China under Hu Jintao: Opportunities, Dangers, and Dilemmas

Article excerpt

China Under Hu Jintao: Opportunities, Dangers, and Dilemmas, edited by Tunjen Cheng, Jacques deLisle and Deborah Brown. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company, 2006. vi + 424 pp. US$78.00 (hard cover).

This timely and perceptive collection of articles explores the multiple challenges and opportunities confronting the fourth generation of Chinese leaders who came to power in 2002-03. Thirteen contributors discuss the crucial and pressing political, social and economic issues, and the contradictions and dilemmas they have presented. Because the book manuscript was probably completed in 2004, these articles either present a preliminary assessment of the new Hu administration or provide a valuable evaluation of the Jiang Zemin era as background to the transfer of power.

This volume begins with an excellent and insightful introduction that aptly summarizes and elaborates on the main ideas articulated in the articles. In Part I, on political institutions, Joseph Fewsmith discusses the forces promoting institutionalization in the PRC and finds them inadequate at fostering legalrational authority, because the party not only dominates state and economy but is also above the law. Although incentives exist and leadership expresses a desire to transform the CCP from a revolutionary party into a ruling party and build strong bureaucratic institutions, leaders still frequently resort to personalistic power out of a sense of anxiety and a position of insecurity. The same applies to political succession-leaders must still rely on cronyism and factions in order to obtain leverage.

Yanzhong Huang demonstrates that the situation is similar with the state, as two decades of administrative reforms, which have fostered some professionalization and functional differentiations, has not created a rationallegal order or a bureaucracy which fully serves the interests of society. Instead, the state has been transformed into a bloated, self-serving and deceptive entity afflicted with the vices of patronage and corruption, and which is unaccountable to its constituents. Bureaucratic and fiscal decentralization only aggravates fragmentation and rent-seeking activities among local state officials.

By taking a different perspective in explaining the resilience of the CCP, Bruce Dickson draws attention to the Party's flexible and adaptive tactics for survival. An example is the co-optation of the new entrepreneurial and technocratic elite, via the theory of "Three Represents", in order to broaden the Party's support base. Such a move may stabilize the political system in the short run, Dickson argues, but it is no guarantee for the Party's future survival, as Chinese society is becoming increasingly pluralistic.

In Part II, Edward Friedman hypothesizes that the severe regional economic disparities have created contending and hostile political cultures of regional "winners", North and South, and "losers", Center and West. This argument, however, is based on anecdotal evidence, and is obscured by his incoherent and discursive treatment of the subject. A contribution by Tun-jen Cheng surveys recent and explosive developments in information technology that have turned China into a world leader in IT production and brought about an increasingly wired polity and society. This development, he argues, has facilitated such things as economic competitiveness but is also undermining the regime's efforts at social and political control through monopolization of information. While in the short run Chinese society will learn to live with this through self-censorship, the necessary monitoring will eventually become ineffectual and costs will grow prohibitive.

Turning to political economy, Xiaobo Hu demonstrates how decentralization and state-owned enterprise (SOE) reforms have benefited local government officials, who are uniquely well-positioned to take advantage of newly-granted property rights, and who have metamorphosed into a powerful "bureaupreneurial" class particularly influential over state policies. …