Is the River Chief System the Ultimate Solution to China’s Water Governance Problems?

Professor Mark Wang1

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

The recently introduced River Chief system is expected to fix the so-called “nine dragons ruling the waters” issue, a reference to the tangle of diffuse and unclear responsibilities for managing different aspects of China’s environment and policies. Over 760,000 village level river chiefs and another 300,000 at the township, county and provincial levels have been named river chiefs. This is perhaps the world’s largest water manager group. Can they dramatically improve the quality and integrity of China’s water resources? Using the Hongze Lake region as a case study, this paper seeks to discuss how this new system works, and what are the opportunities for and challenges to China’s effective water governance.


Professor Mark Wang is a human geographer whose interests include urbanisation in East Asia, and development and environmental issues in China.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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