China's (Painful) Transition from Relation-Based to Rule-Based Governance: When and How, Not If and Why

Corporate Governance: An International Review

11 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2013

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: February 20, 2013


Manuscript Type: Perspective

Research Question/Issue: Relation-based governance has helped China to achieve rapid economic growth in its early stage; however, continuing to rely on it may hinder China’s further development. The research question is: given China’s cultural heritage and other institutional settings, will China be able to transition from relation-based to rule-based governance?

Research Findings/Insights: I discuss this question based on theoretical and empirical evidences and conclude that, first, from cost/benefit and social justice perspectives, China must complete the transition; second, the cultural heritage is not the main obstacle to the transition, for the main obstacle is the powerful political force that has been deeply entrenched in and benefited from the relation-based system.

Theoretical/Academic Implications: I distinguish the governance environment at the national level and the governance choice at the organizational and individual level. The governance environment — the set of dominant political, economic, social and cultural institutions — facilitates and constrains the choice of the mode of governance (e.g., rule-based versus relation-based).

Practitioner/Policy Implications: The Chinese government officials must realize the inevitability of the transition and the dire consequences of not completing it and take initiative to pursue the transition peacefully. For businesses, they must realize that the relation-based way may be in decline and prepared to embrace the rule-based way.

Keywords: Governance Environment, Rule-based Governance, Relation-based Governance, China, Transition

JEL Classification: A12, H10, O10, P00, P30, P50

Suggested Citation

Li, Shaomin, China's (Painful) Transition from Relation-Based to Rule-Based Governance: When and How, Not If and Why (February 20, 2013). Corporate Governance: An International Review, Available at SSRN:

Shaomin Li (Contact Author)

Old Dominion University ( email )

Norfolk, VA 23529-0222
United States

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