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China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy Hardcover – March 31, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0674021952 ISBN-10: 0674021959
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Editorial Reviews


Minxin Pei is unquestionably one of this country's best informed and most insightful analysts of contemporary Chinese politics. This well-written, provocative book­-a sobering picture of a China beset by severe social problems yet resistant to the political reforms needed to resolve them-­directly challenges much of the conventional wisdom about the rise of China. It is certain to be welcomed by scholars, policymakers, and general readers alike.
--Elizabeth J. Perry, author of Patrolling the Revolution

In this superb work, Pei asks penetrating questions about the course of China's development. He offers a very effective critique of the gradualist approach to reform, explaining that the problems China faces are not incidental to but an integral part of that approach. Powerfully argued, this is a major contribution sure to stir debate.
--Joseph Fewsmith, author of China since Tiananmen

Pei's notion of a 'trapped transition' will prove valuable­-and not just for its application to China. It serves to challenge the deterministic and evolutionary assumptions behind much of the literature on democratization.
--Philippe C. Schmitter, European University Institute

Not only does Minxin Pei make the case that the Chinese reforms are partial and self-limiting, but he also calls into question the hopeful view that rapid growth will ultimately generate political reform. His important book has implications for current debates about the United States-China relationship, but will also force a rethinking of the broader comparative literature on the developmental state.
--Stephan Haggard, co-author of The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions

Thought-provoking...Mr. Pei argues, persuasively, that China's gradualism, often favourably contrasted with the former Soviet Union's flirtation with radical reforms, is as much a political as an economic strategy.
--Martin Wolf (Financial Times 2006-05-31)

Pei does not have much time for the optimistic assumption that democracy in China is just around the corner...For Pei, there is little chance of dethroning the Communist party behemoth in spite of the heroic efforts of the dissidents and democracy campaigners.
--Chris Patten (Financial Times 2006-06-12)

As Pei sees it, big trouble looms [for China]. Continued progress toward a more modern economy will require the establishment of a true rule of law, which in turn will require 'institutional curbs' on governmental action. These two limitations on power are incompatible with the party's insistence on dominating society. So long as the current political framework remains in place, then, China is effectively, and perhaps fatally, trapped in its state of transition...[China's Trapped Transition presents a] comprehensive and, I believe, compelling understanding of present-day China.
--Gordon G. Chang (Commentary 2006-09-01)

[An] acute and insightful examination of China's ongoing transition.
--Chris Hunter (China Economic Review 2006-10-01)

Pei's most significant contribution lies in his lucid exposition of the causal links between the structural logic of China's "illiberal adaptation" and its manifest socio-economic and political consequences...He has arguably--like Elvin before him--raised the level of debate and altered the terms of engagement.
--Richard Baum (China Journal 2007-01-01)

About the Author

Minxin Pei is Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government and Roberts Fellow, and the director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674021959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674021952
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,844,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Daniel H. Geng on May 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those who's never been to China or lived there, this book might be a little out of their scope. Afterall, the only things you hear in the news are how if Walmart were a country, it'd be China's 7th biggest trading partner, or how Intel is building their fabs in China (away from Shanghai towards inland to further reduce cost). For those people, go read on how China will take over the world economically by the middle of this century and believe what you want.

For those who Does have any clue about China's political system is keenly aware that the entire Chinese economy is still tied into the political system, and that is just a time bomb waiting to explode. If the CCP were to collapse, half of the country's wealth will be exported and rest will go down with the defunct banking system. This book digs into the depth of the current geo-political situation, and is so accurate that the People's Congress is taking note and implementing changes (albeit slowly) previously pointed out by the author. If you want to know the REAL story behind the Chinese economic system and where it'll truely head in the next several decades, this is THE book to read. Not some "economic model that projects blah, blah, blah and threaten's US's position in the world," where the author is totally cluelss of all fundamentals of the Chinese economy other than published economic numbers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gervais Lavoie on August 9, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Pei did an excellent work. He supports his argumentation with elaborate research including facts and numbers. The recent elimination of Bo Xilai tends to confirm that China is effectively trapped. And as of now, most of the problems identified by Pei do not seems to disappear but to be more and more accurate.
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18 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mukeli on December 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Pei is well known is his field for writing about the political divide between the CCP and the Chinese people. This book does an excellent job in covering the realities of the economic and political situations within China. The vast majority of the book is actually quite an easy read, but the beginning of the book can be challenging for those that aren't use to conceptual models (hence 4 stars).

I highly recommend that those interested in China read this book. While I do not agree with specific points, Pei's general ideas are sound and provide lots to think about. China's government (read the CCP) must withdraw from the market if the economic reforms laid down by Deng Xiaoping are to continue and be successful. However, as Pei points out, by withdrawing from the markets, the CCP will lose a lot of its hard power.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is carefully researched and benefits by the authors access and ongoing monitoring of Chinese sources. He's able to capture nuance that others have missed. It's a particularly important work since it also addresses and is even caught up in a thread in international development literature that predicts that growth in a nation's wealth and in related differentiation of labor and interest groups will lead to democracy. A major thesis of the book is that this isn't happening in China because CPC regime stability requires side payments to various corrupt and well placed elites to remain in power AND that a major concern of the CPC is to maintain a monopoly of power. This is certainly important and well documented but doesn't really do enough to question the veracity of the core theory. In fact it's odd that after generations of U.S. policy failures predicated on a link between foreign aid, FDI, wealth generation and democracy that a major scholar would still have faith in this underlying thesis. It could be that U.S. post WW II successes in the democratization of Japan and Germany have framed our thinking but counter examples from Vietnam through Iraq and a rich literature on the various and unique paths to democracy even among the oldest democracies should prevent facile assumptions.
Other criticisms of Minxin Pei's otherwise excellent work should also be seen in light of its 2009 publication date. It was written before Xi Jinping assumed the office of General Secretary and publicly sought reforms of some of the practices at issue. One might even assume that he or his staff read Pei's work since he's targeting both he evils identified and some of the processes that support them.
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