“Governance has become so much more complicated that the center has less control of various levels of local governments. Local governments also have an interest in seeking as much autonomy as possible,” said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), political scientist and China expert at City University of Hong Kong.
“People also have much more access to information not controlled by the government,” he said.
Since the days of the emperors, the rulers in Beijing have faced difficulty exerting their will across China’s vast landscape. This challenge gave rise to the saying “the mountains are high and the emperor is far away” an adage that captured the impunity with which local officials could act due to their distance from Beijing.
“The capacity of the central government is one of the top concerns for Beijing and always has been,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch and longtime China-watcher. “But they worsen the problem by deliberately choosing to neutralize normal monitoring mechanisms such as civil society, and an independent media and judiciary, and so things will often get out of hand.”