ISBN: 978-0-300-26636-8

John Mueller

Ohio State University & Cato Institute (US)

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This ambitious and impressive book by an MIT economist examines the vast expanse of Chinese history to distill four key characteristics which are then applied to China’s reformist era that began in 1978. Huang sees one of these, Exams, as the most foundational. This is the creation of a disciplined, deferential bureaucracy peopled by survivors of a competitive examination process involving the memorization of established texts. This bureaucracy has been central to China’s Autocracy and Stability, but it hampered Technology – particularly when it was unduly centralized – by stifling competition, invention, and innovation, something that happened as early as the sixth century. Freed from ancient empire as well as from brutal Communist mismanagement, the country blossomed in the 1980s – the heyday of reform, says Huang. All four of the traditional characteristics were reestablished with the Communist Party assuming the central bureaucratic role. However, the country was very decentralized, allowing for a form of crony capitalism in which local bureaucrats (often corruptly) worked with business entrepreneurs to power a surging gross domestic product. He sees the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 as a major turning point that brought on a growth-hampering retrenchment that has been dangerously accelerated by Xi Jinping. Fearing instability and an independent private sector, Xi has increasingly centralized power and weaponized his anti-corruption campaign to keep political opponents and the bureaucracy in line – and often in jail. Due to ‘current political realities’, Huang does not thank his research helpers in China or at MIT by name.