Implementing the Water Goals—The River Chief Mechanism in China

  • Liping DaiEmail author
Part of the Politics and Development of Contemporary China book series (PDCC)


Water governance assessments often focus mainly on the beginning of the policy process. There is ample attention for formulating goals, rules and standards. However, good water governance should pay attention to the whole policy process from goal setting to the actual achievement of goals. More attention is needed for the implementation of regulations. Chinese Central Government has launched a creative approach to implement its water goals—the river chief mechanism, by which the local government heads are appointed as river chiefs to clean up and protect water resources in their jurisdictions. This chapter intends to analyze this mechanism through discussing its origins and evolution, the rationale behind the mechanism and the pros and cons of this mechanism.


China Water governance Water quality River chief 


  1. Biswas, A. K. (2008). Integrated Water Resources Management: Is It Working? International Journal of Water Resources Development, 24(1), 5–22. Scholar
  2. Burns, J. P., & Zhou, Z. (2010). Performance Management in the Government of the People’s Republic of China: Accountability and Control in the Implementation of Public Policy. OECD Journal on Budgeting, 2, 1–28.Google Scholar
  3. China Daily. (2016). River Chief System. Retrieved from
  4. Dai, L. (2015). A New Perspective on Water Governance in China: Captain of the River. Water International, 40(1), 87–99.
  5. Dylan. (2017). Jiangsu to Implement ‘River Chief’ System. Retrieved from
  6. Edin, M. (2003). Remaking the Communist Party-State: The Cadre Responsibility System at the Local Level in China. China: An International Journal, 1(1), 1–15.Google Scholar
  7. Global Water Partnership. (2015). China’s Water Resources Management Challenge: The ‘Three Red Lines’. Sweden: Elanders.Google Scholar
  8. Gu, L. (2017). China Pushes ‘River Chief’ System to Combat Water Pollution. Retrieved from
  9. Guo, X. (2018). Major Problems and Causes Analysis on Natural Resource-Based Balance Sheet and Auditing System of Leading Cadres in F Province. China Chief Financial Officer, 4, 122–123.Google Scholar
  10. Lieberthal, K. G., & Lampton, D. M. (1992). Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  11. Pan, J. (2013). Veto Should Not Become a Norm of Cadre Evaluation. Retrieved from
  12. Shen, M. (2018). Analysis on the River Chief System from the View of Institutional Economics, 134–139.Google Scholar
  13. Silveira, A. (2014). China’s Political System, Economic Reform, and the Governance of Water Quality in Pearl River. In D. E. Garrick, D. Connell, & J. Pittock (Eds.), Federal Rivers: Managing Water in Multi-layered Management Systems (384pp). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  14. Smith, G. K. (2013). Measurement, Promotions and Patterns of Behavior in Chinese Local Government. Journal of Peasant Studies, 40(6), 1027–1050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Tai Hu Net. (2016). Modern River Chief Mechanism Expended to Nationwide from Here. Retrieved from
  16. van Rijswick, H. F., Edelenbos, J., Hellegers, P., Kok, M., & Kuks, S. (2014). Ten Building Blocks for Sustainable Water Governance: An Integrated Method to Assess the Governance of Water. Water International, 39(5).
  17. Wang, Y. (2013). Public Participation and Legal Reform Key to Creating Ecological Civilisation. Retrieved from
  18. Xu, Y. (2017). China’s River Chiefs: Who Are They? Retrieved from
  19. Yee, W.-H., Tang, S.-Y., & Lo, C. W.-H. (2014). Regulatory Compliance When the Rule of Law Is Weak: Evidence from China’s Environmental Reform. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 26(1), 95–112.Google Scholar
  20. Yu, H. H. (2014). Community-Based Water Governance Under Integrated Water Resources Management Reform in Contemporary Rural China. Environmental Management and Sustainable Development, 3(2).
  21. Zhou, C. (2009). Tackling the Pollution via River Chief Mechanism, Solutions of Environmental Contract Responsibility System. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability LawUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations