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The Institutional Logic of Governance in China


Xueguang Zhou, Kwoh-Ting Li Professor in Economic Development, Professor of Sociology, and FSI Senior Fellow of Stanford University, kicked off the Stanford China Program's 2018 Winter Colloquia series, "An Expanding Toolkit: The Evolution of Governance in China," with a talk centered around policymaking and adaptability, titled "The Institutional Logic of Governance in China." Drawing from his recent book of the same title (published in Chinese as 中国国家治理的制度逻辑), Zhou examined the fundamental tensions in governing a changing China from an organizational and institutional approach. Zhou outlined the hierarchical structure of the Chinese government bureacracy and highlighted the inherent tension between centralized policymaking and formal institutions versus effective local governance featuring informal institutions. In China, these formal and informal methods of governance coexist in a "subtle, fragile equilibrium," that flows throught cycles of centralization and decentralization. This push and pull allows the local government to take aim on important issues in need of local informationand expertise, while the central government retains the ability the grab power back at any time. However, in the internet age, the Chinese government must contend with a network with no central authority, which can transcend local boundaries and challenges the traditional logic of governance. Zhou examined several case studies showcasing the multiplicative power of the internet across localities, and described how governing entities in China have had their traditional order of government shaken by these numerous and varied challenges. While the government has been forced to contend with rethinking their methods of organization, in order to take control over a network organized with a horizontal, rather than hierarchical, structure. Zhou questions whether, in the end, the government will be forced to adapt to the new Internet age, or if the new Internet age will in the end be forced to adapt to the government.