Relying on fieldwork conducted in two provinces, this article provides a systemic study of China's Government Work Reports (GWRs), examining their function, format, how they are formulated and implemented, their content and their research values. Whilst the existing literature mostly focuses on central government reports, this research integrates GWRs from all administrative levels. I argue that over time, the GWRs have developed into a highly institutionalized nationwide system with two important aspects – local elites’ autonomy in setting work agendas, and their compliance with central government policy priorities. Additionally, my study shows that by using quantifiable targets and celebrating achievements framed in concrete statistics, the GWRs help to sustain the legitimacy of the party-state. Finally, my study finds GWRs to be a versatile scholarly resource that can be used for various research interests and methods.