Fragmented but Enduring Authoritarianism : Supply-side Reform and Subnational Entrepreneurialism in China’s Rail Delivery Services

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Journal / PublicationChina Quarterly
Online published28 Apr 2023
Publication statusOnline published - 28 Apr 2023



China’s economic reform since 1978 has turned a shortage economy into an economy of overcapacity. To curb the capacity surplus, the government put forward a sweeping proposal of “supply-side structural reform,” although without any specifics of implementation. This vagueness has resulted in fragmentation between China’s central leadership and local agents. Based on two rail delivery services – China Railway Express Delivery (Zhongtie kuaiyun 中铁快运, CRED) and China–Europe Rail Freight (Zhong–Ou banlie 中欧班列, CERF) – this article argues that fragmentation in authority has allowed and even encouraged local actors to carve profit-making opportunities out of the excess capacities (including idle assets). In so doing, they give substance to what would otherwise be hollow policy rhetoric. Such subnational entrepreneurialism and the resulting tacit dynamics between state and local-level actors add another layer to the fine-grained theorization of fragmented authoritarianism in China: despite fragmentation, China’s authoritarian governance endures, but with outcomes now shaped by a cyclical process of decentralization and re-centralization as well as continuous central–local interplay. © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of SOAS University of London.

Research Area(s)

  • fragmented authoritarianism, supply-sided reform, rail freight, decentralization, re-centralization

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