Beyond the Middle Kingdom: Comparative Perspectives on China's Capitalist Transformation

By Szepan, Marc | The China Journal, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Beyond the Middle Kingdom: Comparative Perspectives on China's Capitalist Transformation


Szepan, Marc, The China Journal


Beyond the Middle Kingdom: Comparative Perspectives on Chinas Capitalist Transformation, edited by Scott Kennedy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011. xviii + 256 pp. US$65.00 (hardcover), US$22.95 (paperback and eBook).

Although Chinas phenomenal development over the past three decades has attracted extensive scholarly attention, truly comparative, cross-national studies of Chinas transformation are largely conspicuous by their absence. China specialists have made the transition from a descriptive to an analytical mode and have applied a broad range of political theories to the study of China. However, more often than not, analyses of Chinese politics in general and China's political economy in particular have been informed by a scholarly tradition predicated, implicitly or explicitly, on a belief in China's distinctiveness that foregoes an expressly comparative perspective.

It is against this background that Scott Kennedy's edited book Beyond the Middle Kingdom: Comparative Perspectives on Chinas Capitalist Transformation is a highly welcome addition to the literature. It places the study of Chinese politics and political economy in an expressly comparative context and seeks "to demonstrate the utility of comparison for better understanding Chinese politics by presenting a nuanced picture that is obscured when the country is viewed in isolation" (p. 14).

Given the comparative agenda of this book, the editors and contributors are to be congratulated for engaging in empirically rich, small ?-comparisons involving China and a number of other countries and for transcending a mode of analysis that would limit comparative perspectives to the "usual suspect" group of East Asian developmental states. Instead, this book uses a geographically and typologically rich assortment of comparative cases which, in addition to East Asian developmental states like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, include post-Communist states such as Russia, emerging market economies such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa, and a mature industrial democracy such as France.

The book includes a thought-provoking introduction by editor Scott Kennedy, seven topical chapters contributed by prominent scholars Margaret M. Pearson, Andrew Wedeman, Mark M. Frazier, Scott Kennedy, Kellee S. Tsai and Victor Shih, and by China analyst and businessman Arthur R. Kroeber, with a thoughtful conclusion by Gregory J. Kasza, a leading Japan specialist. Chapters are grouped into two sections: the first addresses Chinas economic reform in the context of debate on "varieties of capitalism", while the second discusses interest groups in an authoritarian context.

Pearson kicks off the first section by discussing Chinas economic regulatory framework and by developing a "three tier" model- a top SOE-dominated tier, an intermediate tier featuring assertive industrial policy in parallel with strong competition involving Chinese and foreign firms, and a highly competitive and entrepreneurial bottom tier. Kroeber contrasts China's development approach with the East Asian developmental state paradigm and finds significant deviations due to China's size, its Communist legacy and a different international climate, as well as to pronounced weaknesses of China's political economy such as inequality and limited innovative capacity.

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