In Search of Wealth and Power: The Nature of the Chinese State and Limits to Change

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Law, Wealth and Power in China: Commercial Law Reforms in Context, 2011, pp. 53 - 71
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It is common in the academic literature to characterize China's 'reform and opening' (gaige kaifang) since 1978 in terms of transition of various kinds. Politically, change is often described as a transition from totalitarianism or dictatorship to authoritarianism, soft authoritarianism, and so on. Economically, it is widely perceived to be a transition from a planned to market economy, or from socialism to capitalism. Numerous consequences and manifestations of the process have been mentioned. Above all, there is something approaching consensus that economic and political transition is accompanied by a shift from rule by decree (or the rule of man) to the rule oflaw or rule by law; state power has dwindled and a civil society with middle classes has emerged to alter the power imbalance between the state and society in the latter's favour. These developments bode well for China's democratization and fledgling market. The magnitude and depth of change in China in the past three decades or so are hardly disputable. The question is whether or not the change constitutes a transition that is conceived as a substantive transformation from one economic-political system to another, a linear movement from point A to point B, or, as in official CPC communications, a retreat from more to less advanced stages of socialism. It may well be that what analysts call 'transitional phenomena', particularly the abnormal or hybrid features of the Chinese state including the market and legal systems, are actually longlasting or even permanent. If so, claims of transition and forward projections based on such assumptions may be misguided and misleading. It is thus necessary to question these assumptions and relocate the analysis of China's current transformation out of transitional frameworks. A more rewarding approach would encompass historical continuity as well as change and take hybridity seriously instead of treating it as something transient.
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