Ceren Ergenc

Ceren Ergenc: Boston University, Center for the Study of Asia

Public Participation in Reform China: A Case Study on Public Hearings

New economic relations, codification of new laws, and administrative reforms have changed the relationship between the state and society in reform China. Coming from a collectivist political past in which the party-state had a claim to represent the people as a whole working class, in the last thirty years the Chinese society has gradually evolved into a system in which every citizen is expected to relate to the state individually on the basis of rights and responsibilities. Amongst this transition, there is a lack of mechanisms which would render representation of socio-economic and political interests of different cleavages in the society possible. In this context, public participation in politics is crucial for the future development of citizen consciousness, rights advocacy and interest representation.

In the last fifteen years, Chinese government launched a good governance initiative (“administrative democracy”) and encouraged local governments to include public participatory mechanisms in their decision-making processes. This paper examines one of these practices, administrative and legislative hearings as a platform that the dynamics of state-society relations manifest themselves.

This research utilizes different sources in order to unfold the factors and motivations that shape the outcome of this form of deliberative action. Among these sources are official documents and media coverage of sample cases, and interviews with both central government agencies and local governments as well as participants of hearings.Three cities are selected to test if, and how, state-society relationship and public participation patterns vary within China. The cities are Qingdao, Wuhan and Guiyang, which demonstrate economic and administrative characteristics of the most developed Eastern region, relatively lesser developed Central region and newly developing Western region, respectively. Besides an analysis of attitudes of officials and participants towards issues such as representation and collective decision-making, the research also includes perceptions and (dis)incentives of the non-participating groups and general public analyzed through interviews and
public opinion surveys.