What Does China Think?

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We know everything and nothing about China. We know that China is changing so fast that the maps in Shanghai need to be redrawn every two weeks. We know that China has brought 300 million people from agricultural backwardness into modernity in just thirty years, and that its impact on the global economy is growing at unprecedented speed. We have an image of China as a dictatorship; a nationalist empire that threatens its neighbors and global peace.

But how many people know about...

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Overview

We know everything and nothing about China. We know that China is changing so fast that the maps in Shanghai need to be redrawn every two weeks. We know that China has brought 300 million people from agricultural backwardness into modernity in just thirty years, and that its impact on the global economy is growing at unprecedented speed. We have an image of China as a dictatorship; a nationalist empire that threatens its neighbors and global peace.

But how many people know about the debates raging within China? What do we really know about the kind of society China wants to become? What ideas are motivating its citizens? We can name America's neo-cons and the religious right, but cannot name Chinese writers, thinkers, or journalists—what is the future they dream of for their country, or for the world? Because China's rise— like the fall of Rome or the British Raj—will echo down generations to come, these are the questions we increasingly need to ask. Mark Leonard asks us to forget everything we thought we knew about China and start again. He introduces us to the thinkers who are shaping China's wide open future and opens up a hidden world of intellectual debate that is driving a new Chinese revolution and changing the face of the world.

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Editorial Reviews

John Pomfret
[Leonard] spent two years traveling around the country, interviewing many of its leading thinkers on politics and economics. His main conclusion: China is not morphing into a democracy with a capitalist economy; it is creating its own unique system, with an authoritarian government and a mixed economy. The result, Leonard predicts, will be a fundamental challenge to the West. Leonard believes that bright thinkers—political scientists, economists and grand strategists, many of them schooled at U.S. universities—are providing China's engineers with the framework for a novel political system that blends dog-eat-dog capitalism, a big state-controlled sector and one-party rule. They're succeeding, Leonard argues, where the Soviet Union, also led by engineers in its twilight years, failed.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Commonly characterized as a juggernaut monomaniacally focused on breakneck economic growth, China is actually riven by a lively, far-reaching debate over its future, argues this inquisitive study. Leonard (Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century) divides Chinese intellectuals into a New Right that wants to extend laissez-faire market reforms and an increasingly influential New Left that decries rising inequality, corruption and environmental destruction and wants a strong government to rein in capitalist elites and protect workers. Meanwhile, political reformers push cautiously for local and Communist Party elections against a consensus that associates democracy with chaotic mob rule or national dismemberment. China's foreign policy is split between liberal internationalists and truculent "neo-comms" who contend that China must be ready to use force against its enemies. The author notes that these ideological divisions resemble those in Western countries, but emphasizes the distinctiveness of Chinese ideas, like the concept of the "deliberative dictatorship" of a one-party state that stays responsive to popular pressures, or a "Walled World" where globalization enhances rather than erodes the autonomy of national governments. Leonard's is a lucid, eye-opening account of China's intellectual scene and its growing importance to the world. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Leonard (executive director, Open Society Inst. for Europe) argued in his Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century that the American Century based on "hard power" will give way to a European Century based on "soft power." Figuring in that process that China could be either a key partner or deadly adversary, Leonard became an "accidental Sinologist." He writes of smoking Cuban cigars in Beijing and debating with policy intellectuals whose arguments fell into several groups that he labels in the text. The "New Left" accepts the market system but advocates democracy and government welfare programs, while "Yellow River Capitalists" want to let a new capitalist class set priorities. What Leonard elsewhere wittily calls "Neo-Comms" mirror the American "neo-cons." Unlike the first two groups, whose focus is domestic, the "Neo-Comms" push a great power strategy of military expansion, aggressive cultural diplomacy, and hard-nosed international law. Leonard vaunts China's present model of economic growth and political control, downplaying its authoritarianism, but argues that we need to appreciate Chinese debates, which will shape future policies. Libraries with substantial world affairs collections should add this astute and lucid book.
—Charles W. Hayford

Kirkus Reviews
A brief view of China's emergence as a world player, politically as well as economically. In the dawning days of what is now called globalism, it was assumed that China would become like the West as it grew in wealth and power. That assumption was wrong, writes Leonard (Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century, 2005), executive director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and those who hold to it today persist in error. Instead, China is charting its own course, even if some of its debates and even factions-the homegrown equivalents of the Neocons and the Greens, for instance-sound familiar to Westerners. One is the battle over what democracy means and whether it is right for China, with a sharp line drawn between the Old Right ("who like to talk about the withering of the state . . . [but who] have, in fact, been the biggest beneficiaries of one-party rule") and New Left ("a loose grouping of intellectuals that is increasingly capturing the public mood, and setting the tone for political debate"). Democracy is, Leonard writes, not unknown in China; experiments thrive in the countryside, and even Chongqing, one of China's foremost cities, has become a "living laboratory" for democratic and populist modes of governance. As Leonard also notes, China harbors think tanks whose range and populace vastly dwarf anything in the West-a single Beijing institute, he writes, has more than 4,000 full-time researchers. Yet, for all this thinking and experimenting, the state shows no sign of withering away, and Chinese influence is felt in geopolitics far from the motherland-in Darfur, for instance-and closer to home, such as the repressive regime of Myanmar, backed by Beijing. The overarchinglesson: that China will present to the world its own idea-"the Chinese model"-of what the new global order looks like, and the rest of the world will have to listen. Useful reading for students of contemporary politics and international affairs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586484842
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Leonard is Executive Director of the Open Society Institute for Europe. He is formerly Director of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform and the director of the Foreign Policy Centre. A regular commentator in the world's leading newspapers and journals, he lives in London

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Liberation of Thought 5

Ch. 1 Yellow River Capitalism 19

Ch. 2 Democracy in the Clouds 51

Ch. 3 Comprehensive National Power 83

Conclusion: China's Walled World 115

Dramatis Personae 135

Notes 143

Index 153

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  • Posted February 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Short, savvy tour of Chinese issues and arguments

    Mark Leonard's desultory ramble through China's intellectual landscape introduces that country's most influential economic, political, diplomatic and military thinkers. In a market nearly saturated with books that do little more than echo each other's amazed exclamations at China's rapid economic development, getAbstract considers this a refreshing change. The book does not offer in-depth analysis of the ideas it presents, nor does it assess their merits and demerits in any detail. It merely introduces a few very prominent Chinese intellectuals and offers a brief summary of their ideas. The book's chief value is that it acknowledges the breadth of the diversity of thought within China, and spotlights the conflicts and tensions that are shaping its development.

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