In This Review

China's Local Administration: Traditions and Changes in the Sub-National Hierarchy (China Policy Series)
China's Local Administration: Traditions and Changes in the Sub-National Hierarchy (China Policy Series)
Edited by Jae Ho Chung and Tao-Chiu Lam
Routledge, 2009, 240 pp

China’s system of territorial administration is complicated because the country is so large and diverse. This survey by a network of local-studies scholars is an indispensable guide to the administrative system below the central level. China’s constitution provides for three subnational tiers: province, county, and township. But the authors identify nine distinct governmental units, divided into five levels. Today, much of the action in economic development and social policy takes place in municipalities (shi), of which there are about 600, positioned at three different bureaucratic ranks, depending on their size. The key driver of the municipalities’ emergence has been urbanization, which created the need for city centers to administer their increasingly interdependent rural surroundings. A great deal of power and responsibility have been delegated to the shi level, along with substantial fiscal independence and the right to experiment with new policies. Still, the center retains ultimate control through its power over officials’ careers. Ambitious local officials provide much of China’s dynamism but also contribute to environmental problems, corruption, local protectionism, and economic overheating.