In this paper, we scrutinize in the transforming party-state system of China the subtle dynamics of enterprise adaptation to state interventions, which react to hardening external and internal constraints. We use a comparative systemic framework that interprets adaptation in the context of system dynamics and transformation (Csanádi, 2006). We analyze a firm-level database of the Chinese industry from 1998 to 2013 with more than 3.8 million entities. Enterprise sensitivity and adaptation is measured by entries and exits. Taking a systemic approach, we distinguish enterprises that belong to either the party-state network or to the market as two economic sub-spheres defined by our analytical framework. Using the dynamics of entries and exits of industrial enterprises in each of these two spheres, we measure their expansion and contraction as well as that of the speed of both. Different speed allows for the quantification of the dynamics of economic transformation. Our results reveal that increasing frequency of entries and exits, both within and between the two spheres, are interconnected with state interventions reacting to booming and cooling periods of system-specific overinvestment and hardening and softening external constraints (Csanádi, 2015; Csanádi and Gyuris, forthcoming).
Similarly, we reveal a strong connection between enterprise entries and exits and the occasional changes in the acceleration and slowdown of transformation dynamics through alternating periods of retreat and expansion of the network. We confirm the retreat of the network between 1998 and 2009 in terms of number of enterprises, employment, and sales revenues. However, we find that state interventions reacting to the 2008-2009 global crisis as well as Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign in 2012-2013 halted the retreat of the network in terms of various statistical indicators. Interventions also changed the moderate annual decline of state-owned capital share among enterprises belonging to the network (a clear trend until 2008), for they led to a “hidden expansion” of the state ownership through a relatively fast increase of its capital share from the early 2010s. Thus, transformation is not continuous, as halts and slowdowns during this process occur in major periods of state intervention.
Neither is the advancement of transformation uniform. Regarding the number, employment, and sales revenue of enterprises, the retreat of the network and the expansion of the market sphere have substantially been more advanced than in case of the allocation of resources, which is selective and biased towards state-owned and large enterprises (Csanádi, 1997; Csanádi and Liu, 2012). These along with the resulting politically rational economic behavior of enterprises are essential characteristics of the party-state system.