APARC Research - Structural Change in China

Landscape and skyline of Shenzhen,, China

Structural Change in China

The role of institutions in shaping politics, reform, and authoritarian resilience

Adaptive governance

How China’s state governance system is changing and adapting to tensions and opportunities in the country’s transformation.

Research Focus

Amid unprecedented socioeconomic changes, China has gone through continuous development to become the world’s second-largest economy and a major geopolitical player with global influence, all with the same institutions that it inherited from the Mao period. Forty years into the reform process, however, thorny political problems challenge the core principles of the Chinese Community Party and the question is whether this same system has reached its limits. The “Structural Change in China” project, led by Jean Oi, examines how China’s political institutions help or hinder continued reform and the challenges they face ahead.

Using a micro-level approach, Oi studies how local-level institutions have been able to cope as the economy has grown exponentially and the demands and needs of an increasingly complex society put more strains on resources and the political system, with seemingly little or no institutional change. She finds that China’s local governments were able to improvise and manage through adaptive governance and argues that institutional agility in the face of incomplete reform is at the heart of the country’s authoritarian resilience, but that incomplete reform may now become a weakness as current leaders continue to kick the can down the road.

Lead Researcher


Jean C. Oi

Shorenstein APARC China Program Director

Jean C. Oi

Shorenstein APARC China Program Director
Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Professor of Political Science


China’s Challenges: Now it Gets Much Harder
with Thomas Finger, The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 43, Spring 2020.

Fateful Decisions: Choices that will Shape China's Future
co-edited with Thomas Fingar, Stanford University Press, 2020

Zouping Revisited: Adaptive Governance in a Chinese County
co-edited with Steven Goldstein, Stanford University Press, 2018

Selected Media

Jean Oi and Thomas Fingar join FSI Director Michael McFaul on the World Class podcast to discuss China’s growth and achievements over the past 40 years, the choices that will shape China’s future, and the role of political parties and leaders in China.