The workshop will examine how new forms of expertise, professions and associations are being brought into the realm of government in contemporary China. On the one hand, it will consider how these new forms provide a range of hitherto absent services for a rapidly changing society. On the other, it will demonstrate how the privatisation and professionalisation of ‘public’ service provision is transforming government in China.

Previously, government in China operated almost entirely through official organs and agencies in a hierarchical and highly regulated system of formal authority. This system administered and managed a wide range of economic, social and public affairs, and mobilized the entire population, through urban work-units and rural collectives, to participate in the governing of everyday life. In the post-1978 era of market-based economic reform, the old ‘mass-line’ mode of government has been progressively replaced by more complex and diffuse forms of governance, which increasingly rely on expertise and service provision from a rapidly growing cohort of diverse professionals and new associations.

The notion that China was governed solely through totalitarian and authoritarian forms of politics was always a simplification, but today such models have little explanatory usefulness. In this workshop (and subsequent publications) leading scholars with expertise in a range of social sciences will develop a more nuanced analytical approach to understanding the complexities of government in contemporary China. Building on studies of governmentality, which have proved productive in studies of government in both western and Chinese contexts, workshop participants will look at the ways in which new professionals and associations are governing, managing and providing for a dynamic and heterogeneous population.

Participants will address changing forms of government in China by examining new interventions in areas such as:

  • community development;
  • corporate social responsibility;
  • creative industries;
  • education and vocational training;
  • law and policing;
  • philanthropy and volunteering;
  • public health;
  • urban and rural planning; and
  • welfare provision.

Participants will show how such interventions operate in heterogeneous ways upon and within the everyday lives of the population through a double action encompassing both the government of others and the government of the self.