Introduction The Work Report delivered at the 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by the former general secretary Hu Jintao stipulated that: ‘In principle, public consultation should take place with respect to laws and policies that directly concern the vital interests of the Chinese people’ (Hu Jintao 2007). Since then, public consultation has become a standard feature of both policymaking and law-making processes in China. It includes a wide repertoire of formal procedures for government engagement of diverse societal groups, such as deliberations at the National People’s Congress (NPC), online consultation with the public or professionals, expert forums, face-to-face meetings between decision-makers and representatives of the public, solicitation of opinions from both the public at large and interest groups via mass media, focus groups and public opinion surveys. These formal procedures permeate the Chinese political system and are now enacted by diverse government institutions: the NPC, the Legislative Affairs Office, the Chinese People’s Supreme Court and the State Council. Public response to the government’s efforts at engagement has been enthusiastic. In recent consultations on the Labor Contract Law, the NPC online portal registered approximately 500,000 comments. These practices have also been endorsed under the rubric of ‘deliberative democracy’ at the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress in 2013 (Central Committee of the CCP 2013). The introduction of participatory practices in China is puzzling in light of the CCP’s determination to cling to authoritarian rule. One may wonder why the CCP leaders, who have no apparent interest in launching political reforms and in pursuing democratisation, are opening up participatory outlets that could potentially empower society vis-à-vis the state? In trying to answer this question, I will begin by critically assessing the extant literature on participation in non-democratic settings. I will ask whether the model of fragmented authoritarianism (FA) can explain the Chinese government’s reasons for encouraging public participation, or whether other regime goals, such as enhancing legitimacy and gathering information, motivated the government to conduct consultation. The chapter will address this question

through an analysis of participation in one central policy-making episode: the drafting process of China’s recent health care reforms, where the government introduced a variety of participatory forums. I will conclude with a discussion of the applicability of the insights gained from this case study to other policymaking episodes in China and other non-democratic systems.