AuthorChow, King W.
  1. Introduction

    Public administration as a field of study (hereafter PA) focuses on the theoretical advancement of political-administrative knowledge to inform practice. In advanced economies, PA is concerned with theory development, evidence-based policy and administrative practices, and professional pedagogy. Some Western PA scholars have found the development of PA unsatisfactory, suffering from such maladies as theoretical meagerness (Fitzpatrick et al., 2011; O'Toole and Meier, 2015), insufficient philosophical and intellectual underpinnings (Durant and Rosenbloom, 2016; Neumann, 1996), methodological simplification (Perry, 2012; Spicer, 2005) and the erosion of core competence (Lynn, 2001; Rodgers and Rodgers, 2000).

    In developing countries, PA primarily involves the importation of Western administrative theories and models; the validity and usability of political-administrative knowledge, however, are conditioned by contextual factors (Haque, 2010). Given the diversity and variety of political-administrative contexts in developing countries (Konig, 2004), the regularities of exercise of public authority, as well as the study of it, would vary. Thus, indiscriminate application of imported knowledge is bounded to be troublesome. After all, research has already documented that '... the recipe for prosperity has many ingredients, that their exact quantities, mix, and the sequence in which they should be introduced are not well known' (Bertucci and Alberti, 2005, p. 339).

    Evidence-based policy research and the development of theoretical knowledge sensitive to the unique contextual peculiarities are therefore imperative. Thus, some development administration scholars underscore the values of such approach as 'particularism' to produce context-specific propositions (Candler, 2002). Accordingly, they research the relationship between contextual constraints and idiosyncratic practices to generate usable knowledge, such as the theoretical proposition of 'good enough governance' (Grindle, 2004). However, administrative practices in developing countries are still problematic, with inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and corruption being endemic (Barabashev and Straussman, 2007; Caulfield, 2006; Werlin, 2003). Yet, PA scholars are unable to articulate theory-based solutions and strategy-driven remedies for these problems, which is precisely the case in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

    The development of PRC has been unique. It was an economically backward Marxist-Leninist state subscribed to Mao Zedong's revolutionary idealism since its establishment in 1949. It then became a politicized state after Mao launched the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) to purify the state apparatus. After Mao passed away in 1976, Deng Xiaoping subsequently became the supreme leader in 1978; he placed a premium on productivity and then engineered a series of economic reforms. Under Deng's leadership, pragmatism replaced Mao's revolutionary romanticism, market mechanism and capitalism were legitimized while individualism, hedonism, and instrumentalism were unsanctioned. Consequentially, the Chinese people's motivation to optimize the market values of idle production resources was created and then reinforced by Deng's market reform policy. After joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, economic development has further speeded up in the context of globalization and since 2014 China has acquired the status of the world's second-largest economy by nominal GDP.

    The impressive economic achievements in the past decades, however, are accompanied by such problems as epidemic corruption, outright organizational cheating, brutal abuse of human rights, and ongoing social unrests (Harwit, 2014). These problems could eventually trigger regime collapse as many political observers have predicted (Gilley, 2008; Ogden, 2014). Could Chinese PA (hereafter CPA) help to avoid regime collapse by generating theory-driven development strategies and remedies? Is CPA well developed enough to render these critical services? What is to be done and undone by CPA scholars? In order to address these questions, we conducted field research in PRC between 2010 and 2016 to diagnose the basic problems of CPA. Our specific field research question was 'What are the obstacles that impede the genuine progress of CPA?'

  2. Research methods

    To address the aforementioned research question, we used three research methods, namely, document analysis, field observation and in-depth interview. Regarding document analysis, we had reviewed relevant statutes passed by the People's Congress of China, policy statements issued by CPC, and official policy papers on management rules and regulations published by various offices of the State Council, provincial governments, and municipalities, as well as some universities' faculty management rules and regulations and promotion policy. All together these formed a basis for us to recognize the legal and official ramifications of the administrative reality and policy prescriptions governing academic behaviors. Furthermore, we had reviewed more than 300 scholarly articles (written in Chinese) on administrative issues released in the past decade and more than one thousand official newspaper reports published from 1978 to January 2016, particularly reports published in the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party. These articles and reports provided a knowledge base to supplement the interview data and to triangulate field observation findings.

    Regarding field observation, the first author was an American trained political scientist teaching at universities in USA and Hong Kong since 1984 and had conducted field research in various provinces in PRC as early as 1983 (Chow, 1988). After joining a leading university in southwestern China to teach MPA courses in 2004, he was able to establish networks with government officials and PA scholars throughout PRC, as most Chinese MPA students were state cadres with work experience and a social network. As a result, he could conduct field observation and participated in major local political events, such as the provincial Plenary Session of the Communist Party of China (CPC). His networking with senior public administration scholars in PRC made it possible for him to pursue field studies in Chengdu, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. In addition, as a senior professor, he had also participated in decision-making events in his university and the provincial and municipal governments, observing how senior administrative cadres reasoned and behaved. Basing his research on field observation, he summarized various observational findings about the regularities of administrative decision-making and cause-and-effect mechanisms, and then discussed with CPA scholars in major universities those findings through e-mails, face-to-face conversation, and conferencing. He also made observations of the teaching and professional consultation of CPA scholars to generate a better understanding of how CPA scholars behave, reason, calculate and strategize in their teaching, research and community servicing. The other two authors joined the same pursuit in Guangxi and Jiangsu since 2015 and their findings are in congruence with the first author's.

    Regarding the third research method (the field interview), elite interview in Marxist-Leninist states is indispensable as governmental information is neither publicized fully nor in a timely manner. The authors had therefore conducted 720 in-depth interviews between 1983 and 2017, involving 835 state cadres and academicians in Baotou (Inner Mongolia), Beijing, Chengdu, Dalian, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Hechi (Guangxi), Lanzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Taiyuan, Wuhan, Xi'an, Zhengzhou and Zhuhai, covering most major cities in China. The authors consider that the essence of all public administrative phenomena is 'responsible purposive authority application' (RPAA) and that RPAA is a function of various forces (i.e., socio-cultural, institutional, political, organizational, technological, executive, cognitive, and human, which can be linked up to construct an acronym, 'SIPOTECH'), which act in concert to generate interactive and configurative contextual effects on the general, specific and peculiar types of RPAA. It is therefore imperative to use interviewing to generate all available data and evidence about the SIPOTECH dynamics of RPAA. Thus, semi-structured interview, lasting from 30 minutes to three hours, was used to collect as much information and insights as possible from the interviewees. Furthermore, instead of journalistically focusing on 'what' had happened 'where', 'when' and for 'what' reasons, interviewees were asked to reflect on some critical administrative events to explore the...

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