Hu Jintao and the Ascendancy of China: A Dialectical Study

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Hu Jintao and the Ascendancy of China: A Dialectical Study, by Peter Yu KienHong. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2005. xiv + 240 pp. S$29.00/US$22.00 (paperback).

This title is a misnomer, because the book has virtually nothing to do with either Hu Jintao or the ascendancy of China. The book is an illogical, incoherent and at times absurd presentation of Peter Yu Kien-Hong's all-purpose dialectical model, which he says was fifteen years in the making and the basis of three books of which the present is the latest. Yu is determined to demonstrate that his model is so superior to all existing ones that it could even effect a "paradigm shift" in China studies (p. 197).

Yu initially attacks the so-called "non-dialectical" social science of the West for failing to illuminate Chinese reality (p. 48). Western authors avoid dialectical models, he says, because they fear rejection by their peers or the "better publishers" (p. 13). Implying that he speaks from personal experience, Yu nevertheless soldiers on in order to demonstrate the brilliance of his dialectical model.

The book's subject matter is indeterminate and ever-shifting. Yu variously states his ambition as to explore the CCP's survival prospects and chance of reunification with Taiwan, China's peaceful rise, the careers of Hu Jintao and all former Central Military Commission chairmen (p. xi and 6), and civil-military relations (p. 13), among other things, but he never follows through on any of them.

The prototype of the model consists of a linear spectrum with two opposing extremes, calibrated with the numbers 1 to 5 on the left and the letters A to E on the right, and capable of being extended along many time/space sequences. Political actors take positions along any given spectrum, either moving laterally "like crabs" or by leaping "like frogs" from one spectrum to another. Change requires reconciliation of two extremes or elimination of a right extreme by cooptation. The left extreme is, generally, more "progressive" and dominant, but political actors can sometimes move to (5), the border of the safe zone, and to justify this move will have to redefine (5) as new left (1) or left extreme, thereby creating an entirely new spectrum.

Yu's basic model of dualism which incorporates opposition, contradiction and struggle has some value in illustrating the ideological parameters and changes in Chinese political thinking and the range of policy options at particular times/junctures. But for a model to be truly useful the concepts must be carefully defined and assumptions always made explicit. The logic, rules and propositions used to connect the concepts and variables must also be clarified to facilitate verification of deductions made from them.

Yu has done none of this. He introduces a myriad of concepts, such as safe and danger zones, dialectical China and "rule of dialectic politics", without definition. Nor does he set up propositions and make deductions from them; instead he simply asserts. In Yu's view his model enables him uniquely to decipher the intentions and hidden meanings in the minds and behavior of Chinese political actors, and can therefore be applied infinitely to everything about China, encompassing inter alia its history, politics, economics, civil-military relations and foreign relations (p. …