context: People’s Daily often presents a particular point of view that summarises the consensus, the prevailing view on a specific policy matter. Far less frequently does the Party’s flagship newspaper feature a discussion of different solutions to a vexing problem. The article below is one of the latter, and merits close attention.

A People’s Daily article notes that as the number and scale of cities in China continues to expand, experts have proposed three measures to improve urban governance so that it meets people’s needs

  • joint governance which includes the government, the public, social organisations, enterprises and others each have
  • employing tech to increase governance precision
  • improving laws and regulations

Wang Ming 王名 Tsinghua University, School of Public Policy and Management proposes that the starting point should be to maximise citizen participation. A long-held misunderstanding, Wang says, is that urban governance should be defined solely by internal affairs of government departments. He holds that unitary, administration-led governance structure will find solving urban governance problems difficult; currently the influence of departmental interests is hard to avoid and horizontal and vertical non-coordination persists. He divides urban governance into public governance, community governance and social governance, advocating for the focus of urban governance to move down to the grassroots.

Considering community governance the ‘last mile’ for urban governance, Ding Zhihong 丁志宏 Central University of Finance and Economics School of Social Development deputy dean says that a three-dimensional cooperative governance model is needed, in which the government, the public, social organisations, enterprises and other subjects participate. Ding also suggests moving from ‘empirical governance’ to ‘scientific governance’ by employing big data.

Peng Bo 彭勃 Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of International and Public Affairs professor criticises ‘linear logic’, the idea that a fixed and logical relationship exists between governance behaviour and outcomes–for instance, handing out resources when they are scarce or adding staff where there are shortages. He criticises emphasis on scale and speed over quality and efficiency and over-pursuit of order and cleanliness to the detriment of diversity, tolerance and convenience, for instance through making key areas grand and leaving old districts nearby to rack and ruin.

When it comes to issues like cooking oil fumes and vendor stalls, Ma Huaide 马怀德 China University of Political Science and Law vice president says that issues lie in lack of standardisation of relevant rules and regulations. At present, regulations relevant to urban governance is scattered between more than 60 laws and regulations. In law enforcement, legal grounds are insufficient, departmental functions overlap, and procedures are unclear. Liu Junhai 刘俊海 Renmin University professor says that to avoid conflict, authorities turn a blind eye, take no responsibility, or take simple and crude approaches, ignoring procedure, art, principle and act chaotically. Liu argues that administrative organs should standardise law enforcement and create law-based urban governance environment.