China’s Troubled Bourbons

by Minxin Pei Minxin Pei is Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and a non-resident senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. 01.11.2012


Sometimes the books that a country’s top leaders read can reveal a lot about what they are thinking. So one of the books recently read by some of the incoming members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the country’s top decision-making body, may come as a surprise: Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the Revolution.

These leaders – to whom the CCP is about to pass the baton at its 18th congress, scheduled for November 8 – reportedly not only read Tocqueville’s diagnosis of social conditions on the eve of the French Revolution, but also recommended it to their friends. If so, the obvious question is why China’s future rulers are circulating a foreign classic on social revolution.

The answer is not hard to find. In all likelihood, these leaders sense, either instinctively or intellectually, an impending crisis that could imperil the CCP’s survival in the same way that the French Revolution ended Bourbon rule.

Telltale signs of anxiety are already visible......

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A Book Introduction:

Double Paradox: Rapid Growth and Rising Corruption in China [Paperback] by Andrew Wedeman

April 3, 2012

According to conventional wisdom, rising corruption reduces economic growth. And yet, between 1978 and 2010, even as officials were looting state coffers, extorting bribes, raking in kickbacks, and scraping off rents at unprecedented rates, the Chinese economy grew at an average annual rate of 9 percent. In Double Paradox, Andrew Wedeman seeks to explain why the Chinese economy performed so well despite widespread corruption at almost kleptocratic levels.

Wedeman finds that the Chinese economy was able to survive predatory corruption because corruption did not explode until after economic reforms had unleashed dynamic growth. To a considerable extent corruption was also a by-product of the transfer of undervalued assets from the state to the emerging private and corporate sectors and a scramble to capture the windfall profits created by their transfer. Perhaps most critically, an anticorruption campaign, however flawed, has proved sufficient to prevent corruption from spiraling out of control. Drawing on more than three decades of data from China-as well as examples of the interplay between corruption and growth in South Korea, Taiwan, Equatorial Guinea, and other nations in Africa and the Caribbean-Wedeman cautions that rapid growth requires not only ongoing and improved anticorruption efforts but also consolidated and strengthened property rights.

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