From ideas to policies : a study of contemporary Chinese think tanks

從理念到政策 : 一項關於當代中國思想庫的研究

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

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  • Yi LIU


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Feb 2008


This study aims to explore the changing role of Chinese intellectuals in the reform era, specifically their opportunities in contributing their expertise to the policy-making process in China. It focuses on contemporary Chinese think tanks whose development and growing influence have caught wide attention in academic circle in recent years. This study not only echoes with those observations but also addresses the specific channels in which think tanks participate in the policy process. The study classifies contemporary Chinese think tanks into four categories, ranging from government research institutes, semi-official ones, enterprise-like institutes, and independent social organizations. They are qualified as think tanks as long as they possess professional expertise and a desire to influence the policy-making. The interactions among think tanks and different government departments, enterprises, or social organizations are conceptualized in the model of policy community. According to this concept, all these players occupy a position and have some resources to exchange with each other in this community characterized by a shared concern of one specific policy. From the study of Chinese environmental protection policy-making and particularly the development of emission trade policy, this study argues that some think tanks, because of both their possession of expertise and their relationship with the government, enjoy institutionalized channels to contribute their expertise to policy-making. These channels include undertaking government commissioned research, making policy drafts, attending government meetings, organizing training workshops submitting research reports and promoting new ideas in academic works or through public media. These activities are essential in the development of new policy as they remind government of the potential problem, provide concrete technical solutions, justify the government’s policy on a scientific basis and promote it among the general public. Despite the growing influence of think tanks, it is found that the government still dominates the policy process. Only those trusted think tanks like those within the government or have close relationship with it would be invited to the policy community. Others especially those independent social think tanks will be denied the opportunity. Even those inside of the policy community, their influence is still compromised by the concerns of interests of different government departments, enterprises, or influential social organizations. In sum, the development of the third generation of Chinese think tanks and their growing role in Chinese policy process suggest the growing influence of Chinese intellectuals on the result of policy-making. This phenomenon has been linked to the expected rationalization process of Chinese policy-making. However, such rationalization is far from fully realized, as think tanks’ participation is still controlled by the government and their influence is constrained by the concern of interests of other stake-holders in the policy process.

    Research areas

  • Political aspects, Policy sciences, China, Political planning, Research institutes, Research