on 27 April 2008
I found this book in many ways an eye opener. China is portrayed as a bit of a dark horse, acheiving wealth and power as the result of very carefully thought out rationale. The methods China has used to achieve success is possibly the most interesting aspect of this book, which is an examination of Chinese politics and the global consequences.
I applaude the authors balanced arguements, despite his self confessed opinion that Europe will prevail enventually (see his previous book.)I found it a disturbing read, (as a non religious person), to observe the achievements of a non religous state putting human rights and
the environment as an after thought. The European concept of interdependance to regulate selfish interest would appear to be a morally
superior secular arrangement.
The author makes the valid point that a sudden change to democracy would create many problems itself, it is interesting to entertain the idea that autocracy can compete. However, this is unlikely to endear the reader to such a prospect.
The thing that prevented this book from getting five stars was the neglect of the issue of population. After the boom came the single child policy, what does China think about pensions? (Not mentioned) This book, however, remains a sound, if brief introduction to a completely different way of working a society.
on 24 April 2008
"Since the time when French and British missionaries first travelled to the East, the West has focused on what it wanted from China - and how to convert the Chinese to a Western way of life. People wrongly assumed that as China grew richer, it would also become more like us."
If you want to know what future the Chinese are dreaming of for their country, or the world it is shaping, read this very concise and enjoyable book.
Argueably the most accessible and current work on where China is heading - which is principally dependent upon what China thinks rather than what the West thinks.
First-class book; highly recommended.
To understand China through the lens of business, I also recommend The China Executive.
This book examines China at the cross roads. As China grows in strength, and looks set to be a dominant player in this century, the author looks at several aspects of Chinese political life. This encompasses everything from China's dizzying rates of economic growth, to its relations with the rest of the world.
China's rates of growth are dizzying, but there are two problems. Firstly, this growth is destroying the environment as factories and power plants belch out fossil fuels. Secondly, this growth is only possible because China's autocratic regime has such total power over all aspects of the economy to drive this growth. Chinese thinkers are debating - should they allow more political freedoms first even if this costs them some economic growth, or retain their autocracy until they achieve their wealth goals, and then relax the regimes controls. For the time being, the latter is prevailing. This is largely because of the Soviet example. China believes that the Soviet/Russian collapse was due to them opening up political freedoms too early, and thus is not going to make the same mistake.
Concerning the problem of pollution, Chinese cities are increasingly filthy. Not helping the situation is China's need for a constant supply of oil, coal and other fossil fuels, which, with China's massive and growing energy needs, threatens to simply make the situation worse. Whilst relatively low down their list of priorities, Chinese leaders are slowly realising the need to clean up the air. They are also aware that loose environmental standards could impact on their trade with nations concerned about toxic materials in their exports.
This book, like most of Leonard's work, is a pleasant, easy read and not overly academic. Therefore, it will be enjoyed even by people who are only casually interested in politics. For those who study politics in detail, it is an excellent introduction to Chinese thought processes.
on 12 December 2010
Cheap goods made in China at slave labour rates, huge environmentally catastrophic industrial projects, persecution of Tibetan monks - the common impression of China? Original ideas, raging debate on future direction, and patterns of thought and politics changing almost as quickly as the economy over the last 30 years is a less common impression.
Mark Leonard's quest is to meet and talk to a wide range of leading thinkers, politicians and businessmen from all over China. He provides an insight into their views. What comes across is that the Chinese way is certainly not an imitation of any other development path. It is Mark Leonard's uncovering of the original, innovative thought and his lucid account and interpretation of events in China that makes the book so readable.
One Chinese school of thought is that they cannot afford the luxury of democracy. Maybe if I lived in grinding poverty with famine and disease close by I would put a reliable square meal and shelter before free speech. Louisa, my neice, tells me that even now in her part of China heating in homes is forbidden - there is not enough fuel for heating, you must simply put on more clothes.
Developing countries that have chosen democracy without the rule of law, such as Yugoslavia, Angola, Rwanda and the Lebanon, have resulted in chaos, as populist regimes have exploited ethnic tensions to get their hands on power. On the other hand countries like Singapore, Hong Kong have adopted the rule of law without democracy. They have known nothing but success: their economies are growing steadily; they are attracting investment; they have wiped out corruption and developed strong national identities. The breakup of the Soviet Union after Gorbachev's reforms and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet economy is a heartfelt salutary lesson to the Chinese leadership. Recognising an independent Taiwan is an anathema as it would provide an example other "regions of China" might want to follow.
According to Fang Ning of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences "Democracy in the west is like a fixed - menu restaurant where customers can select the identity of their chef, but have no say in what dishes he chooses to cook for them. Chinese democracy, on the other hand, always involves the same chef - the Communist Party - but the policy dishes which are served up can be chosen "a la carte".
For example Leonard describes the experiments in strengthening the rule of law and consulting the public in Chongqing - a city on the Yangste of 30 million people (bigger than 22 out of the 27 EU states) and growing at 500,000 people per year. There, Li Dianxun, the director of the city government spearheads a process whereby all significant government rulings are subject to popular hearing - in person, on television and on the internet. By 2008, 600 public hearings involving 100,000 citizens had been organised on subjects including compensation to peasants whose land had been requisitioned; on the level of the minimum wage; on the setting of prices for water, electricity, natural gas, roads, education and public health.
The city of Zeguo has taken this consultation process further in deciding how to spend the public works budget. Two hundred and seventy five people, randomly selected from the population, are briefed by the experts on the pros and cons of the building projects. They whittle down the projects and their wish-list is presented to the People's congress which votes the plan through in its entirety.
But it is not just with conventional ideas of power that the Chinese thinkers are concerned. They have studied how the USA has come to symbolise freedom and affluence from the Bill of Rights to Coca Cola, Macdonalds and Hollywood. They are attempting the "China Dream" of three powerful ideas: economic development, political sovereignty and international law.
Economic development was pioneered in the early 1980's with the establishment of the "Special Economic Zone" of Shenzen offering its leaders freedom from government regulation, tax breaks and a licence to pilot new market ideas. In order to access technology and capital they set about attracting investment from abroad. By 1992 half of China's industrial output was generated by private industry from the Special Economic Zones. Since then economic development has accelerated.
Developing countries throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa are encouraged to follow the Chinese model of pursuing economic reforms first and political reforms later. In 2007 the Zambian leader Levy Mwanawasa announced the establishment of a Special Economic Zone in Chambishi with China injecting $800 million into the country. This will provide China with copper, cobalt, tin, uranium and diamonds. A second economic zone will be in Mauritius, a third in Tanzania with others broached in Nigeria, and Liberia. The appeal to the African leaders is that China not only provides much needed investment, but also an alternative for African countries to the IMF western model of development.
Beijing's ascent has already changed the balance of military and economic power and is now changing the world's ideas about politics, economics and order. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Europe and America face a formidable alternative: the Chinese model.
A thought provoking book on a subject certain to have dramatic effects on all of us involved in an increasingly globalised economy
I was first switched on to Leonard's writing by former colleague who recommended Why Europe Will Run The 21st Century.
What does China think? sounds like a major subject area which would require a huge volume to discuss. Leonard's book in comparison is little more than a pamphlet which I managed to sit down and read cover-to-cover in a little over three hours during the Christmas period.
Over at the Danwei blog it was dismissed as `wonkish nonsense' and being unable to `filter the official line', but I think that this criticism misses the point of Leonard's book, which seeks to explore some of the ideas and organisations that help shape China's thinking.
I found that the book gave me (as a neophyte on all things Chinese) some questions to think about, which I hadn't considered before and made me reconsider some of the west's vision for the future. It was interesting that the Chinese devoted thought on how to manage the `decline of the West'.
To get a perspective on what some Chinese political theorists are thinking, consider this. While Westerners "anguish" about how to manage China's rise, Chinese think-tankers debate about "how to manage the West's decline"! Wang Yiwei, from Fudan University, shares this worry, and asks, "How can we prevent the USA from declining too quickly?" (pp. 115-116)
What this book attempts to provide is a Chinese perspective on the rise of China and its place in the world as it has grown from a largely agrarian society in the days of Mao to a superpower of the 21st century. To do this, Mark Leonard, who wrote "Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century," traveled in China and interviewed many of China's leading thinkers on politics and economics. A number of these scholars have advanced degrees from American universities. They have taken Western ideas back to China and incorporated them into traditional Chinese ways of thinking, consistent with the dictates of the ruling Communist Party. Leonard shows that within this unique political culture there have arisen various points of view, from the "New Right" of, e.g., Zhang Weiying, to the "New Left" of, e.g., Wang Hui, from ideas about the "peaceful rise" of China to notions more in keeping with the thinking of the so-called "neo-comms." Part of the debate is about the use of military power, part of it is about how to influence other countries, and part of it is about how to manage its own people.
Since Deng Xiaoping opted for a market economy within the political dictatorship, the growth of China has been extraordinary. But with this growth have come problems: pollution, growing economic inequalities, the yearning for political democracy, and the infusion (perhaps one might even say the "invasion") of ideas foreign and inimical to the perceived interests of the communist state. To fight the disagreeable ideas from without, the government has trained "an e-police force of 100,000 people employed to scour the net, blocking sites and checking e-mails."
Leonard allows that this number may be exaggerated, but the point is clear: China wants to modernize, and to do so, must learn from the West, but at the same time it must not allow Western ideas to ferment dissention at home. Just how this delicate tightrope walk works in the public forums for China's leading thinkers is part of what makes this book interesting.
The "New Right" which led the change from Mao's soviet style economy to what the Chinese call "Yellow River Capitalism," which ushered in the gargantuan economic growth, has come under fire from various quarters, including the "New Left" which unlike the "old left" supports market reforms. However, as Wang Hui sees it, "China is caught between the two extremes of misguided socialism and crony capitalism...."He adds, "We must not give total priority to GDP growth to the exclusion of worker's rights and the environment." (p. 33) "Princeling" Pan Yue (as some of the privileged and talented members of the younger Chinese generation are called) "has talked of `China's environmental suicide,' and in an interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel, predicted that `China's economic miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.'" (p. 42-43)
Cui Zhiyuan, who is professor of Politics and Public Management at the Tsinghua University in Beijing, sees Chinese politics in Machiavellian terms: "For Machiavelli power was not divided between two levels: the state and the people. Florentine politics was split between three groups, the prince (the `one'), the nobles (the `few') and the people (the `many'). In today's China, the `one' is the Communist Party, the `few' are the super-rich, and the `many' are the people." (p. 47)
There have been some experiments in "deliberative democracy" at the village level to allow some input into central party decisions. The Chinese have learned from the experience of the Soviet Union that ignorance of what people at the grass roots level think can lead to not just inefficiency but to disaster. However this token gesture toward political reform is not likely to replace the "deliberative dictatorship" that current holds sway. Nonetheless, "The government seems to realize that developing institutional ways of dealing with grievances can make the state more stable." (p. 74)
I think this last point is one that we in the West and especially in the United States need to understand. For most people in the world the first responsibility of the state is to provide security and stability. After that perhaps political freedom can evolve. China, learning from the failed Soviet experiment, has put economic reform first and political reform later.
In international relationships, China is trying to develop "soft power" as a means to further its interests. The US, until the recent rise of George W. Bush and the neocons, exemplified the use of soft power to influence others through its culture and its economic strength. China wants to avoid the recent mistakes of the US such as invading other countries and is pursuing a policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. Unfortunately it is also indiscriminately supporting dictators such as Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Leonard asserts that "China will never be supportive of multi-party elections and human rights: why would it promote rights for foreigners that it denies to its own citizens?" (p. 126)
Leonard provides a "Dramatis Personae" near the end of the book identifying some of China's leading political and economic thinkers. There are endnotes and an index. All things considered, this is a good, albeit short, introduction to contemporary Chinese political thinking.
on 27 May 2011
What does China Think?
While the literary landscape is awash with political analysis on China, this short and highly readable volume addresses the fundamental aspects of China's political thought, in an approach that is neither judgmental, nor excessively optimistic toward China's progress.
Chinese approach toward democracy is essentially a cautionary one, with the political culture viewing it as a potential source of instability. This takes the form of possible unrest in non-Han areas, such as Xinjiang, Tibet, or the Korean regions of the North East, but also as an inhibitor toward economic growth.
The Chinese approach is to substitute the varying competing approaches found in multiparty politics for a one party system wherein various approaches compete under one party. This is compared to choosing a variety of chefs, and thereafter having no say in what they cook (the analogy of the Western model) or having one Chef, but choosing what he cooks you (the Chinese approach).
The book makes note of how participatory elections have begun at village and local levels, and have taken a much broader and dynamic form within the Chongqing Municipality, but approach to the national level will have to come incrementally.
A more thought provoking discussion is the approach to Chinese accumulation of military power. As strategists may be aware, China does not yet possess the key ingredients of superpower strength, namely a blue water navy, missile launching submarines, or aircraft carriers. However, it seeks to compete with American military might on asymmetric grounds, in the form of cyber-warfare, and other covert methods.
The most alarming chapter concerns China's foreign policy, which could be best defined as a pure political realism approach. China's only concern is sovereignty, and it pledges non-interference in the external affairs of others. However, as this book argues, China has sought to aid existing power structures, teaching neighboring Central Asian governments in approaches to suppressing domestic unrest, and has sold surveillance equipment to foreign leaders such as Robert Mugabe. This is not out of any ideological impulses, rather economic interests.
In all, this does not necessarily hold true to the principle of non-interference. Unlike revolutionary powers, such as the USSR, which challenged the status quo of other states, and to a lesser extent, the United States, China is arguably a staunchly non revolutionary power, a status quo vanguard.
The book contains insights into the divergence of thought between the proponents of continued runaway economic growth (the new right) and those who are more concerned about widening inequality and lack of opportunity (the new left).
In all, a very precise, informative, and to the point book recommendable to China novices, or established Sinologists.
on 18 March 2015
His heart is probably in the right place but he is a European Firster (like an American Firster) and does not himself comprehend Modern developing China. Even though he has taken much advice his lack of fundamental comprehension of China shows through as it must. I wold strongly recommend instead 'The 100 Year Marathon' by Michael Pillsbury. Pillsbury is both an acknowledged China expert and a fluent and experienced Mandarin speaker. His comprehension of China leaves Mark Leonard standing. Pillsbury is also humble enough to admit what he doesn't know while Mark Leonard didn't know anything to begin with. China writers more than others need to have great experience of China and know Mandarin to a high level before even attempting such analyses. Only such expertise can read between the lines, see behind the 'smoke and mirrors' of Chinese political culture as Pillsbury does ad Mark Leonard singularly fails to do.
on 18 December 2013
The author seems very well qualified to write this book after spending so much time with China's modern thinkers. Very interesting to learn how China is thinking about its development in a totally different kind of way to other countries. Maybe there is a new way of being here-as long as China rises above some issues which Leonard sees as its weaknesses.
on 5 April 2016
Really interesting but also easy to read. Quite short which suits me