Manager Empowerment in China: Political Implications of Rural Industrialization in the Reform Era

By Zhang, Jian | The China Journal, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Manager Empowerment in China: Political Implications of Rural Industrialization in the Reform Era


Zhang, Jian, The China Journal


Manager Empowerment in China: Political Implications of Rural Industrialization in the Reform Era, by Ray Yep. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. xiv + 242 pp. £60.00/US$95.00 (hardcover).

This book makes a number of valuable contributions to the existing literature on rural industrialization and changing state-society relations in post-Mao China. More particularly, it addresses an important but hitherto largely neglected issue in the literature: the spectacular rise in influence of managers of collectively owned township and village enterprises (TVEs) and its consequences for the distribution of political and economic power in rural China. This is examined by way of a detailed case study of rural industrialization in a specific Chinese locality, Zibo Prefecture in Shandong Province, where TVEs have dominated the local economy since 1978. Between 1995 and 1998, Yep made five visits to Zibo to carry out field research, which provided him with rich firsthand information on the significant changes that have occurred in the economic and political landscape. The book describes a different pattern of state-society relations in rural China from those advanced in the current literature, deepening our understanding of the complex nature of rural transformation.

The central thesis of the book is that "TVE managers, who have been neglected in previous analyses of rural development of China, are rising in the rural political and economic order and are having a growing impact on state-society relations in the reform era" (p. 26). These managers have not only become indispensable in local economic development, exercising considerable control over their enterprises, but have also begun to acquire important political positions within the state hierarchy at the local level. However, this managerial empowerment cannot be perceived as a retreat of local state power. Nor does it necessarily lead to heightened tensions between state and society. Instead, Yep finds that, in the context of partial marketization, a "symbiotic" relationship characterized by mutual dependence has developed between local governments and TVE managers. Despite their rising importance in the local political economy, TVE managers also exhibit strong interest in maintaining a harmonious relationship with the local state hierarchy. Therefore, contrary to the dichotomous view of the state-society relationship prevalent in the literature, Yep concludes that "a delicate process of mutual empowerment of state and social actors is evident" (p. 173) in rural China.

The first of the book's eight chapters introduces the main themes and offers a critical review of the literature on changing state-society relations in China. Chapter 2 provides an historical overview of the changes that occurred in rural China in the early 1980s, and illustrates how such changes created both incentives and pressures for local governments to develop rural enterprises. Chapter 3 is the most interesting, presenting an illuminating account of the rise of TVE managers in the local economic and political arenas. …

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