Central-Local Relations

Yongnian Zheng and Cuifen Weng

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2014 | | DOI:
Central-Local Relations

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  • East Asian Studies
  • Asian History
  • East Asian Philosophy
  • East Asian Religions


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According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the local administration is divided into three tiers: province, county, and township. In reality, however, it is a four-level system: province, prefecture, county, and township. China currently has thirty-four provincial-level administrative units, some of which are as large in size as a European country but with a larger population. The national constitution states that China is a unitary system. In reality, great discrepancies can be easily observed in almost every policy area between local policy implementation and the center’s policy mandates. Scholars have been greatly interested in how it is possible for a country of continental dimensions, inhabited by people who speak mutually unintelligible languages and who exhibit an amazing array of regional differences, to be organized in a unitary state and to be governed by one power center. The issue has become even more significant and the debate has widened since China’s economic reform and open door policy that began in the late 1970s. The rapid economic development since then has raised the question of whether the established institutions of central-local relations can accommodate such unprecedented economic growth and consequent sociopolitical changes. In the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, many observers predicted an imminent Chinese collapse. The Chinese have often shown an unconcern toward the disunity of their state. The opening passage of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi) states: after a long separation, there is bound to be unity; after a long unity, there is bound to be separation (fen jiu bi he, he jiu bi fen 分久必合,合久必分). The author affirms that the cycle of unity and disunity seems inevitable in China. Counterarguments also exist, however, in asserting that integration, rather than disintegration, is a growing characteristic of the Chinese state given the fact that the Chinese leadership has actively adjusted the country’s institutions to cope with changing central-local relations. In response to the major politico-economic changes, research on China’s central-local relations has thrived since the 1990s, and much insightful analysis has been done to date. This article will provide a selected bibliography of some of the major works that have appeared on this subject. The focus is on the writings in the post-Mao era even though the article also covers some dated, but still important and relevant, publications.

Article.  8180 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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