Richard Baum: Obstacles to Political Reform in China

UCLA political scientist is interviewed by Five Books about the top books he recommends that look at obstacles to China’s reform:

What’s your sense of where the whole thing is headed?

I’m caught between these bookends that I described earlier. Some days I wake up and I think Minxin Pei has got it right, and other days I think Dali Yang has got it right. There’s simply no relevant precedent for what is happening in China. To date there has been no example of a successful, evolutionary post-Leninist transition. There have been a number of radical anti-Leninist overthrows and pro-Leninist backlashes, but nowhere else has there been a sustained effort to graft a modern, developed market economy on to the political framework of a one-party Leninist dictatorship. I’m just not sure it can be done.

I don’t want to sound too pessimistic. Maybe China does have a shot at emerging from all of this with a coherent political system that is not recognisably democratic in the Western sense. Maybe a kinder, gentler version of neo-Confucian paternalism can soften the iron fist of Leninism without forcing the party-state to relinquish its power monopoly. But I have my doubts that the current, corrupted relationship between political Leninism and bureaucratic capitalism is tenable in the long run.

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