The expansion of China’s administrative state during COVID, with Yale Law’s Taisu Zhang


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This week on Sinica, Kaiser welcomes Taisu Zhang, professor of law at Yale University, who discusses his recent work on the expansion of the administrative state down to the subdistrict and neighborhood level — changes that are far-reaching, and likely permanent. They also discuss a recent essay in Foreign Affairsi n which Taisu argued that Beijing is shifting away from “performance legitimacy” as the foundation of political rule, and more toward legality — not to be confused with the rule of law.

3:29 – Nationalism as legitimacy, and its grounding in economic performance

7:45 – The CCP’s unique approach to “legal legitimacy”

21:28 – Evidence from the Two Meetings, or 兩會 liǎnghuì

35:56 – Chinese Administrative Expansion in the Xi Jinping Era

49:40 – The role of the anti-corruption campaign in expanding local government authority

56:18 – Changes in local governance after COVID

1:01:27 – Who were the dàbái?

1:04:10 – Technology in China’s post-pandemic power structure

A complete transcript of this podcast is available at


Taisu: The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber; The Rise and Fall of Imperial China: The Social Origins of State Development by Yuhua Wang; Uncertainty in the Empire of Routine: The Administrative Revolution of the Eighteenth-Century Qing State by Maura Dykstra; The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu; and The Lower Yangzi Trilogy by Ge Fei

Kaiser: Kaiser: Assignment China: An Oral History of American Journalists in the People’s Republic by Mike Chinoy; and the many uses of beeswax