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Bureaucratic Slack in China: The Anti-corruption Campaign and the Decline of Patronage Networks in Developing Local Economies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2019

Peng Wang
Department of Sociology, the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. Email:
Xia Yan
School of Sociology and Anthropology, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China.


This article presents a qualitative empirical study of the impact of corruption and anti-corruption on the efficiency of China's bureaucratic system in developing a local economy. Drawing on 40 in-depth interviews and 98 days of participant observation, it first investigates the significance of extravagant position-related consumption in building personalized bureaucratic ties (patronage networks) and mobilizing resources for local economic development. It then examines the causal link between President Xi's campaign against corruption and extravagance and the rise of bureaucratic slack in local governments. The anti-extravagance campaign reduces the level of corruption in local government but it discourages local officials, who are motivated primarily by the desire to avoid risk and ensure political survival, from using banquets and gift-giving to build patronage networks, attract investment and mobilize development resources. The article concludes that corruption may contribute positively to the efficiency of a fragmented Chinese bureaucracy in fostering development at the local level, while the anti-corruption campaign compels local cadres to develop a new coping strategy – bureaucratic slack – for implementing policies and developing local economies.



本文围绕中国政府的腐败与反腐败对地方经济发展效率的影响进行了质性实证分析。基于 40 次深度访谈和 98 天参与式观察所收集的资料,本文发现地方政府官员借助公款消费(尤其是公款吃喝),建立和加强了人际关系互动,进而更高效地调动资源促进地方经济发展。虽然反腐运动提升了地方政府的廉洁程度,有助于规避腐败对组织运转及地方经济发展的负面影响。但是,短期来看,反腐也导致了政府组织成员互动频率减少和懒政问题的蔓延,削弱了政府调动资源发展地方经济的积极性。文章首先探讨了“三公”消费在建立私人关系网络(庇护网络)和调动资源上所发挥的重要作用。然后,文章基于调查资料分析了反腐败、反浪费运动与懒政现象之间的因果关系。为了规避风险和确保政治生存,地方官员极力避免宴请和礼物交换。过去借助于公款消费调动资源、招商引资的发展模式失去了合法性。在没有形成替代性的发展激励机制前,地方政府在经济发展方面趋于懈怠,发展动力不足。

Research Article
Copyright © SOAS University of London 2019

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