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13 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Account of China's Early Economic Renaissance, with Far Too Much Current Criticism, May 13, 2014
This review is from: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Kindle Edition)
When author Osnos left China (end of 2013, its people no longer hungered for food - eg. the average citizen then had 6X the meat available in 1976, and Mao's 'Great Leap Forward' (1958-61) during which 30-45 million starved to death was unknown or forgotten by most. China's GDP/capita did not pass North Korea's until 1994; this year its total GDP is expected surpass that of the U.S., when measured in purchasing power parity (PPP). By 2005, China was exporting every six hours as much as it did in 1978; it then went on to become the world's largest manufacturer, exporter of goods, and holder of foreign currency ($1.3 trillion in U.S. Treasuries). Average Chinese income has risen from $200 (1978) to $6,000, 500 million had been lifted out of abject poverty, and the once written-off Chinese Communist Party (CCP; per a New York Times editorial) was alive and well at age 93.

Surviving and accomplishing the preceding required that the CCP undergo massive changes. China moved from a closed, centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented one that plays a major global role, Marx's theories were abandoned (yet Mao's portrait remained over the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Tiananmen Square), and it no longer promises equality. The CCP now focuses on building the success of China's middle class, and has stopped calling itself 'a revolutionary party.' Osnos, however, contends that that for many millions this is no longer enough - they also want more information. Further, its citizenry's newly re-awakened aspirations and the CCPs authoritarianism are now on a collision course.

Deng Xiaoping, China's leader shortly after Mao's death, was the major force behind China's transformation. Entrepreneurs were generally still generally regarded as leeches, and capitalism, along with the West, were held in even less regard.

The 'good news' was that the Chinese had tired of Maoism and all its turmoil and disasters - memories of the disruptions and violence associated with Mao's 'Cultural Revolution' (1966-76) were fresh in everyone's mind. Another contribution - Deng had previously spent years in France (1920-27), traveled to Singapore (1978), met Lee Kuan Yew (advised him to open China and institute reforms, and stop exporting Communist ideologies), visited the U.S. in 1979, and established himself as a pragmatist decade earlier - thus he knew and accepted the fact that China was far behind most other nations and was prepared to change China's direction rather than continue pursuing the entirety of Mao's failed ideology. Another lesser known, but very fortuitous contribution was made in 1978 by 18 farmers who quietly rebelled against the commune system by dividing up their commune and working each plot as individuals - productivity soared and provided compelling evidence of the superiority of personal over group responsibility; by 1984 99% of communes had been dissolved, replaced by the Family Production Responsibility System.

Previously Deng and his fellow top leaders had overseen the execution of landlords, the seizure of factories, and forced creation of large communes. Now they were going to preserve their power by permitting private enterprise and opening China to the outside for capital, ideas, and customers. Deng paired reform-minded senior CCP leader Chen Yun with younger Zhao Ziyang, and together they created a 'bird-cage economy' - 'airy enough to thrive but not so free as to allow it (the bird) to escape.' Meanwhile, Deng moved carefully to avoid creating excessive opposition from others among the eight leaders who were strongly traditional, and over time replaced some with newer reform-minded leaders.

One way Deng avoided creating excessive resistance was through the use of experiments conducted in limited areas (Special Economic Zones); this calmed fears of creating major problems because any effects would be limited to those relatively small areas. Similarly, its transformation to Marxism to 'socialism with Chinese characteristics proceeded incrementally (eg. price controls were released gradually and slowly, state-owned enterprises were not sold off/closed until economic growth offered alternatives), unlike Russia's all-at-once conversion. Another Deng important contribution - emphasis on results and data, not ideology. ('It doesn't matter if it's a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice.' After Mao, China's top leaders also moved away from cultism, as under Mao - major decisions were made by the top group of nine individuals). Beginning in 1980, China designated seven of Special Economic Zones, and they used tax advantages and special exemptions of numerous other economic regulations to attract foreign managerial expertise, technology, and capital while serving as limited experiments.

Deng's 1982 Politburo had 25 members, none had a university education. Now that group is dominated by leaders with engineering and science degrees, along with field experience.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 15, 2014 3:57:00 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 15, 2014 3:59:04 PM PDT
Harry White says:
In the midst of these several hundred words, which it seems are meant to enlighten us regarding several points about the PRC since 1949, Mr Eskildson manages to mention Evan Osnos only twice. There is no reference whatever to the book Mr Osnos has written. Whatever this piece is, it is emphatically not a review of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China.

In reply to an earlier post on May 26, 2014 10:28:55 AM PDT
M. Young says:
One word is enough to counter the hundreds of words spent saying nothing about the book.

Posted on May 26, 2014 10:46:37 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 26, 2014 10:50:38 AM PDT
M. Young says:
This lecture is carefully constructed to drown the book's intent to illustrate the difficulties ordinary Chinese face, from jail to victimization by corrupt officials, and how they manage to circumnavigate around the dictators ruling China. I have not read the book yet, but have lived and worked in China not with expats but with Chinese individuals and for a Chinese government agency.
The political and economic history of China is pretty well covered by the person who wrote it, which I can only accept as a calculated attempt to obscure the topic of the book: humanity's distress among more than a billion human beings. Until this type of government is changed China will remain a huge prison where thinking is a crime.
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