broadcasting, and the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

4. National Science Planning and Technical Commissions (later the State Science and Technology Commission): for scientific and technical cooperation activities and exchanges with foreign countries by the Academy of Sciences and each government department.

5. Ministry of National Defense: international activities in military affairs.

6. Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission: overseas Chinese affairs.


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-

[1] David M. Lampton, "Chinese Politics: The Bargaining Treadmill," Issues and Studies , March 1987, 11–41; Kenneth Lieberthal and Michel Oksenberg, Policy Making in China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).


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]

[2] See, for example, Aaron Wildavsky, Speaking Truth to Power (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 131–33, for four definitions of coordination: as efficiency, reliability, coercion, and consent.

[3] I. M. Destler, Making Foreign Economic Policy (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1980), 8.


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

[4] Charles E. Lindblom, The Intelligence of Democracy (New York: Free Press, 1965).

[5] Harold Seidman and Robert Gilmour, Politics, Position, and Power , 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 219.

[6] This analysis is hampered by the fact that when lack of information and ignorance of the relevant trade-offs prevent coordination, the problem will often go unrecognized, whereas improved analytical capability may bring greater recognition of the connections between policy areas without a corresponding ability to choose the desired trade-offs or enforce such decisions. One should not count the latter condition as a more "uncoordinated" one than the former. Recognition of the problem may not be the equivalent of solving it, but it moves one a step closer.

[7] Max Weber, "Essay on Bureaucracy," in Bureaucratic Power in National Politics , ed. Frances E. Rourke, 2nd ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), 62.


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-

[8] Cao Jiarui, "China's Technological Imports—Present Status and Problems (Part 3)," Liaowang , no. 20 (19 May 1986), 12–13, in FBIS , 30 May 1986, K13.


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]

[9] Commentator's article, "On 'Wrangles,'" in Liaowang , no. 38 (1986), in FBIS , 23 September 1986, K17.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Interview with Wu Mingyu (vice-chairman of the SSTC, and director of the National Research Center for Science and Technology for Development), Beijing, January 1986.


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

[12] Although a few such leadership groups existed in the Maoist period, in the post-Mao period these groups have increased dramatically in number, and some have a much more elaborate institutional structure.

[13] Sources for this chapter include published sources cited in the notes and interviews with officials and staff of the research centers. To maintain confidentiality, I have not cited individual informants by name or position. Where possible, I have provided citations to written documents; undocumented facts in the body of this chapter are based on interviews.

[14] Lieberthal and Oksenberg, Policy Making in China , 41.


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

[15] Comment at the conference on "The Structure of Authority and Bureaucratic Behavior in China," Tucson, Arizona, June 19–23, 1988.

[16] In particular, the ETSDRC, the NRCSTD, and the RDRC.


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-

[17] See National Research Center for Science and Technology for Development (Beijing: n.p., n.d.), 7. An official of the ETSDRC also stated that Zhao Ziyang suggested the establishment of the TERC as a method of overcoming bureaucratic specialization and differences among the ministries.

[18] In some cases there were formal ties to other bodies besides the premier's office or a leading group. The Price Research Center, for example, was originally subordinate to the State Price Commission; whether this remained true after it became a division within the ETSDRC is uncertain. The Center for International Studies was originally set up jointly under the State Council and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and physically located within CASS, so that it could draw on the expertise in the eight institutes studying foreign affairs; after two years, however, its formal connection with the CASS was eliminated.

[19] Jingjixue dongtai , July 1981, 5–6.

[20] The ETSDRC, for example, had divisions on forecasting and development; technical economics (responsible primarily for project evaluation); economic levers (monetary and fiscal policy and economic development); the current economic situation; pricing problems; information and documentation; and a general office. The NRCSTD established eight divisions: development strategy research; technology policy research; R & D management research; system analysis research; information services; editorial and publication; office for professional affairs; administrative office.


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.

[21] Ma Hong stated in 1983 that most advisory bodies at that time suffered from being too specialized; he advocated that in the future more such bodies (besides his own TERC) integrate social and natural scientists on their staff. "Guanyu jiaqiang shehui kexue he ziran kexue de jiehe, jiefu shehuizhuyi xiandaihua jianshe wentide jianyi," in Kaizhuang shehui kexue yanjiude xin jumian (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1984), 297.

[22] National Research Center for Science and Technology for Development , 10–11.

[23] This was the reason given by Zhao Ziyang for setting up a Technical Economic Research Center instead of a Technical Advisory Commission. See Ma Hong, "Jiaqiang jishu jingji yanjiu, wei 'sihua' jianshe fuwu," in Kaizhuang jishu jingji yanjiude xin jumian , 207.

[24] Officially, the "State Council and premier's Office" set the research agenda of the ETSDRC and other centers. However, media discussions and interviews both suggest that the centers not only were permitted to establish their own research projects but probably did so most of the time.

[25] Apart from media discussions (e.g., Jingji Ribao , 18 March 1983, 1; Jingjixue Zhoubao , 21 March 1983, p. 4), this was made clear by interviews with individuals in research institutes subordinate to ministries, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Finance. These researchers clearly identified with the ministries' objectives, often speaking of the ministry and its research institute interchangeably.


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-

[26] Ma Hong's description of the TERC indicates this; he called it a research consulting organ under State Council leadership, not an administrative organ (like the SPC), and said that it had no formal administrative power. Ma Hong, "Kaizhuang jishu jingji yanjiu, wei 'sihua' jianshe fuwu," in Kaizhuang shehui kexue yanjiude xin jumian , 204–5.


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

[27] Jingjixue Zhoubao , 19 April 1982, 1.

[28] Jingji Ribao , 15 March 1985, 1, in FBIS , 21 March 1985, K18.


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.

[29] This was the reason given by Ma Hong in explaining why he rejected the argument of "some comrades" that the organization of the study of "China to the Year 2000" should be the responsibility of the SPC. Although Ma obviously had other reasons for wanting to keep control of this effort under the auspices of his own TERC rather than the SPC, his assessment of the consequences seems accurate. See Ma Hong, "Kaizhan '2000 niande Zhongguo' de yanjiu," in Kaizhuang shehui kexue yanjiude xin jumian , 117.

[30] Xinhua , 31 August 1983, in JPRS , no. 84374, 21 September 1983, Economic Affairs, no. 384, 71.


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

[31] Zheng Qinghan and Xie Chengyan, "Guanyu yanjiu, zhiding, guanchi jishu zhengcide jige wenti," Kexue guanli yanjiu , no. 4 (August 1983), 23.

[32] National Research Center for Science and Technology for Development , 10–11; and personal communication from a participant in the energy study.

[33] Ibid., 21.


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

[34] A commentator's article in Renmin Ribao , 3 September 1986, 1, in FBIS , 5 September 1986, K5, emphasized that all departments and localities were required to carry out the policies, and that this was the business not just of S & T personnel, but also of economic workers and the government departments. The article stated that these policies should be carried out in drawing up S & T, economic, and social development plans, carrying out technical transformation, deciding on priority construction plans, and so on. Song Jian, head of the SSTC, argued that coordination among departments, specialties, and trades required correct (i.e., knowledge-based) policies; these blueprints, he suggested, supplied these. Song Jian, "March Towards a New Realm—Preface to 'Guide to China's Science and Technology Policies,'" Renmin Ribao , 10 September 1986, 3, in FBIS , 17 September 1986, K10.


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

[35] The centers clearly compete with each other and the ministries and commissions for authority and jurisdiction and for the premier's attention and support. One staff member of another center described Ma Hong's TERC as a "hegemon," saying that in addition to incorporating the ERC and Price Research Center, Ma had hoped also to bring the Economic Legislation Center and CIS under his domain. Although this effort failed, the TERC did not appear to have particularly good relations with the CIS: for drafting of the international affairs section of the "China to the Year 2000" report, Ma turned instead to the Institute of World Economics and Politics at CASS. The centers competed not only with each other but also with powerful ministries: Huan Xiang's CIS and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) clearly saw each other as major competitors for policy influence with the premier. Nor were the centers necessarily more influential than the ministries; although Ma Hong's ETSDRC appears to have been very influential relative to the economic ministries (perhaps less so relative to the SPC), the CIS seemed, if anything, less influential than the MFA. More research is needed to establish the exact nature of competition between the centers and the ministries, and the sources of relative influence.


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

[36] A possible example of how a research institute was able to affect the behavior of a ministry in a different functional sphere through "competitive persuasion" and not bargaining comes from the MFA's Institute of International Studies. When world oil prices fell, the Institute wrote a report arguing that China should slow her oil production and sent it directly to the premier. Zhao agreed, and ordered the ministry to slow down production. However, as Michel Oksenberg points out (personal communication), confirming that this instance actually fits the model of "competitive persuasion" will require knowledge of the other input into the decision.

[37] Undoubtedly, strategies other than simply providing a compelling argument were used in the competition between advisory bodies for policy influence. For example, a member of the SSTC energy-planning group described how, as a (then) minority voice opposing construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the group was horrified to read in Renmin Ribao that construction was already beginning. In a call to the newspaper, they discovered that this was false information that reporters had "heard from someone." My informant thought it likely that this was a deliberate leak to the newspaper by someone trying to influence the policy outcome. I do not discuss these alternative bureaucratic strategies for gaining policy influence because I lack any meaningful data on them.

[38] In a personal communication, David Zweig indicates that the RDRC drew heavily on the resources of the World Bank in performing some of its studies.

[39] One official of the research institute under the MFA suggested that his institute was very happy to have research tasks allocated by the premier or the State Council office (a relatively rare occurence), because researchers then knew that this was an issue to which the leadership was paying attention, and thus that the chances of having some influence were greater.


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

[40] Originally, the CIS was supposed to rely heavily upon the CASS area studies institutes for research support, but these institutes did not prove very cooperative. Although the MFA shared its documents with the CIS and invited CIS staff to attend its biweekly wuxuhui ("meetings to discuss ideological guidelines," i.e., meetings for internal coordination purposes where policy issues are discussed and debated), it was unwilling to undertake joint research with the center. The CIS came to rely heavily upon the Institute of Contemporary International Relations (ICIR). According to Barnett, the ICIR was responsible to the CIS (implying an authoritative relationship); according to a Chinese source, however, the reason it was so cooperative was that the former director of the ICIR, Chen Zhongjing, was married to a relative of Huan Xiang's.


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

[41] The SSTC also allocated funding for very different types of policy-related activities, such as a "Beijing Youth Forum" organized by the NRCSTD, which brought together thirty-to-forty-year-olds once a month for lively debate of various policy issues.


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,

[42] Lin Xi, "Important Capital Construction and Technological Transformation Projects to Be Examined by Consulting Organs Before Finalization," Renmin Ribao , 8 February 1986, in FBIS , 21 February 1986, K11.


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

[43] Don K. Price, America's Unwritten Constitution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985).


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-

[44] Robert O. Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 91.


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.

[45] New York Times , 6 February 1990.


Part Two The Center

Preferred Citation: Lieberthal, Kenneth G., and David M. Lampton, editors Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.