A Behavioral Model of ‘Muddling Through’ in the Chinese Bureaucracy

Hong Lian
Leonard Ortolano
Yinyu Ye
The China Journal

How do we characterize and explain the behavioral patterns of the Chinese bureaucracy amid China’s great transformation over the past three decades? The prevailing “tournament competition” model presented in the literature emphasizes the role of incentive design to explain bureaucratic behaviors. We develop an alternative model of “muddling through”—characterized by a reactive response to multiple pressures, constant readjustments and a focus on short-term gains—to explain the behavioral patterns of China’s intermediate government agencies. We explain the underlying multiple bureaucratic logics that induce these behavioral patterns and the institutional conditions under which such behavioral patterns prevail. We illustrate the research issues, analytical concepts and theoretical arguments, using a case study of a municipal environmental protection bureau implementing the Five-Year Plan, between 2006 and 2010.