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China’s Unknown Political Future (September 2015): Collections of Assorted Articles and Conclusion

By Xiaofei Li

Collections of Assorted Articles

Essays in edited volumes that collect a variety of ideas about China’s prospects serve as a convenient summary of numerous views that scholars hold.  Five books reviewed serve this function.  In The Future of U.S.-China Relations, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the contributing authors cannot agree upon what China’s future will look like.  Ron Monteperto has an optimistic outlook.  He suggests that the CCP is increasingly irrelevant to people’s daily lives, and as a result the tendencies toward consumerism and pluralism in China will intensify.  Monteperto further postulates that China will continue to be communist, but pragmatic reforms will be implemented.  However, Ross Terrill sees no chance of reform of communism in China.  Neither does he see another Chinese political arrangement that is ready to fill the “vacuum” the waning of communism has left.  According to Terrill, Chinese leaders have never elucidated the objective of their reform, and this obscurity will lead to political crises.  Thus, Terrill depicts a dismal future for China, painting a picture of a “lawless lunge to pick power up from the floor.”  Keith Ehrenberg and Weiguo Zhang, like Monteperto, express a positive and pragmatic vision of China’s current and future global roles.

China’s Economic Future: Challenges to U.S. Policy, published by the Joint Economic Committee of the Congress of the United States, is a series of articles from different contributors presenting a wide range of views on Chinese economic reform, development, and future.  While some authors feel that China will move toward democracy, others suggest that a transition to democracy requires a strong economy, a position popular in Asia.  Despite the fact that the book is packed with such a rich variety of topics, there is a certain confusion between “democracy” and “market system.”  Democracy, freedom, and the market system are all separate concepts.

Charting China’s Future: Political, Social, and International Dimensions, edited by Jae Ho Chung, aspires to foresee what will happen with China in the coming decades.  Eight experts on China deliver highly intelligent analyses; each writes about a crucial facet of this subject.  All of them provide a set of imaginative yet empirically grounded scenarios and rank them in terms of likelihood.  Among them, Bruce Dickson scrutinizes the CCP’s tactics for survival and prospects for change.  Yawei Liu assesses grassroots electoral reforms and the ramifications for the future rule of law and democratization.  Tao-chiu Lam examines central-local relations and the likelihood of developing a federalist China.  Jae Ho Chung focuses upon social unrest and its consequences for regime stability.  Shiping Tang analyzes the international factors determining China’s developing path.  Peter H. Gries estimates the direction that Sino-American relations are heading by taking into consideration the variables at the system, state, and individual levels.  Jean-Pierre Cabestan inquires into the determinants of the prospective development of China-Taiwan relations.  Gilbert Rozman concludes by viewing China’s future in historical and comparative perspective.  The book’s overall projection conforms with the “authoritarian resilience” model, which is “a continued centralized CCP rule characterized by relatively successful domestic conflict management via experiments, adaptation, and containment.”

Charting China’s Future: Domestic and International Challenges, edited by David Shambaugh, informs readers of the complexities of today’s China and where these complexities may lead.  Shambaugh concentrates on the security dimension, describing a rather dire picture of a realist China unwilling to accept international norms.  Michael Yahuda provides an eloquent synopsis of China’s evolving ties with the Koreas and Japan.  Anne Booth offers an exceptional brief on China’s growing engagement with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, along with an analysis of China’s motivation in signing these free trade agreements.  Ramon Myers discusses the topic by looking at both economic and political matters.

In his heavily documented study, Remaking the Chinese Leviathan: Market Transition and the Politics of Governance in China, Dali Yang shows that Chinese leaders are shrewd and pragmatic, and will try every reform to improve governance.  The most fundamental bureaucratic reform, as Yang describes it, is China’s decision to accommodate the new business elite.  According to Yang, business groups are inclined to push for reforms to routinize their access to resources, hence improving policy making.  Yang also describes the numerous laws and regulations aimed at expanding transparency and creating a meticulous bureaucracy.  Nevertheless, just as Johnson and Gilley overstate the Chinese administration’s failings, Yang goes too far in affirming the country’s success.  Moreover, although business elites do not staunchly pledge to the party, neither are they likely to lead a charge against it.

The above outstanding collections of scholarly work on China’s future epitomize the differences among publications.  Acknowledging the importance of multi-authored collections is meant to encourage new scholarship that reflects the traditions of collaboration and diverse perspectives in the field.


A considerable amount of China studies scholarship is focused on futurology.  The books under review here may push scholars to publish more in order to further academic debate.  It is further anticipated that the books on China’s future discussed in this essay will become indispensable for students and researchers and a reference point for future developments for years to come.