Premier Li Keqiang expressed displeasure at the way local officials execute directives from the top and their inaction over the reform agenda, according to an article on the central government's official website.
The article has prompted speculation that top leaders are increasingly frustrated that their instructions are not being heard beyond the walls of the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai.
The official website ran a rare summary of the premier's talk during the State Council meeting on Friday. In the piece, titled "The State Council would never release empty documents", Li castigated local officials for not doing more to carry out directives from the top authorities.
"Many government officials hold the belief that 'doing nothing is better than doing something wrong'," Li was quoted as saying. "Such mediocre and slothful management is also a type of corruption, because it is irresponsible to the people and the country."
The article said Li made his remarks "with special emphasis" and "shook his fist".
Li said such official inaction had weakened the effect of the decisions made by the top authorities, and that the State Council would conduct comprehensive inspections of local governments and departments to make sure every policy was implemented.
"The inspections cannot simply go through the motions," Li said, adding each directive "must get through to the grass roots".
He also urged local governments to relax strict controls over administrative approvals.
While increased government efficiency has been a top item on Li's agenda since he took office more than a year ago, mainland analysts said the strong tone of the article showed the top leaders faced many obstacles to getting decisions implemented.
Li's remarks clearly showed that he and other leaders were concerned that they may not play as great a role in implementing policies as some powerful interest groups and local officials, said Hu Xingdou , an economist at the Beijing University of Technology.
"It has been a major problem for the central leadership over the past decades that their directives face such hurdles to reach the local level," said Hu. "But the interest groups are becoming more powerful and united as the leadership pushes through their reform plans, which could hurt the interests of such groups."
He said it was more challenging for the current leadership, because some lower-level officials were reluctant to work for fear of being caught in the widening anti-corruption net.
Zhu Lijia, a professor of public policy at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said the gaps in the regulatory system had created problems for regional departments to reach consensus on implementing the directives of the central government.