Imitating the West? Evidence on Administrative Reform from the Upper Echelons of Chinese Provincial Government


  • Tom Christensen is professor of public administration and organization theory in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo. He is also adjunct professor at the University of Bergen. He has published extensively in journals such as Public Administration, Governance, International Review of Administrative Sciences, and American Review of Public Administration. His latest book, coedited with Per Lægreid, is The Ashgate Research Companion to New Public Management (Ashgate, 2011). E-mail:

  • Lisheng Dong is professor of political science at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He has published 16 books, approximately 30 refereed articles, and 17 book chapters. He is editor of EU's Experience in Integration: a Model for ASEAN + 3? (Peter Lang, 2007) and author of A Comparative Study of the Central-Local Government Relations in EU Member States (Press of China University of Political Science and Law, 2000). E-mail:

  • Martin Painter is chair professor of public administration at City University of Hong Kong and director of the Governance in Asia Research Centre. His current research interests include public administration and governance reform in China and Vietnam. His recent publications include Tradition and Public Administration (Palgrave, 2010), co-edited with Guy Peters, and articles in American Review of Public Administration, Pacifi c Review, and International Review of Administrative Sciences. E-mail:

  • Richard M. Walker is professor of public management and policy in the Department of Public and Social Administration at City University of Hong Kong. His research interests focus on innovation, publicness, red tape, strategic management, and organizational performance in public agencies, together with management reform in Asia. He serves on the editorial boards of Administration & Society, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Public Administration, and the Review of Public Personnel Administration. E-mail:


This article explores the attitudes of officials in the upper echelons in Chinese provincial and local government toward the origins of administrative reform. The authors examine the somewhat dichotomous argument that reform imitates the West or is indigenous and contend that both influences are present. Data drawn from a survey of party cadres and government officials show that cultural factors (time in government, overall knowledge of administrative reforms, together with familiarity with the move from a planned system of government to a market economy) and structural variables (upper echelon and familiarity with business management techniques) are correlated with learning from the West. Cadres and officials who spend more time managing outward and those who are familiar with performance assessment do not learn from the West. The theoretical and research implications of these findings—that learning from the West is an important influence on the adoption of administrative reforms in China—are discussed.