Sunday, December 15, 2013

Han China on the problem of accountability

In his book, The bureaucracy of Han times, Cambridge University Press 1980, Hans Bielenstein makes the sage observation about the Han censorship system, the root of any accountability system.
The repeated alternations in rank between 600 shih and 2000 shih [i.e. bushels, here a symbolic system of rank designation, RCK] must have stemmed from the difficulty of devising a system whereby scrutiny of local administration would function as intended. Should one appoint junior officials at the beginning or senior officials at the end of their career? Would junior officials act vigorously in the hope of furthering their advancement, or, would they, on they contrary, fear to ruin their chances by impeaching powerful men of higher rank? Would elderly senior officials do their duty unflinchingly, since they had nothing to lose and none of the local administrators outranked them? Or would they avoid their responsibilities, being close to retirement and not wishing to be embroiled? Both approaches had their advantages and disadvantages, neither was without flaws, and the government could never make up its mind which to adopt permanently. [p.91]
A tough puzzle indeed.

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