On 12 November 2013, China concluded the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Traditionally, the Third Plenum of a new administration serves as a shot across the bow in terms of signalling new policy priorities. What marked that particular meeting, however, was the depth and breadth of its reform impulse: the plenum communiqué adopted a breathtakingly expansive document, outlining 60 points covering the policy universe, from the economy to the rule of law, from reforming the cultural system to improving social services, and from environmental policy to military reform (Xinhua 2013).1 The contrast with the more cautious and consensus-driven Hu Jintao administration was striking. While many observers focused on the substantive policy implications of the communiqué, another group of scholars was looking deeper, at the tectonic changes that were occurring within and across the Chinese institutions charged with managing these dramatic policy shifts: the creation of a set of leading small groups (lingdao xiaozu) concentrating power at the top, the further erosion of government autonomy from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authority and the centralisation of supervisory organs such as the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC). Xi Jinping’s unfolding experiment in institution-building has moved forward in tandem with the more visible nationwide campaign against corruption which he initiated immediately after his appointment as Party leader. Xi’s unprecedented anti-corruption campaign, targeting both ‘tigers’ and ‘flies’, has brought down in rapid succession former vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission, generals Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, the former security chief Zhou Youkang and, most recently, a number of provincial top officials, including the governor of Fujian province, Su Shulin. This campaign shows no sign of stopping.2 Some three dozen reports describing cadres who have committed suicide or have otherwise broken down in the middle of self-criticism sessions have made the rounds on the Internet, while other stories have abounded in which Xi has personally sat in on provincial-level self-criticism sessions, bringing an almost unbearable amount of tension and pressure into the proceedings (News.ifeng.com 2013; enorth.com.cn 2014). China scholars have been asking whether the anti-corruption campaign should be understood at face value or whether it is a means towards another specific

end. Arguably, such parsing ignores the fact that these two dimensions of the campaign may well be interdependent and mutually reinforcing. As scholars have noted for some time, one of the problems facing the Hu administration was the pushback from local officials that thwarted any attempts to shift the trajectory for the next stage of China’s economic development away from the status quo (Mertha 2012). Both the 11th (2006-2010) and 12th (2011-2015) Five-Year Plans have sought to shift the economy away from the export-led model, which has benefited China for a generation but is no longer sustainable, towards a more consumption-and innovation-based economy (Naughton 2015). The change in development strategy is emphasised even more strongly in the draft proposal for the new 13th Five-Year Plan, which was adopted at the 5th Plenum of the 18th Party Congress in October 2015 (Xinhua 2015). This shift from the status quo does not chime with the self-interests of local officials, and they have attempted to block the proposed changes at every turn. The economic benefits for these officials appear to decrease the further one moves along the proposed trajectory. The traditional criteria upon which their personal promotions have been based – the one-child policy, increase in GDP and social stability – all of which are relatively easily quantifiable, if not exactly popular among their constituents (O’Brien and Li 1999) – are now being changed in favour of more vague standards, such as environmentally friendly development, social welfare and good governance. Not surprisingly, local officials have been highly resistant to implement these changes to their economic, political and social well-being. But while the anti-corruption campaign appears to be putting the fear of Marx into the hearts of these officials, focusing solely on the campaign rather than its targets or the institutional context in which these battles are playing out misses the most important part of the picture.