Journal of Chinese Political Science

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 199–224 | Cite as

Studying the Chinese Policy Process in the Era of ‘Top-Level Design’: the Contribution of ‘Political Steering’ Theory

  • Gunter SchubertEmail author
  • Björn Alpermann
Research Article


Making sense of the Chinese policy process has been one of the most challenging endeavors for China scholars since the beginning of ‘reform and opening up’. Although a great deal of empirical knowledge has been gathered over the years on policy-making and implementation in many different fields, theorizing on the Chinese policy process has mostly been concerned with individual policy instruments or various modes of policy-making so far instead of looking at how these are interconnected. In this article, we propose ‘political steering theory’ as an integrative theoretical framework to fill in this gap. Originating from policy research conducted by German social scientists starting in the 1970s, we consider ‘political steering theory’ to be the most appropriate approach to the Chinese case, particularly in the current era of ‘top-level design’ led by Xi Jinping. We demonstrate how China recently recalibrated its political steering approach and propose new directions for research into the Chinese policy process under the current administration.


Political steering theory Top-level design Chinese policy process Xi Jinping era 


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© Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chinese StudiesEberhard Karls University TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Institute of East and South Asian Cultural Studies – Contemporary Chinese StudiesUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany

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