This paper explores the complexities of government financial management in China and examines the nature of the recent Public Finance Framework reform in that country. We argue that this Public Finance Framework reform is not just the latest idea in a centrally dominated reform agenda (and a logical and strategic development in the process of social, political and economic transformation) but that it reflects the Central Government's struggle to fine-tune central-local financial relationships and to grapple with the consequences of previously misplaced delegation of government budgets. In doing so, the paper challenges the prescriptive research which often pervades policy studies in China. Instead, it offers a critical reflection on the historical and contemporary contingencies shaping Chinese state administration and sheds new light on the background, the implementation and the future prospects of public sector financial reform in China. Overall, our contextual analysis provides a starting point for more critical research of changes in the Chinese state administration at both policy and organisational levels.