Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tied up in red tape

A Wikipedia article says that "Red tape is an idiom that refers to excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to governments, corporations, and other large organizations."

Red tape holding a bundle of Confederate Civil War documents
Large, bureaucratic organizations are natural habitats for red tape, and, according to Dan Levine writing in The New York Times, China might be the best environment. (I'd hate to think that my grand children's educational opportunities might be affected by the fact that I was born in rural Florida.)

How might this affect legitimacy? authority? civil society? government?

China’s Growing Middle Class Chafes Against Red Tape
Though her Scottish father obtained a British passport for Jessica Cherry, the government regards her as Chinese, as she was born in Beijing to a Chinese mother. Because her parents did not get a mandatory birth permit, it is practically impossible for Jessica to acquire a Chinese passport and other documents that define citizenship here. That has forced her family to obtain a special “exit-entry permit” each time she leaves China.

The bureaucratic jujitsu usually takes around 50 days, said her mother, Daisy Li, a media producer, who has applied for the permit nine times. “It makes me curse, and it makes me cry,” she said.

China’s bureaucracy has long been a bewildering maze of “relevant departments,” official red-ink seals and stone-faced functionaries…

To get a license plate for a new car, for example, a resident of Beijing must win a pass in a lottery in which the odds of success are less than 1 percent… Applying for a student loan can require as many as 26 official seals on more than a dozen documents. Just starting a new job and registering for public benefits can mean amassing a small mountain of documents, including a certified background check by the police in one’s place of birth. And no, you cannot get that by mail.

As its ranks grow, China’s middle class – wired, ambitious and worldly – is increasingly unwilling to tolerate such obstacles…

For many educated city dwellers, it is red tape, more than news media censorship and heavy-handed propaganda, that serves as a grinding reminder of the Communist Party’s dominion over their lives…

Analysts say such frustrations feed public discontent at a time when the party is trying to bolster its appeal by combating corruption, promising a more reliable legal system and vowing to ease the constraints on small businesses…

Minxin Pei, an expert on Chinese politics at Claremont McKenna College in California, described the nation’s bureaucracy as a time-tested mechanism for social and political control, one that functions as “an unmovable layer insulating the top leader from popular pressure.”…

[T]he head-spinning tangle of regulations that infuriates many ordinary Chinese. At the heart of their ire is the hukou, or family registration, an onerous system akin to an internal passport that often tethers services like public education, subsidized health care and pensions to their parents’ birthplace — even if that person never lived there.

Created in the 1950s and designed to restrict the flow of rural villagers into large cities, the hukou system has become widely detested in recent years…

Young professionals often go to extremes to get a coveted hukou in cities like Beijing or Shanghai. The lucky ones find jobs with state-owned enterprises or with well-placed private companies that are granted an annual quota to hire “outsiders” who can then register their hukou under the company’s name and address.

For many Chinese, the most troubling impact of hukou restrictions affects their child’s access to education…

The hukou bureaucracy forces many migrants to choose between their child and their livelihood. As a result, about one-fifth of Chinese children, more than 61 million, live without their parents in villages, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

One recent afternoon, Li Ying, 39, sat in a fluorescent-lit Beijing government office, waiting for her number to be called so she could apply for a temporary residence permit that would allow her 6-year-old son to enroll in school.

Although Ms. Li moved to Beijing with her parents as a child in 1981, her hukou is registered in a distant town, meaning her son will be shut out of the city’s public schools without the permit.

The application process is emblematic of the bureaucratic gantlet many Chinese endure. Among the 14 required documents, Ms. Li must provide her hukou certificate, proof of residence, a diploma, a job contract, a marriage license, her husband’s identity card, his hukou, a certificate proving she has only one child and a company document detailing her work performance and tax payments…

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