The China Model?

China Model
Mao Zedong declares the founding of the modern People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949

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Can Other Countries Replicate the China Model?

In this week’s podcast, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way refer to China as among the most notable revolutionary regimes. They argue its revolutionary origins produced what they describe as durable authoritarianism. Most autocracies fail to provide long-term political stability. They hold together fragile coalitions that collapse during moments of political crisis or leadership transitions. China, however, is among the most durable authoritarian regimes. It has lasted multiple generations and institutionalized the transfer of power between political leaders. Naturally, China offers an attractive political system for skeptics of liberal democracy. But few nations have come close to replicating the elusive China Model.

Still, for many the China Model refers to a state-led form of capitalism. However, China’s economic system is tied closely to its political form of government. Some even believe China’s record of economic performance proves authoritarian governments produce better economic outcomes. Critics of liberal democracy argue popular opinion interferes with policies necessary for high levels of economic growth. Still, it helps to remember how few dictators manage their economies well. Indeed, most autocracies continue to rely on democratic governments for foreign aid. Even China struggled economically for decades before it began to produce double digit growth.

The China Model though is about more than economic growth. It also refers to its ability to provide long-term political stability. However, Levitsky and Way argue its revolutionary origins made durable authoritarianism possible. Indeed, the price of the China Model was not just its current repressive state, but also the recklessness of its first decades under Mao. China survived many tragedies before they began a period of sustained economic growth. Yet despite its economic accomplishments, it remains a highly repressive regime. So, it’s not clear whether other countries really can replicate the China Model or that they’d really want to either.

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2 thoughts on “The China Model?

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  1. Several East Asian countries were successful under authoritarian rule. Some of them later became democracies. Japan more or less copied Germany of the nineteenth century when it modernised. Later these countries copied Japan. The model requires a strong state and a national identity. These countries are all in East Asia, so it may have more to do with their history and culture than with authoritarianism. China, like Vietnam, took a detour via communism. They later reversed course and copied this model too.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The difference with China is it produced economic growth under a stable authoritarian regime that has not democratized (so far). Vietnam is similar. It’s also another revolutionary government. The fact that other examples democratized makes them undesirable for autocrats to follow. China’s political model also makes its economic model different. The economic elites are closely tied to the regime. Plus it is more heavily dependent on the state. It has many features that set it apart from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. At the same time, it’s not replicable without a violent social revolution. Nor is it a desirable system. Even today it’s highly repressive.

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