The End of China’s Reform Era

We often think of China as a strong rival that may threaten American political values. But that has not always been the case: China’s inception in 1948 saw a very weak state led by an idealist demagogue who sought to promote socialism as Chinese national doctrine in spite of the two-thousand-year-old tradition of Confucianism. However, by 1978, there was a fundamental shift in Chinese governance to allow for more economic and ideological liberalism. Under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping, political norms were partially institutionalized and one could enjoy freedom in the private sphere. And yet today as China continues to be on the rise, there is another fundamental shift underway.

Carl Minzner, Professor of Law at Fordham University, argues that the economics, ideology, and politics of China are coming into a new era. He claims that since 2012, it’s become clear that the rapid economic growth that the country experienced for two decades prior is diminishing, and China is turning inward on itself ideologically. The leadership has begun to reject collective leadership and instead voted to once again endow national power into a single person, Xi Jinping. The mission has become balancing a renewed popular interest in Confucianism with Marxism-Leninism to craft state ideology, aptly named “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” 

Minzner is one of the first scholars to have latched onto the idea that Xi is a different kind of leader than Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, the successors of Deng who carried the torch through the end of the reform era. He does not argue that Xi is a new Mao, but it is clear politically that Xi is breaking some of the barriers that were imposed by his predecessors. By abolishing term limits for presidential and vice presidential positions, Xi can now rule China for life. But because this only happened last March, it is unclear how this will ultimately affect both Chinese domestic politics and China’s external relations as a whole in the long run. It is certainly safe to say that China has entered a post-reform era, redefining state economics, ideology, and politics.

To learn more about Carl Minzner's work on China, check out his most recent book, End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining its Rise. To learn more about his other work, you can click hereMinzner’s talk today was a conversation with CSCC Research Associate Neysun Mahboubi.

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