EXCERPT | Primary Disadvantages of Traditional Social Management Mode in Supply-Side Reform Field
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EXCERPT | Primary Disadvantages of Traditional Social Management Mode in Supply-Side Reform Field

By Xiaohan Li
School of Government, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

Image Attribute: Wangfujing street, Beijing / Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Attribute: Wangfujing street, Beijing / Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the past three decades, Chinese economy embraced its golden era of rapid growth with the implementation of reform, opening-up policy and institutional transition. However, the development of social management was still lagging behind. As institutional transition deepens, the social interest based relationship gets further complicated and the disadvantages of traditional social management mode become more distinct.

Single-Center Management Mode―Single Orientation of Governance Subject

In traditional social management mode, the government is the unique subject, serving as the supplier of social service and the first person responsible for social management. Meanwhile, the government is the final undertaker of social risks. All the social contradictions circle around the government, while various market forces and social forces rely on or attach themselves to the government, thus resulting in a situation of “strong government and weak society”. In certain stages, this kind of management structure had positive effects on the development of China’s economic society. But with the progress of the time, this management system is no longer fit to the integral development of the society. The government monopolized all the responsibilities of social security management for a long period of time. In real life, government responsibility equals to government undertaking. Social organizations and citizens are excluded from the design, conception, and practice of the system. The single-center mode intensifies “social exclusion”, leading to the erosion and extrusion of social self-governance by government powers.

Society is formed by multiple social stratums and groups. Different stratums and groups have varied political appeals, social status, and living demands. For this reason, the subject of social governance should be diversified to include different social groups and citizens in social governance, and enable them to share the development achievements. Although there are thousands of social groups and autonomous organizations in China, most of them are related to the government or completely rely on government authorities. These organizations' lack of interest subdued because of their expression mechanism, and their responsibility scope is very much restricted to the implementation of government policies. In other words, the actual power is still in the hands of the government, which would restrain the expression of social consciousness. Consequently, it would suppress the development of social self-governance, the subject consciousness of the citizens, their enthusiasm for politics as well as their sense of social responsibility. Single-center management mode, on the other hand, would provide advantageous conditions for power rent-seeking and corruption.

Government-Guided Governance Mode―Control Orientation of Governance Subject

Historically, the birth of a government is always accompanied by the mission of social control, while the social control system gradually matures and improves during the long development process of the government. It is believed that the history of a government is the history of government control reinforcement [1]. Government departmentalism is the cause of monopolistic social management and arrogant administration, which further lead to the formation of the centralized system. Power centralization and democracy are hot topics among people for a long time. There is no doubt that power centralization has the advantage of rapid mobilization and strong emergency capability in specific conditions, but it can only satisfy societies with low complexity and slow variation speed. When facing complex and fast-changing modern society, power centralization is no longer a useful tool to enhance control but a reflection of the government’s deficiency.

The government tends to make attempts to stabilize social order by enhancing social control, which would always fail and eventually lead to social disorder. Quan Zhongxie believed that people are now living in “an era of paradox” [2]. People are filled with longing for development and are making unremitting efforts for social development, but the results are quiet unexpected and opposite. Paradox would emerge when there is no consensus among administrators about the policy in implementation, such as the contradiction between economic development and environmental protection, administrative efficiency and administrative efficacy. In order to strengthen the control over society, the government will have to invest more operation costs (e.g. manpower and financial resources) in social management, thus leading to the swelling of government scale.

If the government defines its functions as “dominant” and “control”, the expansion of manpower and institutions will be necessary, thus resulting in the swelling of government scale, which would then become a heavy burden to the control system and even endanger it. Traditional social management mode has blind faith in the power of enforcement, which leads to continuous tension between the government and the citizens during social management and reduces the social trust in the government. The government-guided governance mode is no doubt an opposite of the current reform policy advocating the simplification of government agencies, the delegation of business management rights, and the combination of “delegation” and “management”.

Campaign-Style Governance Mode―Irrational Orientation of System Design

Social management in China has a strong preference for campaign-style governance mode with heavy administrative color. This is caused by the external environment, the national situation of dual transition, and the influence of traditional management system. Campaign-style governance mode is a kind of abnormal policy-based governance mode characterized by the conscious mobilization of governance subject and lacking systematic rationality. In this context, local governments driven by political achievements tend to draw up rigid regulations and apply stopgap measures to cope with changes, trying to accomplish the targets in one rectification action. This abnormal governance mode seems to produce innumerable great achievements in short-term. However, these achievements are transitory and lack of continuity. Furthermore, these “top-down” administration-based unilateral governance measures can hardly solve the existing problems due to the lack of top-level designs, legal safeguard, and supporting systems. Even worse is the reemergence of the problem. In this case, the government will find itself trapped in an endless loop of campaign-style governance.

According to the findings of Feng Zhifeng, the features of campaign-style governance in China are the authority of governance subjects, the specificity of governance objects, the motility of governance patterns, the temporality of governance time, the predetermination of governance targets, the reemergence of governance results, the compulsion of governance measures, the high governance costs, high governance efficiency, and the modeling of governance process [3]. The costs of campaign-style governance are very high and can easily lead to the waste of resources. Besides, its governance efficiency lacks continuity and is only a long-term solution. In addition, its governance patterns are against legality; the governance process breeds corrupt behaviors, which exerts serious negative influence on the credit and image of the government. The campaign-style governance mode ignores the multidimensional complexity of social issues and the initiative of social self-management. Hence, there is an urgent need to develop a normalized long-term system design for social governance with the perfection of national basic rights and the reinforcement of market regulation.

According to supply-side reform, the government should stick to the top-level design and road-maps, pay attention to the combination of reform measures, make all the reform measures close up to the central target, and avoid hasty “rigid uniformity”. No doubt, this is a death sentence for the government’s campaign-style governance mode. In fact, the replacement of abnormal short-acting campaign-style governance mode with generalized long-acting governance mode is an inevitable choice of the government.

Control-Stabilization Governance Mode―Stabilization Orientation of Public Service Supply

The government is acting as the guardian of stability during social governance affected by the mainstream political discourse of “stability overrides everything”. Social stability has been long regarded as the most important index of social management in China. In comparison, social fairness, social participation, and social harmony are all ignored. Citizens and other social forces are treated as the objects of governance instead of participants. The existing communication channels are blocked and citizens are incapable of expressing their reasonable appeals. For example, the Chinese government issued the Regulations on Letters and Visits in 2005 but failed to gain expected effects in practical operation. Skip-level visits are very common since the visitors have doubts about the authority of the basic-level government and want to attract the attention of higher level departments. Skip-level visits have exerted great pressure on the work of capital and superior government departments. Therefore, skip-level visits are strictly prohibited in the Regulations on Letters and Visits. However, the performance evaluation of local government adopts the “one ticket veto” visit policy. In order to refrain from skip-level visits, local governments tend to intercept visits, which seem to achieve short-term and superficial stability but actually leading to further fermentation of social contradictions.

In such logic, social management is just a mandatory control based on government performance objectives. Under the “forced” pressure of complicated government performance evaluation objectives, the administration takes the mission of social management as the task of stability maintenance. Directed by such working concept, government officials equate social management with stopping “destabilizing”. Obviously, the straight-line management idea is not proper for the thorough solution of social issues or may cause new unstable factors and lead to the vicious circle of stability maintenance governance. A fair and rational communication between the government and the public cannot be realized. Citizens lack an effective interest expression mechanism, and the government is in need of a response mechanism for public appealing. Government’s stability maintenance and the public’s rights protection become the first cause of social management anomie under the irrational game situation.

Cite this article:

Li, X. (2017) Research on China’s Social Governance Mode Transformation and Upgrading in Supply-Side Reform Field—From the Perspective of Public Management. Chinese Studies, 6, 188-200. doi: 10.4236/chnstd.2017.63019.

Copyright © 2017 by author and Scientific Research Publishing Inc. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY 4.0).


[1] Zhang Kangzhi. 张康之. (2012). Research on the Transformation of Government Behavior Mode from Control to Guiding 论政府行为模式从控制向引导的转变. Journal of Beijing Administrative College, 2, 22-29.

[2] Quan Zhongxie. 全钟燮. (2008). The Social Construction of Public Administration: Explanation and Criticism 公共行政的社会建构: 解释与批评. Trans. Sun Boying et al. Beijing: Peking University Press.

[3] Feng Zhifeng. 冯志峰. (2007). Definition and Characteristics of China’s Campaign-Style Governance 中国运动式治理的定义及特征. Journal of the Yinchuan Municipal Party College of C.P.C., 2, 29-32.