Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, April 26, 2019

Red tape in China. Patriotic? Necessary?

Red Tape is the symbol of government restrictions on independent action by people, groups, and companies. China may be the champion of red tape and democratic centralism may be the primary cause.

China’s endless war on red tape leads to … more red tape
China’s war on bureaucratic window dressing has been stepped up, with 2019 declared the year of reducing the burden on grass-roots officials.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is counting on the millions of junior party cadres across the country to implement his ambitious campaigns to end corruption, alleviate poverty and rejuvenate the nation. Instead, they often find themselves entangled in endless meetings and exhausted by the mountains of reports they are required to prepare…

Li, a staffer at a county-level legislature in the southern province of Guangdong… said his fellow cadres also lamented that their appraisals were based on “ridiculous” check-the-box indicators instead of meaningful measures of their performance…

In a March directive announcing the latest crackdown on “formalism” – as the flurry of meaningless bureaucratic activity is known in China – the party’s Central Committee warned against evaluating cadres’ performance solely on the basis of photos or videos taken of their work.

The directive, which declared 2019 the year for reducing the grass roots burden, also called for governments to cut down on meetings and guidelines by 30 to 50 per cent.

The number of meetings being held is staggering. Last week local state media reported that the public Security Bureau in Tianjin City, northeast China, had convened more than 160,000 meetings in recent years for its officers to learn from past corruption cases involving the city’s former mayor and police chief…

The March directive to chip away at redundant files and meetings showed the central government realised that bureaucrats could hardly focus on their real tasks with all that red tape, Zhuang said…

Since coming to power, Xi has made repeated efforts to chip away at the stubborn sloth of China’s bureaucracy. He declared war against “formalism” almost immediately after becoming the party’s general secretary in 2012…

Nor is Xi the first Chinese leader to tackle the issue. Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao all tried to fix the problem, with varying degrees of success, only to see the problem emerge once again, seemingly stronger than ever…

To many civil servants, the campaigns – many aimed at curbing formalism themselves – have only meant more meetings, more documents, more peculiar evaluations, in which they are required to repeatedly reflect on their mistakes, and endlessly rewrite most of their reports…

And, just days after Beijing’s directive, Li received a new guideline from the municipal party cell, handed down at 10am.

“May all counties submit documents on discussions about ‘curbing the burden of grass roots governance’. The voice of the front line needs to be heard,” it read.

“All materials shall be sent to the municipal party cell’s mailbox by three this afternoon,” the guideline continued.

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