Poster Paper: Bureaucratic Control Dilemma: How Subnational Governments Strategically Resist Central Rules in China

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Shiyang Xiao, Syracuse University and Xufeng Zhu, Tsinghua University

In China, local bureaucrats retain great power over most social regulatory issues, despite the central government’s continuing effort to set more rules on local agencies.

How do Chinese local bureaucrats strategically maneuver against central policies which aim to curb the discretion of local governments? We combine text mining and econometrics methods to analyze 42 central social regulatory policies and the corresponding 890 local implementation documents launched by provincial governments between 2003 and 2012. We measure the extent of control in each central policy by calculating the frequency of the words which strongly indicate the central government’s intention to restrict local governments’ behaviors.

The empirical analysis demonstrates that the central policies which show strong intention to restrict local power have significant lower probability to be enforced by provincial agencies. Provinces with greater fiscal resources are more likely to defy central control. Interestingly, the strategic defiance of local governments can also happen in a subtler way. By measuring the text similarity between central and local documents, we find that when a central policy intends to exercise more control, the provincial governments would purposely launch local implementation documents which have much difference from the content of the central one.

This research has important implications for understanding the formal and real authority in bureaucracy, and also contributes to the literature on Chinese central-local relationships.