Guest Editors' Introduction: The Great Convergence? China and the United States in the New Century

Article excerpt

China was an important subject of sociological inquiry in the classic works of Marx and Weber and one of the important powers in Wallerstein's world-system theory (1974). It is perhaps less well known that China also plays a role in the development of modernization theory - another mainstay of comparative theories. Alexander (1995) argues that the modernization theory was first adumbrated not by Parsons, Bellah, Eisenstadt, Kerr, Inkeles, Moore or Smelser but was born with the publication of Marion Levy's 1949 classic book- The Family Revolution in Modern China.

In light of recent world events, it may be appropriate to revisit some of the archetypal sociological questions: Is the world moving toward convergence or is the world becoming more divergent? More specifically, does world development have a destination or is the world converging toward the center?

Perhaps more than their European counterparts, U.S. social scientists are likely to believe in the concept of progress and in the purposeful march of history. They also have theories to justify it. Fukuyama's epic book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) is a testament to this approach.

History, however, is not a straightforward thoroughfare. Thirty years ago, when China began its economic reform by loosening the government's stiff grip of a socialist, centrally planned economy (or command and control economy), the Western world began its own deregulation process under the leadership of then U.S. president Ronald Reagan and British prime ministet Margaret H. Thatcher. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 further hastened the pace of more free markets and entrepreneurialism. The world has indeed developed according to the free market model. Within the academic world, Fukuyama (1992) pronounced the victory for social democratic and free market ideology over all other rival ideologies and declared the "end of history": social democracy and a free market is the ideology of the "last man." While the United States was feted and lionized for its economic success and domination in the 1990s, China, India, and others quietly caught up in the development of their economies with less government regulation than in the past, but these governments continued to have more control than the United States and Great Britain have over their economies. The world, however, developed in one direcrion: less government regulation and more free markets.

During the Bush administration (2000-2008), deregulation feigned on Wall Street. While the U.S. government constantly preached sound and prudent financial policy to the rest of the world, it continued to deregulate its own economy despite warning signs. It was believed that somehow the United States could be spared all troubles of the third world nations - a version of American exceptionalism.

The summer and fall of 2008 would prove to be memorable times for comparative researchers. On the one hand, China successfully hosted the Summer Olympics and its astronauts walked in space for the first time. These events were watched by millions of people around the globe. The success overshadowed the milk crisis that hit China in mid-September and the dismal stock market performance since January 2008. China enjoyed unprecedented international prestige and its government rode a wave of pride and patriotism within China.

Despite economic reform, all banks in China are state-owned lenders run by Chinese Communist Party apparatchiks, known more for a legacy of bad debts. For many years, Western scholars had warned of the inefficiency of the Chinese banking system. Gordon Chang, for example, predicted the demise of China in his controversial 200 1 book The Coming Collapse of China. Nicholas Vardy, chief investment officer of London, warned more specifically of the inevitable collapse of China's banks (2007). In contempt of repeated Western advice, the Chinese banking system appeared to have been spared the current wotld credit crisis. …