Stanley's blog

A lecture by Professor Li Jinshan of Zhejiang University on 27 April surprised the BICCS (Brussels Institute for Contemporary China Studies) with the complexity of the Chinese governing structure. This illustrates why the enforcement of laws passed by the Central Government is not easy, as foreign companies have found to their disadvantage.

China has five levels of government – eight levels including sublevels:

• Central Government (with 15 sub-provincial cities, 1 state and 5 cities with independent planning)
• 32 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities
• 333 regions and prefecture-level cities (with sub-prefecture-level counties and cities)
• 2 010 counties and county-level cities (with sub-county-level towns)
• 341 999 towns and townships.

While China is politically a centralized state, economically it is a federation. Below the PRC government, the counties are the most important governing entity. The county has been the most stable administrative level of government since the Qin dynasty, 2 000 years ago. Governors of the counties were nominated by the emperor. “A county can be governed, a country can then be governed” is an old Chinese saying.

Most studies of the Chinese administrative system focus on power distribution between central and provincial governments, ignoring the county government’s role in social & economic development. The county has almost as many departments as the central government (except defence and external affairs).

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  1. Sounds nearly as complex as the EU then, Stanley?

    Could Europe with its many languages and ancient countries be of any inspiration to China? And also the fact that – until the 90s – EU institutions were some ‘administrations de mission’ – little affected by elections and… public opinion, pluralism, and political parties!

    I hope inspiration does not work the other way round, at least for politics. Indeed, we in Europe have to keep inventing our own model.

    Regarding the emerging diplomatic service, I’m not too pessimistic and would welcome other views:

    And here are some anecdotes comparing old diplomacy and EU diplomacy, also regarding Beijing:


    Christophe lecelrcq

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