Changes, challenges and prospect of the letters and visits system in China : a good governance perspective

善治視野下中國信訪制度的變遷, 挑戰與展望

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

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  • Kat Cheung FONG


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Feb 2008


Since the introduction of market reform in the late 1970s, China has evolved a trajectory featured by emphasizing economic development with slow political changes. Despite a strong economic growth, socio-economic restructuring has nevertheless brought considerable social dislocation and popular discontent. Together with an increase of right-consciousness and alteration of political and social discourse, Chinese people are having higher demand in social and political participation. Given the changing environment, scholars have long wanted to determine whether the incremental reform strategy would continue to be sustainable. In this research, I address the same concern by exploring the Letters and Visits System (xinfang zidu) from the good governance perspective. The Letters and Visits System originates from the CCP’s practice of soliciting social inputs since the early revolutionary era. As a reflection of the incremental reform strategy, the system has been adopted by the Communist Government as a stopgap device in accommodating the increasing social inputs while avoiding drastic political changes. Through analyzing the role of the Letters and Visits System in contributing to enhancement of governance of Chinese government under the socio-economic transformation, I seek to determine whether the incremental approach to political reform adopted by the CCP is adequate. With reference to the institutional layouts and historical development, I summarize that the Letter and Visits System resembles a “contacting institution” which functions as a mechanism for the Chinese government to collect societal information and monitor the administration, as well as a sanctioned means for Chinese citizens to participation in the administration and seek redress of grievances. By performing these functions, the Letter and Visits System enhances state-society engagement, which is the common ground to the achievement of good governance regardless the difference among various conceptual strands. Hence, in theory, effective citizen contacting endorses good governance by enhancing the government’s responsiveness to societal inputs and citizens’ demands. In practice, by allowing citizens to air their grievances and lodge direct complaints to the officials, the Letters and Visits System provides an institutionalized channel, which will be otherwise restrained, for Chinese people to influence the government process. However, through reviewing the dynamics and the changing patterns of citizens’ inputs to the Letters and Visits System since the mid-1990s, I conclude that the system fails to secure meaningful responses from the government. It tends to intensify the grievances and discontent once it is overloaded, resulting in erosion of state legitimacy. It follows that the incremental reform strategy is failing and Chinese government should impose a more general political reform in order to accommodate the increasing citizens’ demands.

    Research areas

  • Petition, Right of, China, Complaints (Administrative procedure), Government communication systems, Corporate governance