China

Advice to the New Administration on China

Advice to the New Administration on China

November 20, 2020

There's a general consensus in Washington that China presents the most significant geopolitical and strategic challenge to any administration moving forward. However, there are considerable differences in how to deal with that challenge. Should it be through competition? Should it be through confrontation? Or should it be with containment? Or should it be a mixture of any one of those three?

Finding Allies and Making Revolution

Finding Allies and Making Revolution

October 19, 2020

In 1976, foreigners were a rarity in much of China. Even rarer still were foreigners from non-socialist countries studying in Chinese universities, especially given the recent social and educational upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, which was winding down. As a British-born graduate student at the University of Nanjing, Tony Saich—director of the Ash Center and Daewoo Professor of International Affairs—wasn’t exactly an inconspicuous presence around campus.

Disciplining of a Society: Social Disciplining and Civilizing Processes in Contemporary China

Thomas Heberer, August 2020

In this paper, we specifically focus on the social disciplining process in China since 2012, i.e., in the Xi Jinping era, although we also briefly touch upon historical aspects of disciplining (Confucianism, Legalism, New Life Movement” in the 1930s political campaigns in the Mao era, etc.). The approach adopted in this paper is to conduct an analysis of the disciplining/civilizing top-down project of the state.
 
We argue that the function of the current Chinese state as a disciplining and civilizing entity is the connecting link tying policies such as the state’s morality policies, its anti-corruption drive or the so-called “social credit system” together under a specific governance logic: to discipline and civilize society in order to prepare the people to become modernized. In fact, modernization and modernity encompass not only a process of economic and political-administrative modernizing but concurrently one related to the organization of society in general and the disciplining of this society and its individuals to create people with “modernized” minds in particular.
 
Our principal research questions in this paper are twofold: (1) How should disciplining and civilizing processes in general and in contemporary China in particular be understood? (2) What kind of policies and tools does the Chinese state use to pursue and implement its disciplining objectives?
 

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A Turbulent Decade: The Changes in Chinese Popular Attitudes toward Democracy

Yinxian Zhang, August 2020 

In light of the increasingly aggressive policies and rhetoric of the Chinese government, many came to believe that China may pose a severe threat to democracy and the international order. However, less attention has been paid to Chinese popular attitudes toward democracy and authoritarianism. How does the Chinese public think of democracy in the changing domestic and international environment?

 

This paper uses a novel data set of Chinese social media posts generated between 2009 and 2017 and investigates the changes in popular attitudes toward democracy in the past decade. Results show that online discussion around democracy has decreased and voices questioning democracy have become pronounced since 2013. While tightened state control is a critical factor shaping popular attitudes, this paper demonstrates that people’s increasing exposure to two types of foreign information has also played into this trend. These information lead to a perception of dissatisfying performance of other countries and an awareness of racial attitudes of the West. Lastly, increasing doubts about democracy are not necessarily translated into a strong authoritarian legitimacy. Instead, online discussion presents a sense of ambivalence toward the two models, and the Chinese regime has continued to face a predicament of legitimacy.

 

Cunningham, Edward, and Phillip Jordan. 2020. “Our Path to “New Normal” in Employment? Sobering Clues from China and Recovery Scores for U.S. Industry.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Read the full report Abstract

Edward Cunningham and Philip Jordan, July 2020 

The US National jobs reports for May and June exceeded expectations, and for many, this signaled that April was the true peak of American job losses and real recovery may be underway. Yet mounting evidence suggests that a job recovery is a long way off and that many jobs may not return.

Part of the analytic disconnect stems from the fact that the global pandemic is a novel challenge for policymakers and analysts. We lack current, useful benchmarks for estimating the damage to the labor market, for estimating what recovery would look like, and for measuring an eventual recovery in jobs. Given this paucity of models, one place to look for patterns of potential recovery – particularly relating to consumption and mobility – is China.

The Chinese economy is driven largely by consumption, urban job creation is driven by small and medium-sized companies, and China is several months ahead of the US in dealing with the pandemic’s economic and labor impact. An analysis of China’s experience may, therefore, offer important clues about our recovery here at home, and inform new models of thinking about American job recovery.

Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time
Cunningham, Edward, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel. 2020. Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time. Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Read the full report Abstract

Edward Cunningham, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel, July 2020

This policy brief reviews the findings of the longest-running independent effort to track Chinese citizen satisfaction of government performance. China today is the world’s second largest economy and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has ruled for some seventy years. Yet long-term, publicly-available, and nationally-representative surveys in mainland China are so rare that it is difficult to know how ordinary Chinese citizens feel about their government.

We find that first, since the start of the survey in 2003, Chinese citizen satisfaction with government has increased virtually across the board. From the impact of broad national policies to the conduct of local town officials, Chinese citizens rate the government as more capable and effective than ever before. Interestingly, more marginalized groups in poorer, inland regions are actually comparatively more likely to report increases in satisfaction. Second, the attitudes of Chinese citizens appear to respond (both positively and negatively) to real changes in their material well-being, which suggests that support could be undermined by the twin challenges of declining economic growth and a deteriorating natural environment.

While the CCP is seemingly under no imminent threat of popular upheaval, it cannot take the support of its people for granted. Although state censorship and propaganda are widespread, our survey reveals that citizen perceptions of governmental performance respond most to real, measurable changes in individuals’ material well-being. For government leaders, this is a double-edged sword, as citizens who have grown accustomed to increases in living standards will expect such improvements to continue, and citizens who praise government officials for effective policies may indeed blame them when such policy failures affect them or their family members directly. While our survey reinforces narratives of CCP resilience, our data also point to specific areas in which citizen satisfaction could decline in today’s era of slowing economic growth and continued environmental degradation.

China’s economic recovery foretells unlikely growth in U.S. jobs

Ash: Overall, how would you characterize China's COVID-related economic recovery?

Edward Cunningham: China’s recovery to date has been uneven, unfortunately reinforcing existing structural imbalances, and highlighting the probability that the Chinese economy may plateau below pre-COVID levels for an extended period of time. The higher value-added engines of China’s growth have all shown signs of weakness. Private companies, which make up the backbone of small- and medium-sized enterprises and urban employment, have found it...

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China's Most Generous: Examining Trends in Contemporary Chinese Philanthropy

Edward Cunningham and Yunxin Li, March 2020 

This annual report highlights leading results from the most recent data analysis of the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center’s China Philanthropy Project, capturing over one-quarter of estimated national giving in China. We focus on elite giving by building an annual database of the top 100 individual donors, top 100 donors from corporations and other organizations, and also top university recipients of philanthropic giving.

In 2018, such Chinese giving:

  • was dominated by large organizations (most commonly corporations) rather than individuals,  
  • supported in large part central government policy priorities in the area of poverty alleviation,
  • revealed an intriguing new philanthropy-driven educational model in the country, and
  • remained fairly local in scope.

Read the report in Chinese 

Malcolm McPherson, March 2020 

This paper examines how China can improve transboundary resource management within the Greater Mekong Basin (GMB) through its participation in the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC). Such improvement would ensure the efficient management and equitable development of the basin’s natural resources and ecosystems.

Finding Allies and Making Revolution

Tony Saich, Brill, February 2020 

What does a Dutchman have to do with the rise of the Chinese Communist Party? Finding Allies and Making Revolution by Tony Saich reveals how Henk Sneevliet (alias Maring), arriving as Lenin’s choice for China work, provided the communists with two of their most enduring legacies: the idea of a Leninist party and the tactic of the united front. Sneevliet strived to instill discipline and structure for the left-leaning intellectuals searching for a solution to China’s humiliation. He was not an easy man and clashed with the Chinese comrades and his masters in Moscow. This new analysis is based on Sneevliet’s diaries and reports, together with contemporary materials from key Chinese figures, and important documents held in the Comintern’s China archive.

Watch a video introduction to the book 

William H. Overholt, December 2019

This is an extensively edited, updated and expanded text of a lecture given for the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School on October 31, 2019. From the origination of “one country, two systems” in 1979 to today, this paper analyzes the history of the unique relationship between Hong Kong, Beijing, and the world.

Playing by the Informal Rules
Li, Yao. 2018. Playing by the Informal Rules. Cambridge University Press. Visit Publisher's Site Abstract

Yao Li, Cambridge University Press, November 2018  

Growing protests in non-democratic countries are often seen as signals of regime decline. China, however, has remained stable amid surging protests. Playing by the Informal Rules highlights the importance of informal norms in structuring state-protester interactions, mitigating conflict, and explaining regime resilience. Drawing on a nationwide dataset of protest and multi-sited ethnographic research, this book presents a bird's-eye view of Chinese contentious politics and illustrates the uneven application of informal norms across regions, social groups, and time. Through examinations of protests and their distinct implications for regime stability, Li offers a novel theoretical framework suitable for monitoring the trajectory of political contention in China and beyond. Overall, this study sheds new light on political mobilization and authoritarian resilience and provides fresh perspectives on power, rules, legitimacy, and resistance in modern societies.

 

Tony Saich, August 2017

This analysis argues that the period of easy reforms in China has ended, and the time of difficult reforms that touch core political interests has begun. The resulting challenges facing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping when he is confirmed for another five-year-term span political, economic, and international spheres. This leadership must both maintain a domestic focus to strengthen economic growth and avoid the “middle-income trap,” while also engaging in a host of regional and global actions to cement China’s position on the world stage.

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