Josh Freedman reviews two new studies of Chinese political models
The past forty years of economic reform have vaulted China into the upper echelons of global wealth and power, but it has come at a high social cost. China is wealthier than ever, but inequality is rampant, individuals feel unmoored, and there is no sense of public trust.
Where can China go from here? In 2012, the prominent Chinese sociologist and public intellectual Sun Liping summarized the state of China’s intellectual discourse by outlining (in Chinese) four possible directions for China’s future. China’s leaders could return to the recent past, reviving the egalitarian populism of Maoist socialism. On the other extreme, the country could double down on privatizing the economy, “deepening reforms” along the lines preferred by the business class. Alternatively, given the entrenched barriers to any major transition, the Party-state could simply try to preserve the status quo. Or, finally, it could opt for a more comprehensive reassessment of the basic premises of reform, and forge a new path based on some combination of institutions that combine constitutional politics and economic fairness.