From Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin: Two Decades of Political Reform in the People's Republic of China

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From Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin: Two Decades of Political Reform in the People's Republic of China, by Yiu-chung Wong. Lanham: University Press of America, 2005. xii + 361 pp. US$46.00 (paperback).

Unfortunately, this book still bears the marks of the PhD thesis on which it is based. While its focus is on the political structural reforms undertaken in China between 1979 and 2000, the account is not enhanced by the retention of sections that are essential for a thesis but detract from a book. For example, the literature review in Chapter 1 seems out of place in a book. The theoretical framework, which draws heavily on American political science of the 1960s and 1970sseeing modernization in terms of overcoming crises of national identity, legitimacy, penetration, participation and distribution-does not shed any startling insights on the material. Even the time frame smacks of a thesis needing an artificial cut-off point-a problem that is not overcome by having a brief discussion of the post-Jiang Zemin era in Chapter 8.

The book also suffers from a marked lack of editorial oversight. Clearly, proofreading has become an optional extra for this publisher. There are an unacceptably high number of spelling, grammatical and typographical errors throughout the work. My copy also had page 72 repeated and page 70 missing. The odd factual error, such as stating that Zhou Enlai died in April 1976 (p. 130), merely adds to the impression that nobody bothered to check the manuscript.

That said, if the reader can overlook these drawbacks, the book does cover a grand sweep of Chinese politics in the first two decades of the reform period. In so doing, it engages many of the issues and debates and provides an overview of the salient political events of the era. Its discussion of the cycles of relaxation and tightening of Party controls (periods of fang and shou) in the political and economic realms is well handled. In particular, it is noted that in the 1980s these cycles were closely aligned but in the 1990s they diverged, with tightening in the political sphere taking place at the same time as relaxation in the economic sphere.

Not surprisingly, the Tiananmen protests are seen as a watershed. Prior to them, there was considerable emphasis on restructuring the Party-state apparatus. …


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