How China will change in 30 years


“China in the Next 30 Years” is a new collection of 17 essays published in October 2011 on the future of China, of which eight authors are foreigners. This is one of the few books published simultaneously in Chinese and English. Reading the book in both the original and the translation gave me sometimes a completely different reading of the authors’ sentiments, and I had to go back often to the original to find out what the author was really trying to get at.

This is a valuable book, precisely because it reflects not only some of the leading thinkers in China, but also a number of very original thinkers outside looking in. The first essay by Michael Hudson of the Institute for Study of Long-term Economic Trends is nothing short of iconoclastic. He sees the era of debt-driven consumption in the West (1945-2010) coming to an end, and China in the next 30 years must not only avoid the finance, insurance and real estate bubble (FIRE) trap, where China will be blamed by the West, but also go down a path in strengthening its real economy, solving the wealth gap and improving efficiency (subject to ecological constraints).

The future economic prospects are considered by three leading Chinese thinkers. Professor Wu Jinglian, the most respected Chinese economist of his generation, argues that reforms have gone into deep waters due to the complex battle against vested interests and rent-seeking activities. There is no alternative except to deepen reforms, particularly rebalancing the playing field between minyin (private) enterprises and the dominant state-owned enterprises. Tsinghua University Professor Li Daokui suggests that the three great challenges facing sustainable development are an open mind, more inclusive and harmonious development and formulating China’s role in global affairs as a major power. Scholar Wang Huiyao examines the strengths and weakness of the “Chinese models of development.” He clearly recognizes that the pragmatic and adaptive models of the past may not work in the future as sustainable development faces a more complex, interactive and geopolitically fragile world, especially when it comes to issue of ecology, resources and energy.

The political challenges are considered by two thoughtful commentators. In considering Chinese politics within the geopolitical order, Peking University Professor Pan Wei argues that any bright prospects in the next 30 years will depend on three key conditions: no economic vacillation; no political distraction; and no international partiality. He refutes the argument that there has been no political reform, since the massive economic reforms could not have been possible without significant changes in China’s political system. At the same time, the pillar of China’s politics has been its civilizational constancy, based on its humanist democracy, meritocracy at all levels of government and a unified ruling group. Fellow Peking University Professor Yu Keping identifies the challenges of governance reform as social inequality, corruption, social instability, crime, environmental degradation and ignorance of citizens’ human rights. He recognizes the need for a realistic review of China’s socialist democratic theories, but also a rethink of popular Western democratic theories.