Public administration in China

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Mapping the history of public administration of a vast region such as Asia is indeed an enormous task, especially since the region consists of nations that demonstrate significant racial, ethnic, cultural and political differences. The following will use the case of China to demonstrate some special feature in Asia.

The history of legacy

The old feudalist and the budding bourgeois systems of organizing the economy were replaced with a socialist system after spite of the significant change in both economy and polity, the system of administering the country remained remarkably similar to the earlier imperial days. The Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s temporarily disrupted the operations of this system by accusing managers and bureaucrats of being ‘enemies of the revolution’. Nonetheless, it was eventually restored and did not change until the 1980s after a policy of market reform had been adopted by the government in Beijing. The Chinese version of “market socialism’ had gradually given more autonomy to administrative and managerial organs in the state. For example, party, government and enterprises have been formally separated in order to make the economic system work more efficiently, and allowing economic managers to become more capable of achieving stated targets of performance.

Administrative culture

The culture that prevails in public organizations in China today does little to encourage innovation and what Schumpeter called learning from “disequilibrium” situations, that is, when things are not in balance. China provides a favorable context for the social acceptance of a paternalistic public bureaucracy. Both the culture and the political system emphasize unified leadership and authority, mutual dependence, moral incentives and conformity of thought. These characteristics sharply contrast with the pluralism of ownership, competition individualist entrepreneurship, economic incentives and innovation, which have generally been associated with Western modernization Compared to most other modernizing countries in the world, China has remained remarkably true to its own cultural and historical origins. That is why external reforms have been difficult to introduce in the public sector and why the bureaucracy remains paternalist and often discretionary in its relations with the public.

Remaining challengers

1 Corruption

In Chinese society corruption has always been practiced but also condemned. The moral argument has been persuasive, especially when the political forces have enforced it .by the end of the 1980s,when a market element was introduced into socialism, corruption began to appear. With the monopoly of power at both the national and grass-roots level, state ownership of property, and central planning, the opportunity for corruption increased in the following four-fold manner.(kwong)

1 an absolute dependence on the higher authority for funds encouraging lower level managers to inflate their needs in order to obtain more resources.

2 strong pressure form the top to conform inducing state and lower echelons to falsity reports on their productivity to please superiors

3 with supervisors having absolute control over resources, subordinates being ready to use bribes to receive resources for their own benefits.

4 the public’s dependence on these officials discouraging them from reporting illegal activities, thus enhancing the anonymity of corrupt officials.

With the advent of a materialistic orientation in the 1980s,however, many new opportunities for enrichment emerged while the ascetic code of public service ethics was disregarded. Those, who acquired wealth, were admired, envied and became socially acceptable by the rest as long as they were not caught. In such a situation, those who enriched themselves from corrupt practices would shy away from reporting similar transgression by their colleagues or subordinate employees. Slowly, a climate of corruption developed, at the same time, honest officers became materially poor compared to their colleagues and were ostracized as stupid, the principle of leadership by virtue, which is so deeply ingrained in the Confusion tradition, no longer applies with the same degree of consistency. The market reforms have brought in new values that seem to undermine the old principles. This is increasingly an issue in China that the political leadership is grappling with.

2 Governance

Governance has become a very fashionable way of talking about reform in government and its relations with society. Governance principles are not only a set of techniques that can be peddled from one corner of the world to another. They need to be developed in the local context of the societies where they are meant to apply. these principles include a call for individual moral responsibility and obligation, sacrifice, compassion and justices, and an honest effort to achieved the highest good. Good governance and sustainable human development, especially for developing nations, also require conscientious attempts at eliminating poverty, sustaining livelihoods, fulfilling basic needs, and offering an administrative system that is clean and open.

Public officials who believe in this approach feel that in public policy and administration, most choices are not moral absolutes, but depend on calculations of costs and benefits, not only to the public ,but also to politicians and public servants. This approach emphasizes creating institutions of external control and procedures to check financial mismanagement and corruption. However, the main weakness of this approach is its emphasis on reductionism and lack of a moral imperative. No matter how comprehensive the rules and procedures to check the misuse of power and authority, people will invent the means to bend the rules or use legal loopholes in order to engage in unethical activities.

Insisting on morality in public policy and decision-making is a condition for strengthening the ethical obligations of the people. Without politicians and government administrators behaving in an ethical manner, the chances of national development in a sustainable manner are seriously compromised. It is here where the moral approach acquires a holistic tone; ultimately, our public servants exist for the public they are employed to serve. This approach needs to be revitalized in public service in Asian countries. Unless public officials are guided also by a sense of vocation, service to others and accountability, we cannot expect moral government (Dwivedi,2002)


Although it may be an oversimplification to talk about a set of distinctive Asian values, it is true that a good number of Asians do not subscribe to the set of Western values that dominate global discourse about administration and governance .For example, the notion of duty and community rights, sacrifice for the family and other communal needs, respect for authority, and consensual decision making are deeply rooted in Asian societies, but they do not feature at all in the prescription for improved public administration or better governance that the international development community advocates today .Public administration, more than ever before, can be fully analyzed and understood only in its political context. This is a lesson that can convincingly be drawn from the cases discussed above, but applies also to other Asian countries, all of which are confronting issues of legitimizing the role that public institutions play in society.

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