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About this book

The success or failure of China's development will impact not only its own citizens but also those of the world. China is widely recognized as a global actor on the world stage and no global challenge can be resolved without its participation. Thus, it is important to understand how the country is ruled and what the policy priorities are of the new leadership. Can China move to a more market-based economy, while controlling environmental degradation? Can it integrate hundreds of millions of new migrants into the urban landscape? The tensions between communist and capitalist identities continue to divide society as China searches for a path to modernization.

The People's Republic is now over sixty-five years old – an appropriate juncture at which to reassess the state of contemporary Chinese politics. In this substantially revised fourth edition and essential guide to the subject, Tony Saich delivers a thorough introduction to all aspects of politics and governance in post-Mao China, taking full account of the changes of the Eighteenth Party Congress and the Twelfth National People's Congress. Further, the rise of Xi Jinping to power and his policies are examined as are important policy areas such as urbanization and the fight against corruption.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Diversity within Unity

Some years ago, I was in a jeep driving down a mountain road in rural Sichuan and was held up by a long queue of traffic meandering down the hill to a new bridge that was being dedicated. Getting out of the jeep I wandered down to the bridge to witness an elaborate ceremony complete with the lighting of incense and various actions to ward off the evil spirits. Somewhat facetiously, I began to ask those waiting what the Communist Party must think about this ceremony as it clearly represented an example of ‘superstitious practice’ so soundly denounced during the Cultural Revolution (1976–77) and still denounced today, albeit with less severity. I was greeted with puzzled faces before one person replied that the man in the exotic robes leading the ceremony was the party secretary. As the most important person in the village, he had no choice but to dedicate a new bridge that would link it to the world outside and bring greater wealth.
Tony Saich

Chapter 2. Political History: 1949–2012

The political history of post-1949 China covers a dramatic story that has seen the nation develop from one of the poorest to become an economic powerhouse and an increasingly influential global player. The history contains numerous twists and turns as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sought to find a suitable path for development. The initial flirtation with the Soviet model, which conflicted in some fundamental ways with the pre-1949 experiences, was dumped by the mid-1950s. Instead, the CCP launched its own path to development that led to economic and political chaos through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Finally, through the 1980s and beyond the CCP experimented with a variant of the kind of authoritarian politics combined with a guided market economy that has proven successful in other East Asian countries (see Amsden, 1989; Wade, 1990). China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the new century provided a huge economic boost and the CCP gained further confidence in its own development path following the global financial crisis of 2008–09. This chapter reviews first the framework of the debates and tensions within the revolutionary inheritance, how Mao Zedong and the CCP moved from triumph to disaster, from state-building to state destruction, and how the post-Mao leadership has wrestled with those legacies to maintain its grip on power and develop the economy.
Tony Saich

Chapter 3. China’s New Leaders and Their Challenges: 2012-Present

In November 2012, seven men in dark suits, six sporting red ties, the other a blue one, were unveiled as the new members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Central Committee. It might take more than one maverick sporting a blue tie amidst the red to devise creative policy solutions for China’s future challenges. There is a general consensus that the economic model that has served China so well in the past must undergo fundamental changes to maintain economic momentum, while the country will face increasing social challenges (for example, an ageing workforce, the integration of hundreds of millions of migrants into urban areas) and the political challenges posed by endemic corruption, the aspirations of the expanding middle class, and new social media. The new leadership under General Secretary Xi Jinping has made a bold start at dealing with the legacies and future challenges. They have chosen to reassert the primacy of the party and exert a tighter control over state and society, than has been the case for many years, while trying to make more effective use of the market in the economy. This strong policy beginning is all the more striking given the disturbance that the purge of Bo Xilai created during the planning of the succession.
Tony Saich

Chapter 4. The Chinese Communist Party

While the CCP has resisted all attempts to challenge its political power, the reforms have led intentionally and unintentionally to significant changes in its role in the political system, its relationship to state and society, its capacity to command obedience and its membership. It is clear that the CCP today, while still committed to a Leninist model of political control, is far from the party that set the reforms in motion in the late 1970s. Policy within the party and its relationship with other institutions is more contested than in the past. With 86.7 million members (2014) it is an extremely diverse organization with a wide range of political beliefs represented. This chapter first reviews the party’s organizational structure and membership and then looks at the political culture of the party and its changing role in the political system.
Tony Saich

Chapter 5. The Central Governing Apparatus

Post-Mao policy has led to a revitalization of the state sector, with a renewed stress not only on the state’s economic functions but also its legislative and representative functions. Four sets of pressures have pushed this process along. First, there is the performance deficit inherited from the Mao years when government efficiency was low, the state intrusive, law arbitrary if it existed, and citizens’ rights subject to the whim of local officials. Second, the emphasis on economic reform required the state to withdraw from its previous overbearing role and reduce administrative interference, which led to a major redistribution of power both horizontally and vertically, with significant de facto powers being decentralized to lower-level administrative units (see Chapter 6). This was compounded by global economic competition and China’s integration into the world economy. Third, the information revolution has built on these two factors and revealed the gap between performance in the public and private sectors. Also, it has allowed citizens greater access to information through which they can evaluate the performance of their government. Fourth, there has been pressure to increase levels of accountability, either through village elections that were introduced to fill the institutional vacuum left in the country’s villages (see pp. 213–17) or through the expansion of non-state organizations.
Tony Saich

Chapter 6. Governance Beyond the Centre

The relationship between the centre and the localities has undergone significant changes with the reforms. This chapter outlines the organization of government away from the centre and then examines the role of the province in the political system. The reforms have also led to significant regional inequality that is providing a major challenge to governance. Finally, the chapter reviews the changing centre-local relationship, especially as it has been affected by the fiscal reforms. While the centre tries to exert political control over the localities through the system of party-sanctioned appointments of leading personnel — the nomenklatura system — its fiscal capacity and its moral authority have declined. State revenues amounted to only 22.7 per cent of GDP in 2013, down from 36 per cent in 1978, and most localities increasingly have had to deal themselves with the serious problems that confront them. At one point the revenues had dropped as low as 11 per cent. The decline in state revenues created pressures at all levels and in all government agencies to meet recurrent costs from locally generated sources. Increasingly, political outcomes are determined by local power structures and resource allocations. Within the same province and even in adjacent counties one can see radically different socio-political outcomes deriving from the reforms.
Tony Saich

Chapter 7. The Chinese State and Society

The reforms have wrought significant changes in the relationship between state and society, including the nature of participation and protest. This chapter first reviews the Mao years and the legacies it inherited from traditional China. Second, it looks at how the reforms have impacted on state-society relations. We then look at the changing nature of sanctioned and unsanctioned participation and protest.
Tony Saich

Chapter 8. Urbanization and Rural-Urban Relations

In 2011, for the first time, over 50 per cent of China’s population lived in urban areas. This was a significant milestone in the country’s modernization and the new leadership has clearly identified successful urbanization as intrinsic to the nation’s future. In March 2014, it issued an ambitious, comprehensive plan to govern the process that estimated 60 per cent of the population would live in cities by 2020 (National New-type Urbanization Plan, 2014). Continued urbanization is seen as meeting two key objectives. First, it is expected to keep up the level of economic growth but, more importantly, urbanization will aid the shift to domestic consumption as a key driver of growth as export demand slows or stagnates. Second, moving more people to the cities is seen as the best way to reduce the level of inequality in China that is driven mainly by the rural-urban divide. Concentrating more of the population in the cities will also facilitate the more effective provision of public services, such as education and healthcare, and allow more people access to insurance schemes. However, the leadership is very wary about concentrating the population in mega-cities because of concerns about potential social instability and governability. Thus, the preference is for the development of small and medium towns (chengzhenhua) rather than the expansion of major cities (chengshihua or dushihua).
Tony Saich

Chapter 9. Economic Policy

The ‘Decision’ released by the Third Plenum of the Eighteenth CC (November 2013) is a remarkable document that critiques the reform approach to date and proposes a significant shift in the relationship between the role of government and that of the market. It is all the more remarkable given that the economy grew at over 10 per cent per annum under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s leadership (2002–2012). Yet even Wen had declared the current growth model to be ‘unbalanced, unstable, uncoordinated, and unsustainable’. Indeed, the priorities of Hu and Wen were remarkably similar to those of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang: increase the role of the market in resource allocations, reform the state-owned enterprises, stimulate the non-state sector, cut the red tape and corruption, and reform the financial system so that investment will be allocated more efficiently. Yet on the economic front not much happened in terms of reform and the strength of ‘vested interests’ grew to frustrate further reform and many began to think of the Hu period as a lost decade.
Tony Saich

Chapter 10. Social Policy

The impact of reforms on social policy has been no less dramatic than on economic policy. Reforms have produced new inequalities, a dramatic rise in the disparity between welfare provision in rural and urban China and an abandonment of the compact for cradle-to-grave social welfare for the privileged industrial working class. While the reforms may have raised the standard of living for the vast majority and shifted China along the road to a market economy, the country’s policy-makers have encountered considerable problems devising policies to bridge the social transition. State and collective institutions in rural and urban China that previously carried much of the welfare burden have been dismantled and policy-makers have struggled to devise new policies and institutions to carry the burden.
Tony Saich

Chapter 11. Foreign Policy

The unprecedented level of China’s integration into the global economy, energy markets and foreign reserves accumulation, its role in climate change and other environmental challenges are forcing fundamental changes in its relatively passive international position. These factors have added to significant challenges provided by the end of the Cold War at the beginning of the 1990s, the US-China agreement on WTO entry at the end of the 1990s, and China’s analysis of US power following the global financial crisis of 2008–09. The end of US-Soviet superpower rivalry meant that China had to reconfigure its international position without the room for manoeuvre that had been offered by the Cold War. It also brought the latent antagonisms in the relationship with the US to the forefront. China’s entry into the WTO builds on the extraordinary economic integration into the world economy that has taken place since the reforms began and reveals the commitment of its leaders to being an active member of the world economic community. At the same time, it presents new challenges for the leadership in terms of just how much foreign presence China is willing to tolerate and how destabilizing the foreign presence will be to domestic industry. The US focus on the ‘War on Terrorism’ after 11 September 2001 has brought unexpected benefits for China as it has quietened the ‘China as a threat’ voices, but it has raised fears about potential US unilateralism following the 2003 war with Iraq.
Tony Saich

Chapter 12. China’s Future Challenges

There is no doubt that China’s economic reforms have been a success in allowing hundreds of millions to lift themselves out of poverty and in building a new middle class. This has created a confidence among many in China that its model of development is suitable for its own circumstances and may even have relevance for others. At times this tips over into arrogance and assertive nationalism; there is also, however, an underlying uncertainty about the future. The country is still not as strong and wealthy as its leaders desire. The growth of the economy, its key position in the global production chain and its permanent seat on the UN Security Council all mean that it is being taken increasingly seriously in world affairs. However, there are considerable challenges ahead facing its economic transformation and it has not clearly identified its role in the international community. This final chapter looks at four additional challenges that the CCP must confront if it is to complete a successful transition to a wealthy and strong nation. The first is whether China can develop a sustainable model of development that overcomes significant environmental damage and can deal with resource constraints. The second is the systemic corruption that has arisen because of economic opportunity combined with the lack of accountability. The third challenge is presented by the new social media. The fourth concerns the dangers that arise from insufficient administrative and political reform.
Tony Saich
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