Hadrian's Reviews > Accepting Authoritarianism: State-Society Relations in China's Reform Era

Accepting Authoritarianism by Teresa Wright
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's review
Mar 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: asian, economics-finance-business, nonfiction, society-culture-anthropology-etc, chinese
Read in March, 2012

A former tenet of modern economic theory was that with capitalism and prosperity, democracy must inevitably follow. China appears to buck the trend, combining aspects of both authoritarianism and democracy. The big questions are: how is this possible, can it keep this up, if so, for how long?

This slim volume analyzes the relationship between the state's economic power and the various class elements which compose modern Chinese society. The analysis is very clear - the main points of the thesis are on the back cover: "State-led development, late industrialization, and socialist legacies." Furthermore, the author analyzes the relationship of each major social class in modern China, and during the stages of reform (early reform/Deng, late reform, and post-Tienanmen).

Several major classes have benefited greatly from the dominant influence of the state. Entrepreneurs, through becoming buddies with the government apparatus, secure favorable positions and places for themselves and their organizations. Public sector workers are obviously in favor of the status quo, with their benefits and steady work.

For some classes, however, the positive relationship with the state is slightly more tenuous - farmers, still the largest social class in China, oppose the government's petty bureaucrats who enrich themselves. They enjoy the broad powers the CCP can use, but too often they can criticize their local leaders as 'landlords' or 'greedy capitalists'. Unskilled workers, despite the labor shortage and temptations of upward mobility, still are threatened by trends in the world market and their relative lack of social stability. Public intellectuals and artists, as prominent or outspoken as some may seem, are often tethered down with fat government jobs or too threatened.

The book ends with a comparison to other ex-Central Planning nations - Vietnam, and Russia. Vietnam is an interesting case in particular because it has not only mirrored China's economic growth on a smaller scale, but also has actually negotiated with protestors demanding social justice. Russia is another beast, and will take far too long to discuss here.

The vast majority of citizens in China see little reason to contest the status quo. Life is good. But some factors could change this - an economic downturn, more citizens earn livelihood and personal security from the private sector, and protests from growing income inequality. The state of affairs in China appears good, and mighty tempting, but it, too, has its own weaknesses and fragile spots.
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