Test Cover Image of:  Centrifugal Empire

Centrifugal Empire

Central–Local Relations in China

Despite the destabilizing potential of governing of a vast territory and a large multicultural population, the centralized government of the People's Republic of China has held together for decades, resisting efforts at local autonomy. By analyzing Beijing's strategies for maintaining control even in the reformist post-Mao era, Centrifugal Empire reveals the unique thinking behind China's approach to local governance, its historical roots, and its deflection of divergent interests.

Centrifugal Empire examines the logic, mode, and instrument of local governance established by the People's Republic, and then compares the current system to the practices of its dynastic predecessors. The result is an expansive portrait of Chinese leaders' attitudes toward regional autonomy and local challenges, one concerned with territory-specific preoccupations and manifesting in constant searches for an optimal design of control. Jae Ho Chung reveals how current communist instruments of local governance echo imperial institutions, while exposing the Leninist regime's savvy adaptation to contemporary issues and its need for more sophisticated inter-local networks to keep its unitary rule intact. He casts the challenges to China's central–local relations as perennial, since the dilution of the system's "socialist" or "Communist" character will only accentuate its fundamentally Chinese—or centrifugal—nature.

Author Information

Jae Ho Chung is professor of international relations and director of the Program on U.S.-China Relations (PUCR) at Seoul National University. He is also the founding coordinator of the Asian Network for the Study of Local China (ANSLoC). His books include Assessing China's Power (2015) and Between Ally and Partner: Korea-China Relations and the United States (Columbia, 2006).


This is a short work, but one in which every sentence contirbutes something to the overall argument.... A must read for anyone who wishes to understand precisely how China works.

Insightful and timely book.... Overall, this comprehensive and definitive book on China's central-local relations is a must-read for scholars interested in related issues.

Jonathan Unger, editor of The China Journal:
Chung is widely recognized as the leading scholar on the politics of central–local relations in China. This highly readable book, set in an historical context, draws on his expertise and insights to elucidate the Chinese national government's multifaceted efforts today to control regional and local governments.

François Godement, director of the Asia and China Programme and senior policy fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations:
Chung gives a novel answer to the oldest problem in Chinese governance: how does Beijing—or the center—control local administrations? He draws a key conclusion: the center's ability to shape local outcomes has actually increased over time, in spite of marketization and new local interests. Instead of weakening the regime, local governance has become an asset to ensure its resilience.

Joseph Fewsmith, Boston University:
Over recent years, Chung has established himself as probably the expert on central–local relations in China. This book is extremely comprehensive, and pulls together and extends the concerns Chung has developed elsewhere. It is well researched, contains a great deal of useful material, raises many questions, and should be widely read by specialists.

Dorothy J. Solinger, University of California, Irvine:
Long one of our premier specialists on central–local relations in China, Jae Ho Chung has produced his most comprehensive, innovative, and definitive treatise yet on this often puzzling subject. He concludes that we can find much of the long historical past in the current regime's deep-seated urges and incessant struggles to remain atop efforts of lower-echelon striving for place and power. This book is meticulously researched, ripe with multiple analytical distinctions, and rich in nuance. It is the source to consult on this topic.

Kenneth Lieberthal, senior fellow in Foreign Policy and Global Economy and Development, The Brookings Institution:
Centrifugal Empire provides a wide-ranging, historically grounded, empirically rich, and intellectually challenging exploration of central–local relations in China and of various approaches to dealing with them. It greatly enriches our understanding of how issues in central–local relations are contouring both reforms and their likely outcomes in contemporary China.

Audience: Professional and scholarly;