676Counting Cadres: A Comparative View ofthe Size of China’s Public Employment*Yuen Yuen Ang†AbstractIs China’s public bureaucracy overstaffed? To answer this basic questionobjectively, one needs to define public employment in the contemporaryChinese context; survey data sources available to measure public employment; and finally, compare China’s public employment size with that ofother countries. Using a variety of new sources, this article performs allthree tasks. It also goes further to clarify the variance between bianzhi (formally established posts) and actual staffing size, as well as other permutations of the bianzhi system, especially chaobian (exceeding the bianzhi).A key finding is that China’s net public employment per capita is not aslarge as often perceived; quite the contrary, it is one-third below the international mean. However, it is clear that the actual number of employeesin the party-state bureaucracy has grown – and is still growing – steadilysince reforms, despite repeated downsizing campaigns. Such expansion hasbeen heavily concentrated at the sub-provincial levels and among shiye danwei (extra-bureaucracies).Keywords: size of government; bureaucracy; publicoverstaffing; bianzhi; state capacity; Chinese state statisticsemployment;Discussions of the woes of governance in China almost never fail to criticize themounting size of the party-state bureaucracy.1 Before market reforms, theparty-state apparatus was said to be “not only gigantic and unwieldy, but alsohighly stratified.”2 Following reforms, the bureaucracy grew even faster. Itsgrowth is reportedly “staggering” compared to other matured market economies.3 “State sprawl” in the countryside triggered peasant burdens and protests.4* The author is grateful for comments on earlier drafts from Jean Oi, Andrew Walder and Alberto DiazCayeros. Research for the article was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/ACLS EarlyCareer Fellowships and the 1990 Institute-OYCF Research Grant, as well as the Graduate ResearchOpportunity Grant, O’Bie Shultz Dissertation Research Travel Grant, and East Asian StudiesSummer Grant from Stanford University.† University of Michigan. Email: [email protected] For more references to bureaucratic growth, see Bailey 2001; Baum and Shevchenko 1999; Zhong 2003;White 2000.2 Lee 1991, 194.3 Bernstein and Lü 2003, 97.4 Ibid., 96. The China Quarterly, 2012doi:10.1017/S0305741012000884
Counting CadresAdministrative bloat “ate up most available resources” and contributed to severetownship debts.5 Some argued that bureaucratic overstaffing represents weakenedstate capacity in the country.6Is China’s public bureaucracy overstaffed?7 Although the issue of bureaucraticbloat has been subject to popular censure in the scholarly literature and media,few have provided thorough empirical analyses of China’s public employmentsize.8 Previous studies, while laying important groundwork, have been limitedto case studies of one or a few localities, or national-level descriptions basedon publicly available statistical yearbooks and press reports. Yet, to evaluateobjectively if the Chinese bureaucracy is overstaffed, we need to accomplishthree basic tasks.First, we need to specify the meaning of the generic term public employment inthe contemporary Chinese context and in view of administrative reforms in thelast decade. Providing such a definitional framework is necessary to situateChina in comparative discussions. Second, we need to evaluate the range ofsources available for measuring public employment size and to decide which ismost appropriate for analysis. Third, we need to compare the Chinese bureaucracy with that of other countries and to disaggregate patterns of public employment growth within China. After all, size is relative. If one claims that China’sbureaucracy is “too big,” then one needs to show that other national bureaucracies are indeed smaller.This article aims to accomplish all three of the above. Additionally, by drawingon extensive fieldwork and interviews,9 it clarifies the variance between bianzhi 编制 (formally established positions) and actual staffing size. It also identifies localpermutations of the bianzhi system, including chaobian 超编 (exceeding thebianzhi), jiebian 借编 (borrowing bianzhi), hunbian 混编 (mixing bianzhi) andkunbian 捆编 (combining two bianzhi in one member of staff). An understandingof the public staffing system is important before interpreting and measuringChinese public employment.A few caveats are in order before proceeding. First, I refer to “cadres” in thetitle to reflect the common usage of the term “cadres” (ganbu干部) in the Chinese5678Ibid., 115; Oi and Zhao 2007.Lü 2000; Pei 2006.In the rest of this article, “bureaucracy” refers to “public bureaucracy” unless otherwise indicated.Lee briefly surveyed the growth and distribution of cadres in the 1980s. Blecher and Shue described theexpansion and elaboration of local bureaucratic apparatus in the case study of a county government.Brødsgaard and Burns provide the most recent and comprehensive accounts on bureaucratic staffingrespectively. The World Bank also published an informative annex on Chinese public employment.For details, see Lee 1991; Blecher and Shue 1996; Brødsgaard 2002; Burns 2003; World Bank 2002.9 From 2006 to 2011, I interviewed 265 cadres across localities and departments. Interviews cited in thisarticle are mainly with cadres in the local personnel management (renshi ju) and establishment offices(bianban), 33 in total. To retain interviewees’ anonymity, I do not name them or reveal the specificlocation. Instead, I cite interviews by year in which the first interview was conducted, an ID assignedto the interviewee, followed by the unit in parenthesis. To avoid the possibility of identification,I only identify the unit in broad sector categories (e.g. finance, personnel management, education,organization), but not the full name of the unit and division.677
678The China Quarterly, 211, September 2012, pp. 676–696literature. However, later in the analysis, I show how the transformed meaning ofcadres, following market reforms, has complicated the task of “counting cadres.”Second, while there are several dimensions to public sector size in the mainstreamliterature, my focus in this article is on China’s public employment size.10 Anobvious reason for this is that bureaucratic overstaffing has been a prominentissue in social science and popular discussions. For decades, the central government has been trying to downsize public personnel. Public employment size hasalso been used by scholars to develop broader theoretical arguments, such as statecapacity, corruption and political patronage.11 That said, for those who are interested, I have elsewhere analysed the scale of public and administrative spendingin detail.12 Third, limited by space, I do not discuss regional variation of publicstaffing levels. There is in fact much theoretically interesting variation, but this isalso pursued in a separate article.13The article begins by introducing the general definition of public employmentand then provides a framework for the Chinese context. Next, it discusses somedata sources available for measuring public employment, particularly previouslyunused ones, as well as each of their pros and cons. I suggest that the best available national data are those compiled by the Ministry of Finance and the CentralOrganization Department. The article then discusses in qualitative detail the public staffing system. Importantly, I explain why we need to distinguish betweenofficially authorized and actual staffing levels, and use some new descriptive statistics to estimate the extent of chaobian. The following section compares China’spublic employment size to that in other countries. I find that China’s net publicemployment size per capita is actually below the international mean. However,the level of public employment has steadily increased over the years, despiterepeated downsizing campaigns. Furthermore, such expansion had been heavilyconcentrated at the sub-provincial levels and in the shiye danwei, what I callextra-bureaucracies.Defining Public Employment in the Chinese ContextIn order to place China in comparative light, this article employs the generic term“public employment” to refer to personnel employed by the public administration sector. Analysts face significant methodological challenges in measuringpublic employment across countries because there is no universal definition.14That said, most existing analyses of public sector employment exclude personnelin the military and state-owned enterprises and count only those working in10 Following textbook accounts, there are three basic ways to measure the size of government: the numberof employees in the public sector; size of government expenditure to total expenditure or output; andscale and scope of governmental activities. See Rosen 2005, 10–13; World Bank 1997, 33.11 See Pei 2006; Lü 2000; Yang 2004; Grzymala-Busse 2007; O’Dwyer 2006; Ang 2011.12 See Ang 2012.13 Ang 2011.14 Heller and Tait 1984; Schiavo-Campo et al. 1997.
Counting Cadrespublic bureaucracies, including ministries, regulatory agencies and public serviceproviders like schools and hospitals. The reason for this norm of definitionalscope is that military and state-owned enterprises are managed very differentlyfrom public bureaucracies, and further, data on military personnel are generallylacking.According to the common definition of public employment, then, who shouldbe counted as a public employee in China? Is the Chinese concept of “cadres”equivalent to public employees? Is the more modern term “civil servants” equivalent to cadres and to public employees?Let us first consider the meaning of cadres. As Doak Barnett explained in hisclassic study of the bureaucracy, the concept of cadre grew from the revolutionary movement, and cadres were seen as the leaders of the masses.15 However, following the CCP’s state-building efforts, the concept shifted beyond therevolutionary context and into one of bureaucratization. As such, Hung-YungLee wrote, “the current Chinese concept of cadre includes two analytically distinct categories: the political elite and the functionaries staffing the hugeparty-state apparatus.”16 Much of the recent literature continues to use theterm “cadres” because, as Barnett pointed out decades ago, this is a stratum ofindividuals distinguished from the masses by their power and authority.17During the socialist days, cadres broadly included officials in the Party andstate organs, local commune and team leaders, and non-administrative personnel,but excluded military officials and workers in production units.18Modernization of the Chinese administration in recent years has refined thepreviously fuzzy and revolution-based concept of cadres. Most significantly,the passage of the Civil Service Law in 2006 created a formal category of publicpersonnel known as civil servants (gongwuyuan 公务员). West European governments established civil services over a century ago.19 In comparison, the Chinesecivil service is in its infancy. Civil servants form the elite strata of functionariesin the party-state hierarchy. They usually assume administrative or leadershiproles. The remaining public personnel are formally titled shiye renyuan (personnelof the shiye units 事业人员).20 Civil servants and shiye personnel are each managed by a different pay and promotion scale. Nevertheless, in practice, as shownbelow, the line between civil servants and non civil servants remains blurred.To answer the questions posed earlier, the generic term “public employee” ispremised on the establishment of a politically neutral, modernized public1516171819Barnett and Vogel 1967, 39–41.Lee 1991, 5.Barnett and Vogel 1967, 39.Ibid., 40.E.g. the British government formally established its civil service in 1855, with the creation of the CivilService Commissioners and civil service examinations.20 To be more precise, there is a third and mixed category of public personnel, known as canzhao gongwuyuan shiye renyuan (literally shiye personnel who are managed according to the civil service scheme).These are functionaries who perform administrative roles like civil servants but occupy shiye rather thanxingzheng bianzhi. More about the bianzhi system will be discussed in the next section.679
680The China Quarterly, 211, September 2012, pp. 676–696administration. Thus, “cadres” is not synonymous with public employees, thoughtheir scope is roughly similar, as the former reflects a revolutionary setting uniqueto communist regimes like China and the former Soviet Union. “Civil servants”can be understood as an elite sub-group among personnel working in theparty-state apparatus. Not all public employees in the contemporary contextare civil servants.So who would count as public employees in the contemporary setting? Wewould include all personnel serving in the Party (dang 党), government (zheng政), subsidiary (shiye 事业), and Party-run social (shetuan 社团) organs, butexclude the military and state-owned enterprises. To elaborate further, units inthe Party and governmental hierarchies can be divided into two kinds: corebureaus ( jiguan danwei 机关单位) and extra-bureaucracies (shiye danwei 事业单位).21 Core bureaus are responsible for political, administrative and regulatorywork. They are organizations that appear on formal organizational charts. Eachcore party-state bureau has a cluster of subsidiary extra-bureaucracies attached tothem that perform a range of delegated tasks such as administration, public services provision and commercial activities.22 Extra-bureaucracies can be fully orpartially state-funded or wholly self-funded. It is thus the case that not all publicemployees in China are on the official state payroll.23 Table 1 gives examples ofbureaus and extra-bureaucracies.From a comparative perspective, the scope of Chinese public employment isunique in several respects. First, whereas political parties and bureaucracy areseparated in matured democratic systems, the Chinese bureaucracy has two parallel lines of authority: the Party and the government. Thus, those who work inParty organs count as public employees. Second, the Party operates a number ofsocial (or mass) organizations, like the Communist Youth League and Women’sFederation.24 Those who serve in these organizations are not members ofan autonomous civil society; they are part of the bureaucracy. Third, not allpublic employees in China are state-funded. One can work for a bureau or21 The term shiye danwei has been translated variously into “business units,” “institutional work units,”“government-funded not-for-profit organizations,” “public service units” and “service units.” I chooseto translate it as extra-bureaucracies for an analytical purpose. This translation captures the principalfeature shared among all shiye danwei: they are attached and subservient to a parent agency.22 Shiye danwei are public organizations, even if they provide commercialized services. They should bedistinguished from private companies ( jingji shiti/gongsi) operated by local state bureaus and extrabureaucracies in the 1980s and early 1990s. For an elaboration of the distinction between the two organizational types, see Ang 2009, ch. 2.23 This is contrary to long-held assumptions that Chinese cadres are necessarily state-funded personnel.E.g. Barnett wrote that state cadres are “those on the state payroll in the government, party, or massorganizations.” See Barnett and Vogel 1967, 40; Lee 1991, 5. Furthermore, in principle, althoughadministrators in the core jiguan danwei (i.e. civil servants in recent terminology) should be fully statefunded, in practice, they may not be. I have encountered the case of civil servants in a city-level tourismbureau who were entirely self-funded since the bureau was first established until a few years ago. AI2007-108.24 Social organizations are neither jiguan nor shiye. They are in the special category of shetuan. Employeesof these organizations have the special status of “proxy civil servants” (canzhao gongwuyuan). They follow the management scheme of civil servants but occupy shiye rather than xingzheng bianzhi. AI2007-39 (youth league); AI 2008-137 (personnel).
Counting CadresTable 1: Examples of Core Bureau and Extra-BureaucraciesExample of a core bureau( jiguan danwei)Party systemGovernmentsystemLocal Party committeeOrganization departmentPublicity departmentDevelopment and reformcommissionCivil affairs bureauConstruction bureauTransportation bureauEducation bureauExample of an extra-bureaucracy(shiye danwei)Committee technical assistance centreParty members e-learning centreDevelopment research centreInformation centreServices centre for the agedProjects assessment centreDrivers’ training centrePublic schoolSource:City-level personnel bureau based in Jiangsu.extra-bureaucracy without receiving budgeted funds, or only a portion of them,for one’s compensation. In these cases, the hiring unit has to generate funds outside budget allocations to finance the extra personnel.Comparing Data Sources of Public Employment in ChinaHaving defined the scope of public employment, we can now attempt to measureit. There are various data sources. Each provides a slightly different measure of“public employment.”China Statistical YearbooksThe most commonly used sources are the China Statistical Yearbooks(Zhonggguo tongji nianjian), published by the National Statistical Bureau, andthe Labour Statistical Yearbooks (Laodong tongji nianjian).25 These list the number of employees in broad categories of “Party, government and social organizations,” “education, culture and media,” “health, sports and social welfare,” and“social services.” While publicly available, these sources have shortcomings.They do not distinguish between publicly employed and privately employed personnel in each sector. So in “education, culture and media,” for example, privateschool teachers could be included and to count all the employees in this categoryas public employees would give an overestimate. Conversely, these sources canlead to underestimation. There are public bureaucracies and public employeesin sectors like finance, real estate and transportation. They will be excludedfrom existing studies that employ the statistical yearbooks.25 To cite some examples, statistics from the China statistical yearbooks were used by Brødsgaard 2002;Burns 2003; Lü 2000, ch. 5; Yang 2004.681
682The China Quarterly, 211, September 2012, pp. 676–696Statistics from the Central Organization DepartmentAnother useful data source is the Organizational History Statistics (Zuzhishiziliao), compiled by the CCP Central Organization Department. This providesa useful and reliable source on the number of “cadres” from the 1950s until1998. In the Organizational History Statistics, the term “cadre” broadly includesnon-worker-class personnel in the administrative and subsidiary sectors, as wellas “technical workers” ( jishu renyuan) in the bureaucracy. By checking thisagainst other data sources, we can surmise that “technical workers” refer to lowlevel service personnel in the public bureaucracies, but not the workers instate-owned enterprises. This data source breaks down the number of cadresby region, rank, gender, Party membership and so on. However, a major drawback of this source is that it has not been updated since 1998.Statistics from the Finance AuthoritiesThe Ministry of Finance has two neibu (internally circulated) publications thatcontain statistics on public employment: the Local Financial Statistics (Difangcaizheng ziliao) and City and County Financial Statistics (Dishixian caizhengziliao). These two sources provide the most comprehensive coverage of publicemployment. Yet few have employed them. It should be noted that these twosources each measure a slightly different scope of public employment. TheLocal Financial Statistics measure “employment” (zhigong 职工) in the coreand subsidiary units. Besides state-funded public employees, they includeemployees in “self-funded” (zishou zizhi 自收自支) extra-bureaucracies; theseare units that are part of the party-state apparatus but do not receive any budgetary funding. On the other hand, the City and County Financial Statistics measure“fiscal dependents” (caizheng gongyang renkou 财政供养人口).26 This refersto personnel who receive at least some wage funding from statebudget allocations. That implies the Local Financial Statistics has a broader coverage than the City and County Financial Statistics.Statistics by Local Personnel and Establishment OfficesAt the provincial, city and county levels, some local personnel and establishmentoffices have issued internal publications on the bianzhi system and public employment. The benefit of these sources is that they typically list the number of bianzhi.This data source allows comparison of the number of officially established positions with actual levels of employment.26 This data source was used by Shih and Zhang 2006.
Counting CadresOther sourcesBesides those sources listed above, previous reports also employed Chinese secondary literature, governmental directories and the state press. However, mostof these sources date from the early 1990s. Bits of information gleaned fromthe state press are incomplete and lack reliability. Several books written byChinese scholars claimed that the bureaucracy is grossly inflated, but with asurprising absence of systematic descriptive statistics and cross-nationalcomparison.27The Bianzhi System versus Actual Staffing LevelsCentral to analysing public employment in China is to clarify the bianzhi system.Simply put, the bianzhi is a system for determining the functions of government,the number of organs and the number of personnel employed in each organ.28Since 1949, bianzhi management has been rotated between Party and governmentin various bodies.29 In 1991, central authorities created the central establishmentcommission and office (Zhongyang jigou bianzhi weiyuanhui bangongshi 中央机构编制委员会办公室), abbreviated here as the central establishment office. Atthe local levels down to the county, there is a parallel establishment office (bianban 编办for short) that manages the bianzhi.In terms of staffing, every jiguan and shiye unit in the bureaucracy is allocateda bianzhi by the local establishment office. The bianzhi specifies the maximumnumber of officially established positions. It is divided into two types: administrative (xingzheng 行政) bianzhi and subsidiary (shiye 事业) bianzhi. In principle, thexingzheng bianzhi is reserved for administrative, planning or leadership posts,namely civil servants, whereas the shiye bianzhi applies to remaining publicemployees in the middle to low ranks such as technical workers, clerical staffand school teachers. According to personnel officials, xingzheng bianzhi is strictlycontrolled. The central establishment office decides a fixed quota for the entirehierarchy and then distributes this quota level by level. In contrast, shiye bianzhiis deliberately managed in a flexible system (dongtai guanli 动态管理).30 The central government does not dictate a fixed number of shiye bianzhi for each level.Each province decides a criterion for itself. For example, in Shandong, a ratiosystem is used to determine the number of shiye bianzhi, such as X bianzhi forevery Y number of patients treated by a public hospital.31The bianzhi functions as a staffing guideline and budgeting instrument. Interms of staffing, it provides a guide to the desired size of each public unit.27 See Liu 2003; Wang 1998.28 For a detailed description of the bianzhi system and its distinction from the nomenklatura, seeBrødsgaard 2002; Brødsgaard 2009, ch. 7.29 Burns 2003, 778–79.30 AI 2007-36 (personnel); AI 2007-75 (personnel); AI 2007-76 (personnel); AI–2007-77 (personnel); AI2008-137 (personnel); AI 2010-212 (personnel).31 AI 2006-17 (personnel).683
684The China Quarterly, 211, September 2012, pp. 676–696For budgeting, bianzhi allows the finance authorities to determine the allocationof budgetary funds for personnel spending for each department.32 In principle,the finance authorities should only take into account the bianzhi, and not theactual number of employees, when allocating funds. So, for example, if a bureauhas a bianzhi of 15 but employs 25 personnel, the local finance bureau shouldonly need to allocate funds to pay for 15 employees.33 For the remaining staff,the bureau in question will have to appropriate its office budget (bangong jingfei办公经费) or generate extra funds to finance them, typically from collecting feesand fines or by delivering profit-making services. However, in practice, there areinstances where budgeting officials pay for personnel hired beyond the quota.Chaobian: exceeding the bianzhiAlthough the local establishment offices assign a bianzhi to every unit, they areoften unable to enforce this guideline in practice. This leads to the notorious problem of chaobian, literally translated as exceeding the number of establishedposts. Chaobian is often cited but seldom explained. I asked local personnel officials for examples of it, which can take several forms.The first kind of chaobian occurs when a unit reaches its bianzhi limit but continues to hire more. Hiring beyond the bianzhi can happen for valid and politicalreasons. There are numerous instances in which bureaucracies, especially publicservice providing units like schools and hospitals, need more personnel but do nothave more bianzhi. There are also occasions when local leaders and departmentchiefs arrange positions for relatives and friends in the bureaucracy, thus forcinglocal units to chaobian.34 Employees hired beyond the bianzhi are termed bianwai编外 (outside the bianzhi) personnel, and are typically funded using the hiringunit’s self-generated revenue. As a local establishment office bureaucratexplained:Bianwai personnel may or may not be on the state payroll. If the unit has its own income, it canuse that income to feed the additional staff members. But our bianzhi control is stricter nowadays. Those who are not recognized by us [the establishment office] will also not be recognizedby the finance office.35A second type of chaobian happens when a unit has not in fact breached itsbianzhi, but claims that it has or inflates its bianzhi to extract more budgetaryfunding.For example, a unit has bianzhi of 40. But when they submit a budget request, they claim thatthey have 60. So in this case, they chaobian by 20. Chaobian is something that happens whenthere is a failure of coordination between the Establishment Office and the Finance Bureau.3632 For a reference to the budgeting function of bianzhi, see Mertha 2005, 798, n. 24.33 AI 2010-212 (personnel).34 E.g. at a county-level legal aid office, the few authorized positions available were occupied by the children of local leaders, who were not qualified lawyers. The legal aid office was thus forced to hire bianwaipersonnel. AI 20070-33 (legal affairs).35 AI 2007-48 (personnel).36 AI 2007-36 (personnel).
Counting CadresIn a third situation, a public unit has its bianzhi cut during a downsizing exercise, and in consequence, there is chaobian even though the unit did not “overhire.” Chaobian also results from central policies requiring local governmentsto absorb excess military personnel into local bureaucracies.Historically speaking, for every round of organizational reform, the bianzhi will have to be compressed. A department may start with a 100 personnel, no chaobian. But with a new policy toreduce bianzhi, say by 10 per cent, chaobian will result.37Local governments have to absorb large numbers of demobilized military personnel ( junduizhuanye ganbu 军队转业干部). From 2005 to 2008, there was a major adjustment of militarypersonnel. Each year, over 200,000 military cadres were transferred to local governments These demobilized military personnel 70 to 80 per cent of them enter core agencies to becomecadres and occupy administrative bianzhi. So with each new batch of military personnel comingto us, there will be chaobian.38The case above is a warning not to jump upon chaobian as a sign of local corruption or bureaucratic bloat,39 as such a phenomenon is sometimes a product oftop-down downsizing and central policies rather than bottom-up overstaffing.There have been several rounds of bureaucratic downsizing in the post-Maoera. Each time, the bianzhi is cut but not necessarily the sum of personnel.When this happens, downsizing ironically creates chaobian. Moreover, it shouldbe noted that existing bianzhi standards are too slow to adjust to growing andchanging demands confronting local agencies and public service providers.40For example, officials in a county of Jiangsu reflected that the criteria for shiyebianzhi had not been updated for years and did not take into account a growingnumber of migrants when calculating the county’s population. As a result, thebianzhi was set too low for public providers like hospitals to operate effectively,and chaobian became inevitable.41Bianwai personnel are not unique to the Chinese bureaucracy. Analogous situations are found in other countries. For example, in the European Union administration, although the number of civil service positions is fixed, fully budgetedand strictly enforced, agencies routinely hire additional “contract agents.”These agents are hired via three-year contracts which can be terminated if necessary, unlike civil servants, who are virtually impossible to fire.42 Contract agentsprovide staffing flexibility and allow EU bureaucracies to get around formal hiring restrictions. A key distinction between the Chinese case and most bureaucracies, however, is that while contract agents are always paid by state budgetsin the latter, Chinese local bureaus and extra-bureaucracies can generate extrabudgetary or taxless revenue (such as fines, fees, user-charges) to finance bi
scale and scope of governmental activities. See Rosen 2005, 10–13; World Bank 1997, 33. 11 See Pei 2006; Lü 2000; Yang 2004; Grzymala-Busse 2007; O’Dwyer 2006; Ang 2011. 12 See Ang 2012. 13 Ang 2011. 14 Heller and Tait 1984; Schiavo-Campo et al. 1997.