News & Events
Conferences & Seminars

Social Sciences Seminar: "China's Administrative Reforms: Reflections on the Trajectory of the Past Thirty Years"


Most official literature would trace the lineage of China’s contemporary era of reforms to the Third Plenum of the 13th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held thirty years ago in December 1978. Within three decades, China has been transformed from a centrally planned economy to a thriving market economy under the so-called ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. Private enterprises thrive alongside state-owned enterprises which now account for only some 30% of the nation’s industrial product. The central state was restructured through devolution and decentralization. New administrative systems in personnel, financial and assets management were installed.

Reforms have been implemented in a gradualist manner described by Deng Xiaoping as “crossing the river by touching the stones”, with tensions between reformist and conservative forces, periodic ups and downs, and setbacks and reversals. In terms of administrative reforms, this process entailed several key aspects: restructuring and downsizing of government at national, provincial and local levels; transformation of government functions; reconstitution of the cadre personnel system and wage reforms; reform of state-owned enterprises (SOEs); fiscal reforms; anti-corruption reforms; and decentralization and reformulation of central-local relations.

Despite the vast changes made in dismantling or ‘modernizing’ the previous Leninist regime, the decoupling of relations has remained ambiguous. What has changed and what has not changed continues to be a crucial concern in understanding the progress of reform. The paradox of administrative reforms is expressed in three dimensions within China’s party-dominated political context: the instrumentality of reform to serve the dual purpose of modernizing the system and at the same time preserving the Communist party’s supremacy; the interplay with politics of the locality, resulting in toned-down and sometimes distorted reform outcomes; and the inherently contradictory and compromising nature of the reform agenda seeking to concurrently embrace Leninist, Weberian and neoliberalist ideas, without a clear ideological or paradigm break with the past.


Professor Anthony B. L. Cheung is President of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, carrying the concurrent title of Chair Professor of Public Administration. Professor Cheung received his PhD degree in Government from the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, UK. He has written extensively on governance, privatization, civil service and public sector reforms, government and politics in Hong Kong and China, and Asian administrative reforms. His recent books are Governance for Harmony in Asia and Beyond (co-edited, Routledge, 2010), Governance and Public Sector Reform in Asia: Paradigm Shift or Business As Usual? (co-edited, RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), and Public Service Reform in East Asia: Reform Issues and Challenges in Japan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong (edited, Chinese University Press, 2005). He writes regular columns in the South China Morning Post, Ming Pao (in Chinese) and Hong Kong Economic Journal (in Chinese). Professor Cheung is a Non-Official Member of the Executive Council of the Hong Kong Special Adminstrative Region, Chairman of the Consumer Council, Chairman of the Subsidized Housing Committee of the Housing Authority, member of the Greater Pearl River Delta Region Business Council, and member of the Board of Directors of The Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Limited. Professor Cheung is the founding chairman of the policy think-tank SynergyNet and a founding director of the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute. He is a former Member of the Legislative Council (1995-97) and former Vice-Chairman of the Democratic Party(1994-1998).



Online Seminar Video Clip