Lots of buzz out there regarding James Mann’s new, 127 page book, The China Fantasy. I have not yet read the book so this post is based only on snippets from the book and on what I have read about the book.
According to Mann, we have no reason to believe China is democratizing or will democratize and any such belief is a fantasy. Economic growth does not necessarily translate into political growth.
I have come to agree that political liberalization need not necessarily follow economic liberalization, at least not at the same speed. Nonetheless, I do see China very, very, slowly becoming more democratic. For example, I see changes occurring in China’s legal system that likely will eventually increase judicial independence. The new property rights law will have to have some democratizing impact. I do not see the Party relinquishing much power within, let’s say, the next ten years, but I think it somewhat presumptuous even to make predictions much beyond that.
The Washington Post published a thoughtful review of Mann’s book, written by Margaret MacMillan, a professor of history at the University of Toronto and author of Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World. Ms. MacMillan sees Mann’s book as raising the “awkward and important question” of whether “there is a third alternative between the rise of democracy and the collapse of China’s political order”:
What if that alternative is the survival of the one-party state, with all its apparatus of control and repression? In an era when capitalists can join the party built by Mao, the Chinese communists have already shown how adept they are at changing their spots. What would it mean for the United States — and, indeed, the world — if 20 or 30 years from now a much richer and more powerful China proved to be every bit as authoritarian a state as it is today? What if that China were one in which the middle classes decided, much as they did in Hitler’s Germany, to opt for stability and prosperity over democracy?
Like all good polemics, this one raises more questions than it answers. Can the Chinese Communist Party, which now numbers some 70 million people, really be as monolithic or as cunning as he suggests? Is the American establishment really of one mind on China? Is there no possibility of the Chinese middle classes, or at least part of them, joining forces with the country’s long-suffering peasants to push for greater democracy? We will have to wait and see, but, in the meantime, Mann has done a fine job of making sure that we won’t do so complacently.
What do you think?