Finding an appropriate balance in the relationship between politics and administration is what drives Chinese civil service reform. This article examines the trajectory of changes, discussing the extent to which Chinese reformers have looked to western practices for adaptation to the Chinese civil service. Chinese experience should be of great interest for cross-national study. If a country has a different point of departure in defining a reform objective, it is more than likely that national conditions will modify the process of changes, may subsequently alter the reform context and, in some individual cases, reverse the reform process as in the case of Chinese civil service analyzed here. A combination of factors explains the success of the Civil Service Law of 2005 and its predecessor, the 1993 Provisional Regulations of State Civil Servants in the People’s Republic of China. No single factor, including the political will or the reform entrepreneurship of policy actors, can unilaterally lead to a policy success.