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Title: Dilemmas of change in Chinese local governance : through the lens of heritage conservation
Author: Cheng, Zifei
ISNI:       0000 0004 5357 9933
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2015
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The past few decades have seen significant changes and transformations in China, from the ideological, political, legal, social and economic perspectives. These changes lead to the argument that the regime in China now can be labeled as a developmental authoritarian state, which has seen a gradual opening-up of the space for associational life. In this context, in the face of rapid economic development and massive construction, local developments have witnessed a conflict between preserving the past for its intrinsic value and the need for change. In particular, there are different actors involved in heritage conservation, including the local government, the developer, specialists, the media and ordinary people. Since the notion of “a deliberative democracy” was made prominent by the Chinese government, there is a dilemma between the pursuit of economic development and the call for a democratic process in decision-making in heritage conservation. Thus, to follow this from one small clue, heritage conservation becomes a window to look into Chinese local governance. However, little research has been done on power structures within heritage conservation and how different forces interact and negotiate in transitional economies at the local level in China. Using the grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2006), the research aims to explore the dilemmas of changes in Chinese local governance through the lens of heritage conservation and to investigate the interactions between key players in the society. Based on the theoretical framework of networked governance by Bevir and Rhodes (2012) and their interpretive analysis, this study “decentres” the local governance in heritage conservation, providing the different narratives of the local government, specialists, the media and ordinary people, as well as their interactions. A comparative study between an urban and a rural case is conducted using a combination of qualitative research methods, including text analysis, in-depth interviews and participant observation. The study indicates that, facing the dilemmas of heritage conservation and local development, local governments employ different governing approaches, such as “public participation under government leadership”, “the rule of law” and “ideological cultivation”. I argue that local governments in China re-adapt the traditions in current local governance as a response to the dilemmas. In the city, there is an increasing importance of business enterprises and entrepreneurial elite in local policy and decision making. China’s urban governance thus features entrepreneurialism which shares both commonalities with and differences from its western counterparts. It is characterized by market regulation and official-businessperson collusion, and centred on land speculation in implementing entrepreneurialism. However, in the countryside, rural governance experiences a combination of changes and traditions: a formal institutional authority of the grassroots self-governance system and an informal form of authority generated under the influence of inclusive social and kinship ties. I suggest that local China is now experiencing the “authoritarian deliberation” put forward by He and Warren (2009), which is inherited from the governing traditions and is reinforced by continuing social and economic development. This study opens up a new discussion on how democracy survives under rapid economic development in China. This study also contributes to the knowledge of changes in Chinese local governance and the interpretations of different actors. As an empirical study using “decentring” approach, this study explores local governance from different perspectives, which emphasizes the traditions, dilemmas and networks in governance theory.
Supervisor: Wagenaar, Hendrik ; Tait, Malcolm Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available