The traditional Chinese urban administration, embedded in the sub-district (jiedao) office system, has been greatly challenged by ongoing economic reforms and social transition. Its operation can no longer meet the needs of a modern urban management system. In order to reduce administration levels, accelerate government processes, and strengthen community autonomy, the government of the Baixia District in Nanjing proposed a plan to reform the sub-district office system beginning in 2002. This plan involved the eventual abolition of the sub-district office system by decreasing the administrative control of these offices and devolving service provision to community organizations. On March 29, 2002, the Committee of the CCP and the government of the Baixia District issued a joint resolution to launch the pilot reform of the sub-district office system at Huaihai Road, a district with 18,000 residents covering roughly half a square kilometer.
The reform of the Huaihai Road Office was the first in China to break the sub-district office system. The jiedao was cancelled entirely, reducing the number of urban administrative levels from four to three. The administrative functions previously carried out by the Huaihai Road Office were returned to relevant departments in the Baixia District Government.
The Working Committee of the Chinese Communist Party of Huaihai Road is the agency of the Party Committee at the Baixia District level. It continued the Party’s activities in resource integration and coordination, as well as maintaining a force responsible for handling complaints and legal infractions in the area. In addition, a temporary Administrative Affairs Center, made up of staff from District departments such as Labor, Civil Affairs, Urban Environment, and the Judiciary, began to deliver these services directly to residents. The most important aspect of the pilot plan, though, was the autonomy granted to community resident committees. Once the sub-district office was abolished, community resident committees became responsible for social programs.
Before this drastic step, the community resident committees enacted policies of the sub-district branch; with these reforms, they became responsible for their own programming and their own budgets. The resident committees’ accounts are open to the public for scrutiny, but they now had the authority to incur expenses independently of government approval. The community residents committees now had social work teams, public service, and welfare directly under their jurisdiction.
These reforms reduced the sub-district’s total administrative staff, resulting in an overall improvement in efficiency. The twenty-six staff members of the sub-district office either retired or were transferred to other positions, excluding twelve members accepted to the CCP Working Committee, a total reduction of 52%. Administrative costs were also dramatically reduced: by the end of 2004, the total expense of the three communities of the former Huaihai Road sub-district amounted to 4,200,000 yuan (approximately U.S. $541,803), compared to the 8,000,000 (U.S. $1,032,000) spent annually by the sub-district office.
The autonomy of the residents committees has also helped them gain approval of their constituencies by providing quality service and high levels of community responsibility. Community resident committees have thus far been extremely active in executing their duties, and residents’ participation has improved dramatically. For example, in 2004, the rate of residents’ participation rose 37%, reaching 81%.
As the Huaihai Road pilot project has become more efficient since its inception three years ago, it has garnered much attention for its innovations. It is a model for reform of urban management systems recognized both by the UNDP and by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Eight other Chinese cities have begun similar reforms in urban areas.