Critical Issues in Contemporary China

Article excerpt

Critical Issues in Contemporary China, edited by Czeslaw Tubilewicz. New York: Routledge; Hong Kong: Open University of Hong Kong Press, 2006. xvi + 269 pp. £75.00/US$135.00 (hardcover), £20.99/US$36.95 (paperback).

Critical Issues in Contemporary China presents a useful and engaging overview of some of the most serious domestic problems facing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership in the early 21st century. Reflecting on almost three decades of reform, this edited volume identifies key trends in China's contemporary development and draws attention to the tensions arising from weaknesses in the political system, growing social and economic disparities, environmental degradation, ethnic unrest, and volatile cross-Strait relations. To provide a sense of coherence, the chapters are organized around three interrelated themes - stability, sustainable development and territorial unity - representing core challenges to China's future development trajectory and, in turn, the legitimacy of the ruling Party.

Some of the critical questions which the book addresses include: can the leadership maintain its socialist credentials in the face of rising economic and social inequities? To what extent does environmental degradation threaten China's modernization drive? What population can China support? Is territorial fragmentation along ethnic lines a serious possibility?

Following an introductory chapter which elaborates upon the three central themes, the book begins with a focus on political developments post- 1949. Ng Ka Po describes in detail key transformations in Party ideology, incremental government reforms and grass-roots elections. According to his analysis, recent reforms have stopped short of acting as a genuine check on power and political excess. Even in the face of a revolution in information technologies, he argues that the leadership has managed to harness the benefits of the Internet for its own purposes while maintaining a degree of political control. The chapters following shift attention to economic reforms and consequences for socio-political stability. Bennis Wai Yip So provides an informative account of privatization; he is skeptical about the articulation of a blueprint from above and, instead, stresses the importance of spontaneous voluntary reform from below and the indispensable role of foreign direct investment. The privatization of social services has serious implications for the poorest segments of Chinese society, reinforcing the growing division between urban and rural areas. Wang Shaoguang addresses the question of uneven economic development in a chapter that examines both the economic and political determinants of regional disparities as well as the relevant policy responses. He concludes that the overriding problem lies in the grathent theory of development advocated in the 1980s which privileged coastal regions. Towards the end of the book, Colin Mackerras investigates some of the critical social issues which threaten stability, with particular attention given to gender inequality, unequal access to education, and health crises.

The theme of sustainable development is explored in reference to China's looming environmental crisis, population change and food security. Richard Louis Edmonds provides a comprehensive review of the scale and severity of China's environmental problems and offers an evaluation of some of the social, political and economic effects. …