The county-township cadres in China have a pivotal role as intermediaries between the strong state apparatus and the general population, directly overseeing public services. In contrast to the conventional paradigms that take external political pressure to be paramount in shaping bureaucratic receptiveness, this study uses a bureaucratic subjectivity approach that amalgamates intrinsic service motivation with structuralized external pressures in the context of Chinese local government to provide a more systemic and nuanced explanation of the sources of Chinese cadres’ responsiveness. Data are from an original quota-sampling survey of local cadres in 10 cities in China. We find that service motivation, together with mass media and top-down political pressure, shapes county-township responsiveness at both individual and organizational levels, and that service motivation transfers top-down political pressure to organizations’ responsive activities.

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