2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 320

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Grassroots Governing Networks and Institutional Accountability in China

Organizer: Ching-Ping Tang, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

The Communist Party has destroyed most grassroots self-governance institutions in the revolutionary era in China. It is not accurate to say, however, that such society-based governing mechanism is absent nowadays. Some ancient old social institutions persist miraculously throughout waves of extremist experiments and keep functioning well. Others have been rebuilt after a series of political and economic reforms since late 1970s. While the value of network governance in enhancing accountability is getting more scholarly attention since the advocacy of Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, the development of local governing networks in this huge country with rapid economic growth deserves more attention. This panel consists of four papers on this issue. The first one reviews the role of social organizations in alleviating poverty in pre-revolutionary China. The tradition and legacy embedded deeply in culture might help in rebuilding new social institutions when the regime started loose its control over the civil society in recent years. The second paper cites anthropological evidence to indicate that a set of social institutions has survived the crackdown of communist regime and keeps distributing very limited water on the Loess Plateau of central China. This paper discusses the accountability of such ever-lasting social institutions and its meaning in the modern governing system. The third paper examines how such network governance mode has actually worked for political authority in Zhongguancun, Beijing. The final paper explores how local governments might improve the accountability by involving civil engagement in evaluating the performance of public agencies.

Sustainable Resource Governance by Indigenous Institutions: The Case of Water Management in Four-Community-Five-Village in Shangxi, China
Ching-Ping Tang, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

More scholarly attention has been paid to the rising demands on all kinds of natural resources in China as its economic developed drastically to promise its people a higher living standard. Attention has also paid to the impacts of economic and political reforms that have resulted in favorable consequences (e.g., economic development) and possible challenges. Not enough attention, however, have been paid to many informal, indigenous institutions that have been governing the society for more than centuries. Going through imperial, republican, communist, and post-Mao reform, many of these institutions are still functional well in different corners of China nowadays. While institutional analysts usually argue that some fundamental institutions (e.g. the rules regarding power distribution and succession or regarding property rights) usually have dominant effects on others (e.g. the rules on resources distribution), it has been puzzling why these indigenous institutions can persist over such long period of time given so many exogenous impacts. The case of Four-community-five-village in Shanxi indicates a possibility that such institutions can survive more than one millennium with only minor revisions. Given the understanding that grassroots institutions involving thick social networks could be the most effective governing system for natural resources, it is very meaningful to understand such continuity of indigenous institutions.

From Administrative Control to Platform Management: State-Society Interaction in Zhongguancun Innovation Model Park, Beijing
Sheng-Wen Tseng, , Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Zhongguancun Science Park was built up by Chinese authority in 1988 to be a learning base for western high technology. It transformed to an “Innovation Model Park” in 2009 and geographically scattered its ten bases in different corners of Beijing. The changing nature from an administrative institution to a “platform” for innovation has also changed its relationship with the engaged businesses, universities, research centers, and community organizations. This paper examines how this new form of network governance has performed in carrying out its mission by involving and coordinating diversified interests of stakeholders. The research indicates that although some challenges remain, such network governing mode of “innovative platform” has actually helped in aggregating human resource and enhanced collaboration among diversified industries. In other words, the governing accountability has been improved.

Civic Engagement in Performance Evaluation of the Public Sector in China: Building Horizontal Accountability for Enhancing Vertical Accountability
Bennis Wai-yip So, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Since the end of the 20th century, some local governments in China have experimented with different ways of performance evaluation of public agencies with civic engagement. This officially-called “democratic review of political and business style” (minzhu pingyi zhengfeng hangfeng) has been so far practiced nationwide among local governments. It should be considered an alternative performance evaluation mechanism to the top-down managerial “target responsibility system” (mubiao zerenzhi) that was already applied in the 1980s. While the “target responsibility system” is to strengthen administrative or vertical accountability, it seems that the new practices is to build up a new mechanism of horizontal accountability that require public agencies to become direct responsiveness to the general public. This paper would make use of the case of Wuhan to review how far the new mechanism helps improve the quality of social services in the city. The author would argue that the “democratic review of political and business style” does help enhance the agencies’ responsiveness to the public, but the mechanism remains weakly institutionalized and highly depends on the blessing of top leaders who exercise much discretion to “flexibly” use the mechanism. The author suggests that it is more accurate to frame the new practice as a function of “building horizontal accountability for enhancing vertical accountability.”