Book reviews –

Book reviews — Retirement of Revolutionaries in China: Public Policies, Social Norms, Private Interests by Melanie Manion

Bachman, David

RETIREMENT OF REVOLUTIONARIES IN CHINA: Public Policies, Social Norms, Private Interests. By Melanie Manion. Princeton (New Jersey): Princeton University Press. 1993. xii, 196 pp. (Tables.) US$35.00, cloth. ISBN 0-691-08653-2.

THIS IS A FINE BOOK that is highly commendable on several levels. First, the author is one of the very few people who has actually succeeded in doing real research on core processes of the party-state personnel system in China; in this case, the issue is instituting a retirement system in the bureaucracy. Second, this is one of the most methodologically self-conscious and careful studies done on Chinese politics. The author has a detailed methodological appendix and description of her data sources, and a clear rationalization of why she undertook her study in the way she did. Her work here is especially exemplary. Finally, she links the creation and implementation of a retirement system with the creation of social norms, a topic that is in some ways the crucial one when we talk about reform in China.

The center of Manion’s work is an examination of how the Chinese political system went from a situation where cadres were removed from office only because of purge, death, or poor health to a system of retirement for cadres (other than top leaders) at sixty or sixty-five. Her rich study, covering the period from 1978 to 1988, details the different stages in policy evolution, the issues over which those who were to retire bargained with bureaucratic middlemen to ensure retirement, and the successes and failures in creating a norm of retirement among the cadre corps during the 1980s. She finds that the cadres corps was stratified by official policies that rewarded pre-1949 members of the party-state significantly more than those who joined after 1949. Policy outcomes were substantially different than anticipated when policy was made due to bargaining to elicit compliance. There was learning behavior on the part of the leadership on retirement policy. Finally, over time the social pressure of younger cadres on older cadres to retire created a “metanorm” that by the late 1980s appears to have institutionalized the expectation that all cadres other than top leaders will retire at sixty for women and sixty-five for men.

While I think this is an excellent study, I have several questions to raise. First, I was somewhat uneasy with the use of norms to explain policy outcomes in this case. Manion argues that the emergence of norms lowers the cost of implementation to the state because society or social groups who adopt the norm enforce it (or the norm is self-enforced at the individual level). While definitionally this seems reasonable, I wonder if it is reasonable to apply it to cadres who populate the party-state? Can they really be seen as “society” as opposed to the state itself? My unease on this issue is compounded by the fact that by 1988, retirement had become an administrative procedure (p. 1). Manion argues this means that the norm was sufficiently institutionalized that the party was able to institute such a policy without opposition (p. 104). Another interpretation, it seems to me, is that the leadership faced sufficient opposition to retirement under the policies of 1978 to the mid 1980s that it moved the issue out of a framework that involved bargaining to one that is dominated by the bureaucracy. Finally, I wonder if the leadership was perhaps more prescient on this issue than Manion seems to imply. The real problem in the retirement system seems to have been with cadres recruited before 1949. They had greater resources to bargain with and more leverage than did those recruited after 1949. But to a certain extent, the problem of pre 1949 cadres would ultimately take care of itself (through actuarial developments) leaving a regularized retirement system for the cadres who joined the party-state after 1949. Was the leadership thinking about this? Manion presents no evidence on this (indeed, there is little data on policy formulation to be presented in this case). Certainly, however, demographic factors should have been more integrated into the analysis.

Despite these questions, this is an excellent study, and I hope the author turns her concern about norms to some of the fundamental norms that are required to make China a well-governed society, such as institutionalization of the rule of law or the creation of rational-legal authority. This study is the prologue for a truly path-breaking study of social norms and Chinese governance.

Copyright University of British Columbia Spring 1994

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