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China’s response to COVID-19 offers a case study of law, the regulatory state and governance in China. The costly delay in the initial response reflected distinctive features of the Chinese system, including perverse incentives local-level officials face to try to cover up problems, fragmentated institutions and rules, and politically weak public health bureaucracies. After the initial shortcomings, China’s largely successful efforts to contain the pandemic also reflected defining features of the Chinese system, including a highly capable, centralized and authoritarian party-state that could mobilize vast resources, coordinate across fractious institutions, create ad hoc government and party leadership bodies, and deploy highly pervasive, intrusive, and restrictive low-tech and high-tech means to monitor and control citizens’ behavior. Prospects for post-COVID reforms to address revealed shortcomings face challenges from structural features of China’s governance, pervasive difficulties in policy implementation, and the regime’s reluctance to adopt more transformative laws that would be more liberal in content and increase party-state accountability.


China, Chinese health law & policy, novel coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic, infectious diseases, regulatory systems, administrative governance

Publication Title

University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review

Publication Citation

16 U. Pa. Asian L. Rev. 66 (2020)