China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy

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Overview

The rise of China as a great power is one of the most important developments in the twenty-first century. But despite dramatic economic progress, China’s prospects remain uncertain. In a book sure to provoke debate, Minxin Pei examines the sustainability of the Chinese Communist Party’s reform strategy—pursuing pro-market economic policies under one-party rule.

Pei casts doubt on three central explanations for why China’s strategy works: sustained economic development will lead to political liberalization and democratization; gradualist economic transition is a strategy superior to the “shock therapy” prescribed for the former Soviet Union; and a neo-authoritarian developmental state is essential to economic take-off. Pei argues that because the Communist Party must retain significant economic control to ensure its political survival, gradualism will ultimately fail.

The lack of democratic reforms in China has led to pervasive corruption and a breakdown in political accountability. What has emerged is a decentralized predatory state in which local party bosses have effectively privatized the state’s authority. Collusive corruption is widespread and governance is deteriorating. Instead of evolving toward a full market economy, China is trapped in partial economic and political reforms.

Combining powerful insights with empirical research, China’s Trapped Transition offers a provocative assessment of China’s future as a great power.

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Editorial Reviews

Financial Times

Pei does not have much time for the optimistic assumption that democracy in China is just around the corner...For Pei, there is little chance of dethroning the Communist party behemoth in spite of the heroic efforts of the dissidents and democracy campaigners.
— Chris Patten

Commentary

As Pei sees it, big trouble looms [for China]. Continued progress toward a more modern economy will require the establishment of a true rule of law, which in turn will require 'institutional curbs' on governmental action. These two limitations on power are incompatible with the party's insistence on dominating society. So long as the current political framework remains in place, then, China is effectively, and perhaps fatally, trapped in its state of transition...[China's Trapped Transition presents a] comprehensive and, I believe, compelling understanding of present-day China.
— Gordon G. Chang

China Economic Review

[An] acute and insightful examination of China's ongoing transition.
— Chris Hunter

China Journal

Pei's most significant contribution lies in his lucid exposition of the causal links between the structural logic of China's "illiberal adaptation" and its manifest socio-economic and political consequences...He has arguably—like Elvin before him—raised the level of debate and altered the terms of engagement.
— Richard Baum

Elizabeth J. Perry
Minxin Pei is unquestionably one of this country's best informed and most insightful analysts of contemporary Chinese politics. This well-written, provocative book­-a sobering picture of a China beset by severe social problems yet resistant to the political reforms needed to resolve them-­directly challenges much of the conventional wisdom about the rise of China. It is certain to be welcomed by scholars, policymakers, and general readers alike.
Joseph Fewsmith
In this superb work, Pei asks penetrating questions about the course of China's development. He offers a very effective critique of the gradualist approach to reform, explaining that the problems China faces are not incidental to but an integral part of that approach. Powerfully argued, this is a major contribution sure to stir debate.
Philippe C. Schmitter
Pei's notion of a 'trapped transition' will prove valuable­-and not just for its application to China. It serves to challenge the deterministic and evolutionary assumptions behind much of the literature on democratization.
Stephan Haggard
Not only does Minxin Pei make the case that the Chinese reforms are partial and self-limiting, but he also calls into question the hopeful view that rapid growth will ultimately generate political reform. His important book has implications for current debates about the United States-China relationship, but will also force a rethinking of the broader comparative literature on the developmental state.
Financial Times - Martin Wolf
Thought-provoking...Mr. Pei argues, persuasively, that China's gradualism, often favourably contrasted with the former Soviet Union's flirtation with radical reforms, is as much a political as an economic strategy.
Financial Times - Chris Patten
Pei does not have much time for the optimistic assumption that democracy in China is just around the corner...For Pei, there is little chance of dethroning the Communist party behemoth in spite of the heroic efforts of the dissidents and democracy campaigners.
Commentary - Gordon G. Chang
As Pei sees it, big trouble looms [for China]. Continued progress toward a more modern economy will require the establishment of a true rule of law, which in turn will require 'institutional curbs' on governmental action. These two limitations on power are incompatible with the party's insistence on dominating society. So long as the current political framework remains in place, then, China is effectively, and perhaps fatally, trapped in its state of transition...[China's Trapped Transition presents a] comprehensive and, I believe, compelling understanding of present-day China.
China Economic Review - Chris Hunter
[An] acute and insightful examination of China's ongoing transition.
China Journal - Richard Baum
Pei's most significant contribution lies in his lucid exposition of the causal links between the structural logic of China's "illiberal adaptation" and its manifest socio-economic and political consequences...He has arguably--like Elvin before him--raised the level of debate and altered the terms of engagement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674027541
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2008
  • Pages: 308
  • Sales rank: 1,458,478
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Minxin Pei is Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government and Roberts Fellow, and the director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College.
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Table of Contents

Abbreviations

Introduction

1. Why Transitions Get Trapped: A Theoretical Framework

2. Democratizing China?

3. Rent Protection and Dissipation: The Dark Side of Gradualism

4. Transforming the State: From Developmental to Predatory

5. China's Mounting Governance Deficits

Conclusion

Appendix: Reported Cases of Local Mafia States

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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