Assessing hybridity in the People’s Republic of China

The impact of post-Mao decentralization

Authored by: Susan J. Henders

Routledge Handbook of Regionalism and Federalism

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415566216
eBook ISBN: 9780203395974
Adobe ISBN: 9781136727627


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This chapter contextualizes and assesses the extent to which recent decentralization and other patterns in central-local authority relations have made China a hybrid state – that is, one not fully federal or unitary in its functioning and structures, although still formally one or the other, or primarily so. China is not developing formal federalism based on Riker’s criteria that assume a constitutionalist democratic political order and other specific institutional features. However, the concept of hybridity helps to capture analytically elements of post-Mao China’s political system that are less evident when focusing on federal and unitary states as ideal types. These elements include growing asymmetrical territoriality and the behavioural and informal dimensions of central-local relations that have accompanied the building of a ‘socialist market economy’, urbanization, and central policy responses to peripheral territories with distinctive histories and ways of life or culture (i.e. Hong Kong and Macau as well as Xinjiang and Tibet). The result has been new, spatially and functionally variable rules and practices for acquiring, distributing and using territorialized political resources. These have given some local authorities considerable policy and fiscal discretion, albeit without the protection of robust constitutionalism; they have also ensured continuing central control, but not always zero-sum central-local interactions. 2 The arguments for deeming China hybrid – and, according to some, informally federal – are discussed after an overview of relevant history, institutions and other background.

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