Winds of Change


Domestic Interests and Global Linkages

By David Zweig

Cornell -- 291pp -- $45 cloth, $22.50 paper

In any state-controlled economy, bureaucrats usually fight greater openness because it tends to erode their powers. Yet uniquely in China, local bureaucrats have actually accelerated the opening up of the country that Communist Party elites first embraced in 1978. Just how and why grassroots officials bought into the profound transformation and how the central government often lost control of the process are the subjects of David Zweig's detailed Internationalizing China.

Zweig examines a series of cases--focusing on rural opening, economic development zones, overseas study, and the struggle to control development assistance--to show how things transpired. In each situation, what the central authorities had intended to be gradual openings developed into feverish land grabs, as local officials rushed to seize opportunities before the reform window swung shut. Quickly shedding their communist ideology, low- and mid-level officials from towns, schools, and state agencies vied for such spoils as junkets abroad or increased chances for promotion. Language skills and foreign connections, "which under Mao had made people political targets," became keys to success. Meanwhile, with each opening, the central government lost another lever of control. China's development, argues Zweig, came to depend upon local bureaucrats' "ability to manipulate or evade centrally erected barriers to global transactions."

Corruption became commonplace, particularly in special economic zones, where limits on lavish banquets, gifts, and cars were suspended in the name of going along with "international customs." The author observes that, in a one-party state, there is no institutionalized opportunity for popular forces opposed to corruption to emerge, either in the press or from outraged citizens.

This book is not for everyone: Zweig's writing is often dense and academic. But it contains much valuable information and analysis. For example, Zweig shows how China avoided the disruptive Big Bang reforms that have proved so damaging in Russia and Eastern Europe. Zweig's study is also a warning to those in the West who naively imagine that China's market opening is going to lead inevitably to political reform. The author believes that freer international trade and foreign investment, instead of fostering a more pluralistic political system, have strengthened the hold of the Party by giving it more material resources. Overall, it seems that the Chinese experience is proof that an authoritarian state can open its economy to international forces without either collapsing or becoming more democratic.

By Mark L. Clifford

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