Lots of Advice from Chinese Academics, but Few Takers

For The Wall Street Journal, Chinese civil society expert Yiyi Lu contrasts American academics – which are more likely to act as critics of their governments – with Chinese scholars who utilize their research to advise the regime. But while China may encourage internal analysis and advice, Lu writes that the impact of such advice is questionable:

A large number of reports and analyses are produced daily by Party and government organs, state-owned research institutes, media organizations and quasi-governmental organizations in China, according to the many who have written them over the years. These reports are not published for the benefit of society at large. Rather, their circulation is restricted to senior officials, in order to keep them better informed of the situation in the country. Because they are kept as internal documents, these reports discuss problems more candidly and often include data and information that are deemed sensitive and are therefore withheld from the public.

The extensive and elaborate system for utilizing social-science research to develop policy recommendations for decision-makers should have made the Chinese government one of the best informed and advised in the world and uniquely equipped to address challenges facing the country. Yet, in many areas, the billions of yuan poured into government-funded research and the page after page of internal reference advice offered by the country’s best scholars do not seem to have resulted in any improvement in the government’s performance.

I asked a government researcher why all the good advice people like him had offered decision-makers did not seem to have any effect. “A lot of it is filtered out and does not reach people at the very top,” he said. “Besides, the thinking of many decision-makers has ossified and just can’t be changed.”

Seeking advice is always easier than following it. The Chinese state has developed a sophisticated system for collecting information, analysis and policy recommendations. Whether it has made good use of the system is an entirely different matter.


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