The idea of governance and the spirit of neoliberalism : an interpretative analysis of Chinese political-administrative theory

治理思想與新自由主義精神 : 對中國政治與行政理論的一項詮釋學分析

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Quan LI


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Feb 2012


Governance has been an essential concept of the political knowledge associated with neoliberal states over the last two decades. This study offers a critical assessment of governance ideas in the context of contemporary China. Specifically, it is argued that the rise of a particular understanding of governance in political-administrative studies has shaped scholarly perspectives on the Chinese transitional state according to a neoliberal design. Moreover, as an incipient set of political-administrative ideas, this particular conception of governance has been used to legitimize stagnant state social expenditure since the 1990s and to idealize the authoritarian capacity of the state in handling social affairs. In essence, it is argued that the Chinese version of governance has emerged as important discursive practice in the articulation of the neoliberal spirit of the political reform in China.

The study adopts an interpretative approach to examine the contextual form of governance ideas in a specific political context. Here the interpretative approach refers to the ideal-type strategy used by Max Weber in his analysis of the intellectual dimension of modern capitalism. The analysis proceeds in two logically interconnected parts: examining the conceptual structure and evolution of governance ideas and linking a given country’s policy regime. The advantage of this critical interpretation, compared with the theoretical abstraction of neoliberalism, is that it elaborates the contextual meanings of a specific discursive practice by establishing its connections with the socio-political processes in which it is embedded.

Correspondingly, the thesis consists of an introduction and three main parts. The introduction (Chapter 1 and 2) identifies the research problem and its significance and examines the academic background and content of governance ideas. Part I (Chapter 3) examines the policy and ideological background of governance ideas. It captures the key features of social spending in the reform era which required the government to respond to the long term under-investment in social programs. It then focuses upon the ideological adjustments of the Hu-Wen administration, namely, the pursuit of social harmony as the guiding principle for social policy initiatives and as the cornerstone for governance theory building. Part II (Chapter 4) is the main body of investigation, which offers an interpretative analysis of governance discourse in terms of its normative principles and technical skills. The emphasis is on the role and functions of government which are treated as essential to achieve a harmonious society. Part III (Chapter 5 and 6) offers a historical review of the ideas of governance in Chinese political science that shows the dynamic features of the concept in evolution. The aim is to facilitate a contextualized analysis of governance and to trace its adaptation in domestic political thinking. The conclusion (Chapter 7) summarizes the research findings and analyses the significance of this nascent intellectual formation to the emergent hegemony in Chinese transitional society. The analysis concludes with methodological reflections on this critical engagement with governance ideas and the intellectual aspect of neoliberalism.

    Research areas

  • Politics and government, China, Public administration, Neoliberalism