This article shows how a deeper understanding of the psychological roots of strategic behavior in the targets approach can provide a fresh perspective for policy makers and public administrators to alter behavior. It presents how the Target Responsibility System (TRS) is deployed in China, identifies what types of strategic behavior emerge in the TRS, and explores what psychological insights can be drawn to explain the emergence of strategic behavior. Semi-structured elite interviews were conducted. The central theoretical takeaway is that in the target setting and implementation processes, the behavior of local officials benefits individuals, not organizations; their psychology is geared to challenges in different stages of the target achievement process; and four cognitive biases can be used to explain the emergence of different types of strategic behavior. The empirical implications are that China’s specifics lie in that the tight relationship between target performance and cadre evaluation/promotion, and the use of numbers to political ranks provide fertile ground for an overall psychology where any error or failure must be avoided.

, , , ,,
Journal of Chinese Governance
Erasmus School of Law

Mu, R, & de Jong, M. (2018). The psychology of local officials: explaining strategic behavior in the Chinese Target Responsibility System. Journal of Chinese Governance, 3(2), 243–260. doi:10.1080/23812346.2018.1455413