pan-contractualthinking-2008.pdf (1.37 MB)
Contractual thinking and responsible government in China: A constructivist framework for analysis*
journal contributionposted on 2008-01-01, 00:00 authored by Chengxin PanChengxin Pan
Responsible government is often seen as contingent on democracy. Yet despite China's continued lack of notable progress in democratization, recent years have witnessed some limited moves towards responsible governance. In the absence of free elections and other institutional arrangements, how can an authoritarian regime become responsible? This paper turns to the role of ideas and culture in general and contractual thinking in particular for an explanation. Contractual thinking, defined as a particular kind of intersubjective understanding between the government and citizens with regard to their mutual interests, is present in both China's contemporary official discourse on "responsible government" and traditional Chinese culture. Taking a constructivist approach, the paper focuses on two interrelated aspects of the role of contractual thinking in the construction of responsible government. First, it examines how contractual thinking, by helping redefine the identity and interest of the government in line with citizens' loyalty, could allow more responsible government behaviour. It then illustrates that in the case of government irresponsibility, contractual thinking sets the discursive context for rightful resistance from citizens as well as for a more sympathetic reading of such resistance by the government, both of which, the paper argues, could facilitate the development of responsible governance.