Exploring frontline work in China

AuthorXiaowei Zang,Michael Musheno
Published date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017
Exploring frontline work in China
Xiaowei Zang
| Michael Musheno
Department of Applied Social Sciences, City
University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
School of Law, University of Oregon,
Eugen, OR
Xiaowei Zang, Department of Applied Social
Sciences, City University of Hong Kong, Tat
Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Email: ssxz@cityu.edu.hk
This study of the state frontline workforce breaks new ground by
conducting an institutional analysis of rule abidance in the People's
Republic of China (PRC). We draw upon a survey (n= 1,721) of
Chengguan officers, the main players in regulatory enforcement of
civil law in urban China, to explore the influence of autocratic one-
party rule on themeaning of and variationin rule abidance in China.
The majority of Chengguan officers are rule followers, and demo-
graphic differences show little deviation from this norm. However,
institutional factors associated with one-party rule, particularly
upward accountability, the privilege of administrative rank, and une-
qual access topower and resources, are significant in shaping differ-
ences in rulefollowing among Chengguan officers. We conclude with
a discussionof the similarities in institutional pressureson urban reg-
ulatorypolicing in China and the UnitedStates.
The study of the state frontline workforce has grown into a major field of enquiry for public policy and administra-
tion since the 1980s, drawing upon studies in the West (Lipsky 1980; see overviews by Maynard-Moody and Por-
tillo 2010; Hupe 2013; Portillo and Rudes 2014). This scholarship has operated with a tense, dualistic perspective of
rule abidance, revealing an orientation of workers to pay attention to legal abidancewith its emphasis on law, rules
and administrative procedures alongside a strong pull towards cultural abidanceor the orientation of workers to
concentrate on their judgements of who people are, their perceived identities and moral character(Maynard-
Moody and Musheno 2003, p. 4). To gain purchase on how the tensions between legal abidance and cultural abi-
dance are resolved, scholars focusing on frontline workers in the West have turned to institutional analysis or how
organizational and professional norms in conjunction with performance-driven information systems shape the priori-
ties and practices of frontline workforces (Soss et al. 2011; Epp et al. 2014; Harrits and Moller 2014; Maynard-
Moody and Musheno 2015; Musheno and Maynard-Moody 2015; Schuppan 2015).
With research on institutionalism focusing on workforces in the West, this study breaks new ground by con-
ducting an institutional analysis of rule abidance in the People's Republic of China (PRC), an autocracy ruled by the
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1949. In the West, rule abidanceis an articulation of frontline work in a rep-
resentative democracy where rule making is the responsibility of elected officials and an edifice built on law and
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12340
842 © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/padm Public Administration. 2017;95:842855.

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