you're reading...
The Book Club

David Shambaugh’s “China’s Future”

Taken from https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41g59BlmOoL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg.This is part of my “A Book A Week” endeavour, an extension of The Book Club I started on this blog when I was completing my National Service.

Reading David Shambaugh’s “China’s Future” as the proceedings of the country’s 19th Party Congress unfolded in October this year – with leader of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping delivering a three-and-a-half-hour speech before his name was added to the party’s constitution, and the reveal of the new Politburo Standing Committee – was initially interesting, because one could evaluate the accuracy of his forecasts. Yet the book never goes beyond the tired, reductive liberal democracy-authoritarianism dichotomy, and as a result too reads more like an exhaustive list of Chinese economic, societal, political, and geopolitical problems (the four chapters after the introduction are organised as such), rather than a critical analysis.

The thesis of “China’s Future” is straightforward. That China and its ruling party will have to choose from four pathways – neo-totalitarianism, hard authoritarianism, soft authoritarianism, and semi-democracy – and the preferred choice, in the view of the writer, is the fourth: “Without a return to a path of political reform, with a substantial liberalisation and loosening of many aspects of the relationship between the party-state and society, there will continue to be very marginal reform and social progress”. In other words, the aforementioned problems would worsen, if the country continues along its present trajectory. Be that as it may (with the economic references to “the Middle Income Trap” and the “Lewis Turning Point”) the underlying assumption is that China is no different from case studies which have come before it, and therefore would regress to the mean in the absence of reforms. In this vein, its historical achievements or progress are not given due attention.

Throughout the book, furthermore, there is no acknowledgement that the country could – atypically – defy existing models of development. Neither is there the recognition that many of the problems are not unique to China alone. Nor is there an evaluation of the trade-offs or constraints that Chinese leaders will face, and instead that single argument of democratisation is constantly repeated.

And in this approach, Shambaugh keeps turning to “the Singaporean model” as the supposed template that China should follow, ignoring obvious differences – among others – in country size, histories, and culture, and at the same time overlooking flaws within the Singaporean system. “Singapore’s ruling [party] was a model for emulation”, he wrote, “that tolerated symbolic opposition, promoted a market economy, and ruled by legal edicts enforced by pliant courts”. Even so, observers have found fault with this model of semi-democracy, and if China does make the desired transition to such a model, would the call for more liberal democracy persist (as it is in Singapore, at the moment)? A more compelling forecast of China’s future should go beyond conventional frameworks, and unfortunately they are not found in this book.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow guanyinmiao's musings on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,404 other followers


  • RT @lupcheong: Just because you can snap a photo of foreign workers who mostly have no idea of their rights in a foreign land and are gener… 33 minutes ago
  • "The Democratic debate over free college is in fact part of a deeper disagreement about how best to structure a wel… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 1 hour ago
  • RT @howcomeyousmell: I like how ppl talk about details of the afterlife with so much certainty. lol bro how tf do u know? ur just guessing… 1 hour ago
  • RT @ScottMAustin: WeWork's co-founder/CEO Adam Neumann has cashed out at least $700 million through stock and debt ahead of a possible IPO… 1 hour ago
  • RT @ryanclinton: I recognize there are important things happening in the world right now but our baby is showing pictures of dogs to our do… 2 hours ago
%d bloggers like this: