Building China's civil service: Incorporating a Western model and Chinese characteristics

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Patricia W. Ingraham



Subject Categories

International Relations | Political Science | Public Administration


Drawing lessons from other countries' experience in designing one's own reform programs seems an attractive option for many governments. It may be especially so when no effective solutions are readily available at home. This study deals with one such instance in the Chinese reform efforts: the design and development of China's civil service system.

After decades of relying on the Soviet-style cadre system for its personnel management, the Chinese government is replacing it with the Western civil service model. The focus of this dissertation is on the interaction of internal and external forces in the design process of China's new government personnel system.

Using the cross-national lesson-drawing theory as its analytical framework, the dissertation first explores the major political, economic, and administrative factors that propelled the designers to the Western model and then describes the selection and adoption choices of applying a Western model to the Chinese context. The highly political nature of the civil service, the role of the Communist Party, the long tradition of the rule of men, and the administrative and managerial capacity of the existing system, have each contributed to the distinctive features of China's new civil service system. Even though the new system has been endorsed enthusiastically both by the leadership and public and a nation-wide implementation effort officially started in 1993, many challenges remain. There are still ambiguous and uneasy relations between the Party and government; the daunting task of transforming millions of existing cadres into qualified civil servants; the operationalization of implementation measures, the balance between immediate and future needs; the balance between a unified national system and particular local conditions; and the coordination of the personnel reform with other reforms in the country.

In short, the successful effort of cross-national lesson-drawing requires many conditions. Among them, a fit between political acceptability and technical feasibility, the compatibility between a foreign model and indigenous context, and innovative adaptations are probably the most important. The Chinese case has amply demonstrated the complexity and challenging nature of such effort


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