Wither the developmental state? Adaptive state entrepreneurship and social policy expansion in China

Ka Ho MOK*

*Corresponding author for this work

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11 Citations (Scopus)


China's exceptional development trajectory over the last three decades has posed challenges to the conventional wisdom about developmentalism and theories of political change. As a novice in terms of development, the Chinese state has been instrumentally pragmatic in seeking appropriate methods for economic growth and social development (Mok, 2000). Confronted with increasing tensions generated by greater integration into global markets and the need for increasing efficiency and productivity while also under increasing pressure to create a ‘harmonious society’ through more expansive social protection arrangements, the Chinese government has been driven to be pragmatically adaptive in addressing increasingly complex social, economic and political developments (Heilmann and Perry, 2011; Xue and Zhong, 2012). Indeed, deepening regional disparities and the uneven spread of development and wealth have themselves generated acute social and economic problems and necessitated policy experimentation, quick and adaptive policy responses stretching policy capacity and challenging the ‘the competencies of the state’ which have become ‘distended by the dynamic and diverse nature of the challenges it faces’ (Whittaker et al., 2010: 459). As Whittaker et al. (2010: 459) argue, ‘The state may be overwhelmed, or it may creatively adapt. Faced with gaps and inconsistencies, the tendency is for policy makers to scramble to plug them using a diverse set of actors, both domestic and foreign’. Arguably, it has been this process that has been occurring in mainland China, with the state becoming more reliant on subnational governments, markets and market rationality, non-state sectors, and social capital associated with the family and local and international social organisations, to solve the problems confronting the regime. More obviously, the adoption of such policy practices, which might be broadly characterised as neoliberal in orientation, are a natural corollary for a regime that increasingly aspires to be a globally competitive state and an active participant in the global economy while remaining adroit and responsive to the pressures generated by international market competition (Carroll and Jarvis, 2014a; Mok and Qian, 2015; Leung and Xu, 2015).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAsia after the Developmental State : Disembedding Autonomy
EditorsToby CARROLL, Darryl S. L. JARVIS
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9781316480502
ISBN (Print)9781107137165
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2017


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