This book is a political history of global attempts to reduce politics to science and the results of such an attempt in modern China. The book follows the discourses and activities of a special group of local officials in China’s Nationalist government (1928–1949). These officials had been students or faculty at the Central Politics School (CPS), the only national university in modern Chinese history that trained professional bureaucrats according to the blueprint of the United States’ science of public administration conceived by Frank Goodnow. Through its accounts of how these officials handled land administrative reforms, the battlefront of statebuilding during World War II, and rebellions of ethnic minorities, the book discusses why some of the most talented CPS officials resorted to non-modern humanistic political techniques and achieved a Chinese statecraft more efficient and sustainable than science. As such, the book invites readers to think whether science and the rational-legal authority proposed by Woodrow Wilson and Max Weber, is a proper conceptual framework for understanding politics in China and the rest of world.
Chen-cheng Wang is assistant research fellow at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica.
Part I: Early Development
Chapter 1: The Advent of Public Administration in the United States and China
Chapter 2: The Orthodox Approach and the Jiangning Experiment
Chapter 3: The Lanxi Experimental County and Its Unorthodox Practices
Part II: The Battlefront Administrative State
Chapter 4: The Rationality Project Based on Irrationality
Chapter 5: The Beauty of Humanistic Politics
Part III: The Frontier of Modern Chinese Statecraft
Chapter 6: Guizhou: The Promised Land for Public Administration?
Chapter 7: Eliminating the Brutal and Safeguarding the Good
Chapter 8: The Counter-Public Administration Insurgency
This book—the first English-language monograph on the Central Politics School—is a theoretically informed and original microscopic study of local governance in Republican China. It is meticulously researched and passionately argued, and its analysis is deep, nuanced, and insightful. The Chinese case the author discusses also have broader implications worldwide, in terms of seeking for an alternative political framework beyond the Wilsonian-Weberian techno-scientific paradigm.
This well-researched study of the Central Politics School provides valuable information and insight on a key, yet previously overlooked, political and pedagogical institution of Republican China. But this is much more than a solid scholarly monograph on an important if neglected historical institution. The author presents a compelling case for the continued importance of traditional Chinese statecraft in a world dominated by Weberian approaches to public administration. He shows how talented grassroots officials, resisting the hegemonic allure of techno-scientific bureaucratic solutions, drew upon indigenous resources to mitigate the glaring failures of the Republican state. The message for the contemporary state is clear: good governance depends less on the latest technological advance than on the accumulated humanistic wisdom of the past.
Chen-cheng Wang’s new book joins the latest generation of the scholarship on the Chinese state and governance in the modern era. By focusing on the Nationalist state’s Central Political School, a cadre-training institution, and its administrative experiments in selected counties in the 1930s, this book sheds light on two competing approaches to local governance: one based on techno-scientific models and justified by the Weberian conception of rationalization and bureaucratization, and the other rooted in the traditional heritages of Chinese statecraft and sociocultural resources. Drawing on a rich set of source materials and with in-depth analysis, this book reveals how the indigenous approach served as a correction – and indeed an alternative – to the imported model that often overlooked the realities of Chinese society. Readers who are interested in twentieth-century Chinese politics will find this book engaging and insightful.
This book is a tour de force piece of scholarship. Drawing on a range of primary materials in such different locations as Zhejiang and Guizhou, it completely upends the received view of the Guomindang as weak, corrupt and ineffective during the Sino-Japanese War years. Wang draws out the different techniques deployed by pro-active Guomindang county magistrates to meet seemingly insurmountable challenges of local governance, often by falling back on a mix of repertoires drawn from contemporary notions of scientific administration, and, more frequently, from the late imperial past. It is by far the best book on the workings of Republican era and Sino-Japanese War period local government to come out in recent memory and will deservedly find a place on many a bookshelf and many a class syllabus.