Governing by goals and numbers : A case study in the use of performance measurement to build state capacity in China

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

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  • Jie Gao


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-31
Journal / PublicationPublic Administration and Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


This article examines why performance measurement, a tool adopted by western countries chiefly to improve government services, has been designed and implemented as an instrument for building state capacity and for ensuring policy compliance in China. Under China's performance measurement system, the central government translates its macro reform goals into specific policy objectives, which it then assigns downwards through the administrative hierarchy. Local governments at the county level convert the policy objectives allocated to them into a variety of prioritised performance targets for local officials to achieve. Using the experience of an inland Chinese county as a case study, this article argues that performance measurement accrues significant political benefits to its users. It forces local Chinese officials to concentrate their efforts on realising the policy priorities set by the higher-level authorities. However, the way that performance measurement is conducted-governing by goals and numbers-does not address the substantial governance issues and fundamental social and political tensions that exist in Chinese society. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Research Area(s)

  • Capacity building, China, Local government, Performance measurement