China’s authoritarian revival, explained by Carl Minzner


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This week, we have an inadvertently timely podcast on China’s authoritarian revival. Mere days before the episode’s recording, Chinese President Xi Jinping set the stage to extend his power to rule China indefinitely.

As Carl Minzner, professor of law at Fordham University, explains, the abolition of term limits for Xi was only the latest — and easiest for non-China specialists to understand — of many signs that China was heading down the path to strengthening its one-Party and one-man rule to an extent not seen since Mao. He details this path, and why he thinks it is limiting China’s development, in his new book, End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival Is Undermining Its Rise.

Unlike many commentators, Carl sees the signs of China’s illiberal turn as dating way back before 2008, when the unrest in Tibet in March and Olympics in August of that year demanded greater social control. It is then widely agreed that the signs of an authoritarian revival have rapidly accumulated since Xi Jinping assumed power in 2013. Carl also has some interesting observations about how Xi’s “Chinese Dream” represents a surprising turn toward tradition (including a radical redefining of what is traditional Chinese culture) as the Party seeks legitimacy in the New Era of Xi Jinping.

All the while, Carl explores the underlying reasons for China’s hardening and approaches the question with admirable empathy. And though this topic is one that Kaiser and Jeremy have discussed before many times on the show, Carl brings fresh angles to the conversation, including an exploration of how changes in China’s educational system may be restricting social mobility in China.


Jeremy: “Carry the struggle to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius through to the end,” a Peking Review translation on of the original 1974 People’s Daily propaganda piece — once you read it, it will help you understand just how different a beast Xi Jinping is from Mao.

Carl: A variety of books related to his, but with different viewpoints: China’s Future, by David Shambaugh; The Perfect Dictatorship, by Stein Ringen; and China’s Trapped Transition and China’s Crony Capitalism, by Minxin Pei, whose book on crony capitalism in particular helps us understand why Xi Jinping went in the direction he did, especially with the anti-corruption campaign.

Kaiser: David Brophy’s review in the Australian Book Review of Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, by Clive Hamilton. Kaiser says that Brophy’s perspective is highly applicable to the situation in the U.S., which Kaiser fears could become worse in many ways than our overreaction to Islamic fundamentalism.