Over the past three decades, China’s rulers have relinquished a vast amount of political authority in order to pursue breakneck economic development. Unlike Maoist totalitarianism modern Chinese authoritarianism does not demand total submission from its subjects. It has innovated, gained in sophistication, and gathered more diverse tools for repression. Edward Steinfeld overlooks this essence of Chinese authoritarianism as he forecasts its end, and he mistakes its willingness to adapt for its potential for demise.
Conventional wisdom holds that political liberalization in China has lagged behind economic reforms. Steinfeld disputes this claim and contends that numerous shifts underway in China—including the changing composition of the ruling elite, the pluralization of society and politics, and the dynamism of the economy—contain the ingredients for the country’s transition out of authoritarian rule.
(photo credit: Erik Charlton)