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Encountering Chinese officials: bureaucratism, politics and power struggle

Encountering Chinese officials: bureaucratism, politics and power struggle

Jonathan Sullivan21 Oct 2014Leave a comment


Written by Jiong Tu.

Encountering officials is inevitable in many research projects in China. The encounter itself shows a snapshot of how local officialdom works. Being rejected by the officials, being unable to find the officials during office hours, being passed like a ball from one office to another, and being scolded or humiliated are normal occurrences for ordinary people in dealing with local officials. ‘In a meeting’ was the most frequent excuse used by officials to avoid unwelcome visits. Encountering Chinese officials is a challenge to researchers trying to obtain needed information, to interpret meanings behind words, and to explore complex relationships behind certain phenomena. But the encounter itself constitutes a significant part of the research ‘field’. This post proposes carefully reflecting on the laborious process of encountering government bureaus and officials to deepen our understanding of the local social world.

My PhD project explores people’s moral experience of healthcare transformations over the past few decades in a county in eastern Sichuan. In the field from 2011 to 2012, I met many patients and health professionals through acquaintances’ introductions without much difficulty. People sincerely shared with me their concerns and worries as healthcare increasingly became a troubling issue. I also interviewed dozens of health administrators and officials in order to get a view from within the structure of the authorities with respect to the health policy agenda and administration. Perhaps because I went back to my ‘hometown’ for fieldwork and my topic is not politically sensitive, I experienced neither the interventions nor fear that many researchers encounter in China. But my encounters with local officials were frequently disturbing, dramatic and sometimes humiliating…

Continue reading this post on the LSE Field Research Lab. With Permission.

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