State capacity and cadre mobilization in China: The elasticity of policy implementation

John James Kennedy, University of Kansas
Dan Chen, Elizabethtown College


While mass mobilization and political campaigns were the main administrative tools for policy implementation in China during the Maoist era (1949–1976), they continued to a lesser extent into the reform period. In the Maoist era, these campaigns shaped the social and economic life of residents and government officials. However, the use of campaigns and mass mobilization diminished in the 1980s and 1990s in favor of modern administrative procedures. Instead, narrower mobilization of cadres and campaign-style policy pushes became part of the available administrative tools for policy implementation. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sometimes reverts to campaign-style methods to deal with uneven implementation and local government foot dragging. The use of policy pushes suggests an elastic form of implementation where an intense wave of central leadership policy commitment can stretch down to the local level for a short period of time and then it recedes. Looking at the single child policy (birth control measures) from the 1980s to the early 2000s, and several environmental policies such as ‘blue sky’ days, the authors demonstrate that the CCP still relies on campaign-style policy pushes as one of the administrative tools for policy implementation.