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The Institutional Crux of Community-level Government


By Zhao Shukai

As a modern bureaucratic body, community-level government is not adequately institutionalized. The crux for such institutional insufficiency features three facets: corporatized operation logic, campaign-based work mechanism and fragmented authority structure. To put it simply, three problems remain to be solved for community-level government: what to do, how to do, and how to make self-regulation. This paper attempts to portray these problems and features of China’s community-level government so as to identify the direction and approaches for future reform. First, as for the corporatized operation logic, in the market economic mechanism, the function of government is to provide public goods and services. Such corporatized governmental operation mechanism makes the government become deprived of capabilities to respond to public needs of community-level society.The institutional pressure resulting from the entire governmental system is marvelously intertwined with the inherent interest pursuits by local government entities, becoming fundamental drivers for government operation. Second, as for the campaign-based governmental working mechanism, it means governmental operation is mainly featured by a “campaign” manner, but these campaigns are not “social campaigns” automatically generated by forces in civil society; they are rather “governmental campaigns” forged by government through administrative forces. It is found that the work of community-level government is basically conducted through these campaigns, whereas routine work accounts for a mere low proportion. The key to the boom of these “campaigns” is strong power centralization either by the upper-level governments or by leading officials.Third, as for the fragmented government authority system, fragmentation seems to be in conflict with the campaign-based operation, but it marks exactly the critical feature for local governmental operation. By examining the practical operation of local government, we may find fragmentation has become an increasingly prominent problem. From this angle, this kind of fragmented governmental system is not a modern bureaucratic system. For China’s community-level governments, democratization and institutionalization are advancing simultaneously in theory, but the democratic foundation is not solid and institutionalization is especially young and lagging behind the times. To solve these problems of community-level governments and enable them to effectively manage and control their affairs, it is especially imperative to promote institutional building. The most significant approach is to introduce democratic participation and enable the public to enforce effective control over the government. Currently speaking, despite the surging economic modernization level, the tough process of governmental transformation has just begun.

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