Working Papers

The BICC Working Paper Series is the official scholarly forum of the British Inter-University China Centre (BICC), a joint project between Oxford, Bristol, and Manchester Universities.  The BICC Working Paper Series aims to publicise and disseminate original research carried out by scholars with interest in China worldwide. The BICC Working Papers are only available online and are free for downloading; we however request that when used for the purpose of research they are appropriately acknowledged. The papers published in this series do not necessarily appear in their final form, and can be revised and submitted to another forum. The Working Papers series is currently suspended.

Working Paper No. 1 (May 2007):
, Empire and the World: Soft Power and China’s Foreign Policy Discourse in the 21st Century
William A. Callahan, University of Manchester

China’s recent ‘charm offensive’ is captivating the world stage. Although there has been a thorough cataloguing of China’s soft power assets in terms of the effectiveness and limitations of the PRC’s public diplomacy, much less attention has been paid to how the normative aspect of China’s growing soft power will set the world agenda. This essay will examine the concept of ‘Tianxia’ to understand Chinese visions of world order. Tianxia is interesting both because it was key to the governance and self-understanding of three millennia of Chinese empire, and also because discussion of Tianxia is becoming popular again in the twenty-first century as an alternative world order that is universally valid. Firstly, the paper will examine Tianxia tixi [The Tianxia System], a popular book that discusses an all-inclusive world order that aims to solve the globe’s problems with a world institution that embraces difference through a ‘magnanimous’ system of governance. Then it will examine some of the philosophical and historical problems posed by this romantic understanding of Tianxia, in particular how its approach to ‘Otherness’ encourages a ‘conversion’ of difference, if not a conquest of it. The essay thus examines how Tianxia has been redeployed in ways that blur the conceptual boundaries between empire and globalism, nationalism and cosmopolitanism. It concludes that Tianxia is a strong example of how domestic and international politics overlap and inform each other as part of a broader struggle over the meaning of ‘China’. Soft power thus works not just in international influence, but also can tell us about the identity politics of national image in domestic politics. Hence rather than guide us towards a utopian world order that will solve global problems, Tianxia is an example of how some in China are working to re-center Chinese understandings of world order as a patriotic activity. This essay thus 1) critically describes a non-western worldview as an example of soft power, and 2) examines how ideas get put into play in Chinese foreign policy discussions.

Working Paper No. 2: withdrawn.

Working Paper No. 3 (August 2007):
Market Leninism: Party Schools and Cadre Training in Contemporary China
Frank N. Pieke, University of Oxford

This paper interrogates the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to standardize, modernize and sanitize the Chinese administration, focusing specifically on the training to raise the “quality” (suzhi) and “ability” (nengli) of Chinese officials (“cadres”). In cadre training the three main prongs of administrative reform – institutional change, ideological innovation and changes in administrative practice – meet most directly. The main fieldwork sites for this project are the provincial party school in Kunming and lower-level (prefecture and county) party schools in Yunnan, with additional fieldwork carried out on the central institutions in Beijing.

Cadre training is more than the exercise of top-down control: content, qualifications earned, and application in daily work are the outcome of the interplay between higher-level pressures and local realities. Cadre training has important inter-regional and international dimensions, with programmes for cadres to spend periods in more “advanced” areas or abroad. At the other, local end, cadre training is a crucially important prong in the Chinese state’s long-term civilizing project to bring modern, unifying governance to even the most remote corners of the nation.

Modernization of cadre training has proceeded along the two lines of centralization and marketization. On the one hand, reform of cadre training is a national enterprise in which the central authorities are the driving force. In the other hand, the marketization of cadre training since 2002 has led to a proliferation of course providers across China. It has also turned party schools themselves into more diverse and open providers. Much of this is only for the better, and governments can now tailor training much more to the needs of the professional managers that now dominate the country’s cadre corps. However, the paper demonstrates that both central initiatives and the market mechanism favour schools and governments in China developed regions. As local party schools deteriorate and central requirements of the quality and quantity of cadre training continue being raised, governments in these areas are forced to spend more money on off-site training programmes at prestigious institutions elsewhere, further adding to the already very precarious financial situation at their local party schools.

Working Paper No. 4 (August 2007):
Fiscal Management for a Harmonious Society: Assessing the Central Government’s Capacity to Implement National Policies
Christine Wong, University of Oxford

This paper examines China’s public finances to address the question of whether the government has sufficient “fiscal power” to implement the Harmonious Society Program (HSP).    Two interrelated aspects of public finance are highlighted:    First, whether the government has enough resources to meet the public expenditure needs of upgrading services in the rural sector to meet the inclusive goals of the HSP. Second, whether the central government has the capability to manage the effective use of these resources to achieve these goals. The paper provides a brief history of fiscal reform, reviews the legacies of fiscal decline in the 1980s and 1990s, and assesses the current HSP. An alternative, more fully funded HSP is then presented, and the paper shows that it is well within the central government’s financing capacity.    However, the challenges lie in the government’s ability to manage the delegated system of policy implementation and assuring that resources reach the rural sector.

Working Paper No. 5 (October 2007):
Legality and Labour: Chinese Migration, Neoliberalism and the State in the UK and China
Frank N. Pieke and Xiang Biao, University of Oxford

It remains one of the great unresolved contradictions of the liberal understanding of modernization and development that the belief in the healing powers of the market comes at an acute halt when market-driven international flows of people are involved. In the UK, the recent evolution of immigration policy reveals clearly how this “liberal paradox” has played out under the enlightened neoliberalism of New Labour. As intended, the political discourse of managed migration in the UK does indeed constrain the options available to migrants. However, it would be a mistake to think that the contrasting concepts describing migration that underpin the discourse, chiefly “legal” vs. “illegal”, “economic” vs. “political”, and “skilled” vs. “unskilled”, simply serve to constrain or restrict migration. In this paper with present ethnographic evidence from China and the UK to show that the state’s migration discourse is not simply a dominant force imposed externally by the state on migrants, but is itself shaped by migrant strategies. These strategies lead to migratory, employment and survival practices that in turn produce the social phenomena (bogus asylum seeking, an informal labour market, illegal border crossing) that originally informed and justified the discourse itself. Furthermore, and as a final irony, some of the very discursive categories themselves are not simply externally imposed on migrants. In this article we will show how for instance “legality”, “skills”, or “qualifications” are not intrinsic qualities that migrants do or do not possess, but bureaucratic statuses manufactured and commercially supplied in the process of migration. We conclude that the state started with a carefully crafted discourse on “good” and “bad” migration, but ended up with a migratory reality that produces these categories on demand. What results is a regulatory arms race between migrants and state agents that may restrict the total number of migrants that are let in, but on the basis of criteria that have been firmly appropriated by migrants themselves and that have often very little to do with the original intentions of policy.

Working Paper No. 6 (October 2007):
‘Do You Eat Meat Everyday’: Food, Distinction and Social Change in Contemporary Rural China
Anna Lora-Wainwright, University of Manchester

During my fieldwork in rural China, the question of what I was fed by my landlady was a matter of great contention amongst villagers. Locals competing for my (financial?) attention questioned her entitlement and her dignity as a host on the basis of her refusal to purchase meat every day. Criticising her for feeding me poorly emerged as a way to undermine the authority of my host, her ability to care and fulfil her responsibilities to the welfare of her family. This paper will look at eating practices in one village in rural Sichuan (China) and compare the diet of two families: my host family and a family that fiercely competed for my interest. In light of these examples, I will argue that claims to having a particular diet serve to articulate social identities, as an embodied idiom of social distinction in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense (1984).

Diet has undergone dramatic changes in China since the onset of reforms, configuring differences in experiential horizons between generations and social groups. Following Bourdieu, I argue that income is not a straightforward determinant of food consumption. Choices with regard to food at once depend on various competing hierarchies of values and serve to constitute them. Some villagers have embraced the relative opportunity for a better diet by investing in food, especially milk and meat. These investments are part and parcel of a life trajectory towards a modern and urban-like life of comfort and well being, unencumbered by financial barriers. Others, amongst whom my host family, have rejected the consumerist quest for a particular kind of well being which relies on marketed goods, and they critique superfluous, conspicuous and (according to them) unhealthy consumption. Instead, they have adopted frugality which relies on the family’s produce and they defend this simple diet as a healthier and sounder approach to both eating and family economy. I argue that parameters differ, but the aim is in both cases distinction and authority established by prioritising between more or less worthwhile investments, and thereby caring for family and guests. With reference to ethnographic examples, I show that the definition of what constitutes ‘eating well’ is not given but rather constantly negotiated. At stake in these disputes is not only villagers’ bodily health, but also their ‘social health’, their position and acceptance as members of the local community.

Working Paper No. 7 (October 2007):
Development as Exclusion: Ethnic Minorities in China’s Western Development Project
Elena Barabantseva, University of Manchester

Since China initiated a series of post-socialist transformations in the late 1970s, it has presented itself as a developing country, which is pursuing a challenging and ambitious project of socio- economic construction. It adopted economic development as its primary ideological denominator to complement Marxist thought. In the framework of China’s recent attempts to develop the Western region, the ideology of developmentalism acquires a new meaning. When the character of Western Development Project (WDP) is closely considered, an interesting interdependence between the issues of development and ethnicity arises. Since the WDP was launched by China’s leadership in 1999, in addition to being a project with ambitions to address the problems of unequal regional development, to solve increasing security concerns, and to tackle the issues of poverty, it has also been ascribed with apparent minority features. This paper discloses and analyses the ethnic minority label attached to the WDP in China’s dominant discourse on development, and argues that ethnic minorities take a very specific place in China’s developmental rhetoric which localises them within the West and assigns them with specific derogatory characteristics, which do not allow them to be fully recognised participants of the economic transformations taking place in China.

Working Paper No. 8 (January 2008):
The Competitiveness Accumulation of the Chinese Manufacturing
Jin Chen, Okinawa University

This paper compares and traces the achievements and issues of the competitiveness accumulation of the Chinese automobile and electric home appliance manufacturers. The key research questions of this paper are as follows: How has the actualized difference of competitiveness been caused between the Chinese automobile and electric home appliance manufacturers along with China’s joining the WTO? Concretely, what kind of relation exists between the extent of internal competition in each industry and the process of the strategy construction of each leading manufacturer in alliance with external environments factors such as government industrial policies up to now?

Working Paper No. 9 (March 2008):
Development Strategy of Chinese Leading Automotive Manufacturer
Jin Chen, Okinawa University

First Auto Works (FAW) has held the leading position in the Chinese automobile industry for 50 years since its establishment in 1953. Moreover, in 2005, FAW’s passenger car output propelled it to the first position in China. But, more than 90% of the group’s profit was derived from passenger car sales and 90% of the passenger car profits, from foreign brands such as VW, Mazda and Toyota. The issues of this paper are as follows. How did FAW innovate and maintain its leading position in the Chinese automobile industry when it shifted from plan control to market competition in the external environment? Moreover, why did FAW’s strategy not result in the development of its own passenger car brand?

Working Paper No. 10 (April 2008):
Vulnerability of Chinese Migrant Workers in Italy: An Investigation into Their Working Conditions and Related Consequences
Bin Wu, University of Nottingham

Although the vast majority of new Chinese immigrants in Italy are employed within the ethnic economy, their voices, contributions, sufferings and needs are rarely recognised due to the nature of the “closed community” they belong to. This paper argues that the vulnerability of Chinese migrant workers is related to the poor working conditions in their workplaces and the social isolation they experience, and that these two problems are interwoven. This can be illustrated by a preliminary survey of 28 Chinese- and Italian-owned manufactories in the textile, garment and leather sectors in Veneto. This paper aims to: develop a framework for observing the working conditions in those sectors; compare the differences between Chinese- and Italian-owned manufactories; reveal the impacts in terms of social isolation and vulnerability of Chinese workers. Policy implications are also highlighted.

Working Paper No. 11 (April 2009):
Change vs. Order: Shijie Meets Tianxia in China’s Interactions with the World
Elena Barabantseva, University of Manchester

Working Paper No. 12 (December 2008):
Rebuilding Government for the 21st Century: Can China Incrementally Reform the Public Sector?
Christine Wong, University of Oxford

China’s transition to a market economy has achieved remarkable economic successes over the past three decades.    However, reform of the public sector has lagged far behind. The rash of scandals in recent years involving tainted infant formulas, fake pharmaceuticals, chemical spills, etc., point to gaps in the government’s capacity to protect public safety. Corruption and inequalities are adding to social conflicts. Strengthening public sector performance is critical to ensuring China has an effective and credible government to leading it into the 21st Century.

This paper examines the prospects of public sector reform and argues that more incremental reform will not work. This argument is built on reviewing the retrenchment of government during the 1980s-1990s, which had been dictated by the sharp fall in government revenues from 35 to 11 percent of GDP.    As budgetary resources dwindled, and with government unwilling to cut departments, employees, or services, the solution was to allow government agencies and service providers to levy user charges and use their assets to generate nonbudgetary incomes. These concessions gave birth to the revenue-seeking orientation of the public sector and sowed the seeds of current problems of inequality and weak governance. Since 2000, the government has implemented numerous programs of public sector reform – budget reform, treasury reform, procurement reform, streamlining of rural government, etc. These have brought improvements and made government more transparent. The recent programs of free rural education, rural cooperative medical schemes, minimum living stipends (低保), etc., are transferring substantial new resources to funding services at the grassroots levels and improving fairness.    However, until the incentive structure for government agencies and public institutions (事业单位) is fundamentally altered, this top-down reform of the public sector will have limited effect.

Working Paper No. 13 (October 2009):
Patriotic Cosmopolitanism: China’s Non-Official Intellectuals Dream of the Future
William A. Callahan, University of Manchester

Working Paper No. 14 (December 2009):
The Quest for Modernisation and the Production of the Chinese Nation
Elena Barabantseva
University of Manchester

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