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Blame Avoidance in China's Cadre Responsibility System

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 February 2021

Jiayuan Li
SouthChinaUniversity of Technology, Guangzhou, China. Email:
Xing Ni*
South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China.
Rui Wang
Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, China. Email:
Email: (corresponding author).


This article contends that prior research on the behaviour of Chinese local cadres pays limited attention to their motivation for avoiding blame. Using qualitative data from three field studies conducted in Guangdong province, the study focuses on blame avoidance in the cadre responsibility system, which is recognized as an important instrument for state capacity building. Our analysis uncovers three major discursive strategies used by grassroots cadres to manage blame either before or after it is apportioned: de-legitimating performance standards, re-attributing blame and transferring blame risk. We find that local cadres have a role as blame makers in shifting blame and accusations. This finding challenges the conventional view, which typically sees local officials as blame takers. The article concludes by elaborating on the wider implications of this finding and proposing avenues for future research.



我们认为关于中国地方官员行为的研究并未给予避责现象足够的注意力。基于广东实地调查的质性数据,本文围绕这一主题进一步展开研究。我们聚焦发生于干部责任制中的避责现象,该制度设计被普遍认为是中国国家能力建设的重要工具。我们分析了基层官员在追责发生前和发生后采用何种话语策略对责任进行管理。我们发现这些策略包括质疑考核标准的正当性,对过失进行再归因,以及转移责任风险。我们有关地方官员作为责任推卸者的发现挑战了既有的观点,即地方官员被普遍认为是 “替罪羊”。 在讨论部分,我们进一步阐述了本研究更为一般化的意涵,并展望了未来研究的可能方向。

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. SOAS University of London, 2021

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