Public hearings as a venue for representation and participation in reform era China
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Since Reform and Opening Up in 1978, China gradually made significant changes in its economic and legal system. These systemic changes soon led to social and political developments while the party-state regime remained still. Today's China does not have formal mechanisms of political representation such as elections. However, the rapid changes in the economic and social environment have produced new and mostly informal ways of political participation, such as protests, petitioning, and online public campaigns. Facing a more assertive society, the state responded to the need for political participation and representation with a project of 'administrative democracy'. This new government project mostly involves different mechanisms that enable citizens to participate in policy making. Citizen participation in public administration has become pati of the official reform agenda in China since early 2000s. The administrative and legislative public hearings practiced in China are among the earlier examples of such institutionalized public participation. The existing literature on public hearings mostly focuses on the efficiency of the public hearings as a policy tool and their impact on policy-making. My research focuses on the effect of these institutions on the public perceptions about the state and public perceptions about citizens as political actors. I analyze the participant selection mechm1ism of public hearings, participant demographics and the relationship of the participants with the officials and the broader public in Guiyang, Wuhan and Qingdao. Qualitative data from these three cities, which are located in different socio-economic development zones, suggests that (1) both participants and the broader public see public hearings as a venue for political representation rather than a mere policy-making mechanism, and (2) participants use different strategies to achieve their goals in public hearings and create awareness in the broader public. My research methods are semi-structured interviews with public hearing participants, expert interviews with scholars and officials who designed the hearings in China and an analysis of the written and online media coverage of the public hearings.
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