by Terence Halliday
Like a giddy debutante ball, the Olympic Games mark China's long-delayed coming out into Global Society. At once a moment of international recognition where China can display its modernity and maturity, 2008 will be the symbolic event when the humiliations of 19th-century Western tutelage, the slaughter of millions by the Japanese, the Cold War isolation of China from the non-Communist world, the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the bloody pavements of Tiananmen Square, will all be forgotten in a blaze of national glory and international acclamation. The world's eyes will be on Beijing, and neither China nor the rest of the world will be the same again. Or that ostensibly is the hope of China's leaders and the aspiration of its people.
In the aftermath of the catastrophic Sichuan earthquake, there will be considerable international sympathy for China, perhaps defusing some of the criticism that built in the months leading up to the games, as the Olympic torchbearers ran gauntlets of foreign protesters. But which China will follow the Beijing Olympics? The hot China of spectacular economic growth or virulent anti-Japanese demonstrations? The warm China of pandas and cultural exchanges? The cool China of military build-up and hard-headed Communist Party rule? Or the cold China of Tiananmen Square and support for the genocidal Sudanese government?
Answers to these questions diverge sharply. Three significant books display strikingly incompatible interpretations of China's present and prognostications about its future. From their respective angles of orientations, these China-hands position themselves along a rough continuum from bright optimism to dark skepticism. In so doing, they effectively caution that this vast and exceedingly diverse country belies any naïve characterizations or glossy snapshots. They also exemplify how easy it is to allow faulty methodology and incomplete theory to produce flawed historical extrapolations.
Certain facts about China are unassailable. Over thirty years China has sustained annual economic growth of around 8-10 percent, lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, become the world's industrial factory, enacted hundreds of new laws, moved from a command economy to a predominantly private market, graduated from amongst the poorest countries in the world to a mid-level developing country, risen from a country of bicycles to only the third nation in history to put a man in space. China now pronounces itself committed to the rule of law and to a "peaceful rise." The China of Mao jackets and Little Red Books is a distant memory, displaced by ubiquitous Western fashions and technology of every kind. By any standard these are extraordinary accomplishments.
For Randall Peerenboom, an authority on China's legal system, the straight line of rising economic growth will likely continue at a gallop towards full modernization. China's rise offers a paradigm of development, emulating the East Asia Model (EAM) that he finds in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. "I argue," Peerenboom says, "that China is now following the same general path—modified slightly in light of the realities of the 21st century—of other East Asian countries that have achieved sustained economic growth, established rule of law, and usually developed constitutional democracies, albeit not necessarily liberal democracies."
Peerenboom celebrates each of China's "four main pillars of modernity," as he styles them. The economic pillar surely merits applause. Few countries have managed to compress so much growth in a scant three decades. To achieve this feat, China's leaders have prioritized economic growth and taken a pragmatic rather than ideological path to reforms. As a tradeoff, however, they have postponed democracy, settled for a "thin" rule of law, delayed constraining constitutionalism, and left to the future possible civil and political rights. This is the EAM, says Peerenboom, that distinguishes the Asian Tigers from the relative sluggards: Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, and India.
He endeavors to set the story straight on the second pillar—human rights. China, he avers, has done extremely well on social and economic rights. On the UN Human Development Index China progresses well. More than 150 million have been lifted from poverty in ten years. Adult literacy is up. Diet is improved. Infant mortality is down. Life expectancy has lengthened. Women's rights are at a similar level to other nations at a similar income level, though serious problems remain. Most rights for its fifty-five ethnic groups (about 8-9 percent of the population) are reasonably protected. Accusations of cultural genocide in Tibet are overstated.
Civil and political rights are another matter. On "physical integrity rights," Peerenboom disputes China's low ranking on Amnesty International's Political Terror Scale, a rank signifying that "murders, disappearances, and torture are a common part of life." China's critics, he says, seize unfairly on dramatic stories about torture of Falun Gong adherents or police brutality. He accepts government statistics on rates of police torture and asserts there are few "extra-judicial killings," though he does acknowledge that China is ranked in the bottom 10 percent of Asian countries on civil and political rights and deservedly so.
On political rights—freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly—the government takes a harder line. Here social stability is its touchstone. The Communist Party will brook no rivals. That includes religion, because of a "long history of religious movements toppling dynasties in the past." The Propaganda Department and State Security Ministry control tightly discussion of politically sensitive topics. Domestic debate and overseas news daren't touch Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, attacks on the Party, Taiwan, criticism of top leaders, or loose talk about democracy. Yet, says Peerenboom, while not defensible, such stifling of freedom is understandable. China has chosen "economics first," not "freedom first." If it follows the EAM trajectory, freedom will come. In any event, he protests, China is subject to a double standard on rights, unfairly criticized when other nations get handled with kid gloves.
On the third pillar of modernity, the legal system, Peerenboom is an eminent specialist and, perhaps not coincidentally, his optimism is tempered. China has come a tremendous distance since the Cultural Revolution as it pushes toward a "socialist rule of law state." But despite clear advances in the prominence, efficiency, and fairness of the legal system, "the assumption that China is moving toward a liberal democratic conception of the rule of law is unfounded," at least in the short term. Criminal law reforms, which are most salient to human rights, have largely failed. China has taken enormous strides to implant a commercial law regime. But progress is slowing as "reform fatigue" sets in with diminishing returns. A competent, strong, independent judiciary is a distant dream, and without decisive movement towards a "thick" rule of law the government's own goals won't be realized, let alone those of western optimists.
And democracy, the fourth pillar? Decidedly downbeat, Peerenboom says democracy in Asia disappoints. Indeed, progress toward democracy for "Third Wave" countries worldwide with low levels of wealth has been "stunningly disappointing." China's leaders have essentially postponed it until later—when the "country is richer and more stable." Given that "most Chinese citizens are happy with their lives, optimistic about the future, and relatively satisfied with the government as a whole," he sides with the decision of China's leaders "to put democracy on the back burner."
This rose-hued portrait of an inexorable march to prosperity and freedom would have us sit back, defer to the wisdom of China's leaders and the supposed choice of its people, and allow events to take their course. If all goes well China will be a South Korean success story—a rich, stable, democratic, open society—in a few decades. It might even become, as the book's subtitle provocatively suggests, "a model for the rest."
This is not the China that Susan Shirk observes. A distinguished China scholar and former Deputy Assistant Secretary with responsibility for China in the Clinton Administration, Shirk has been closely following Chinese politics for three decades. As her 1971 photo with Zhou Enlai signifies, she has been meeting with and writing on China's leaders since she was a young political scientist. In China: Fragile Superpower, what we find is less a nascent superpower than a fragile society, teetering on the brink of domestic chaos that could lead to war. Yes, war with the United States.
Shirk doesn't dispute the remarkable economic progress made by China, nor its increasingly symbiotic economic relationship with the United States and its integral place in the world economy more generally. But, in contrast to Peerenboom, she argues that emerging economic problems augur badly for social and political stability. The social security of the "iron rice bowl has gone," and with it guaranteed health care, permanent employment, and assured retirement pensions. Tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs, especially in China's northeast rustbelt. China's west and hundreds of millions of its rural population are being left behind in a widening inequality that could trigger "massive unrest." Opportunistic speculators, often in complicity with local officials, seize land without adequate compensation. Corruption is rampant among officials. Environmental problems make domestic headlines daily.
Add these together—rising mass protests, ethnic unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang, labor unrest, rural unrest, student unrest over international incidents, social unrest—mix them with flammable nationalism, and the paranoia of China's authoritarian leaders intensifies. From this vantage point, a white-hot economy merely buys time for China's vulnerable leaders who can barely stay in the saddle of their writhing dragon.
China's Communist leaders, Shirk believes, have made a Faustian bargain. Above all, they strive to stay in power. Yet they are "haunted by the fear that their days in power are numbered." They struggle to maintain political control, fear their own citizens and exude "a deep sense of domestic insecurity." They look back to Tiananmen Square, where they came within a hairsbreadth of losing the country. They look across their long borders to Communist regimes that cracked and crumbled with stunning speed. They look outside their cloistered redoubt alongside the Forbidden City and see a population that has abandoned the very ideology that defines the Party.
To maintain their "brittle authoritarian regime" over a public that finds Communist ideology bankrupt, they have stoked the fires of nationalism. China's new ideology whips restive publics into support of its grey, "colorless, cautious" technocratic leaders by turning their emotions outside—to chest-thumping against real and supposed offenses to China's pride by the United States, Taiwan, and, above all, Japan. But this bargain—beating the nationalist drum and keeping the economy going in exchange for keeping the Party in power—may end up driving China into the very fate it should avoid, a war that will derail China's rise and plunge the country into a maelstrom.
Nationalism can explode in the hands of the Party leaders who wield it. Headlines grow ever more incendiary as papers competing for survival in the market find common cause with propagandists. Despite a massive apparatus of media censorship, however, the Propaganda Department and public security find that the internet and cell-phones in the hands of adept youngsters can spill protesters into the streets with little or no warning.
While the Party-state security apparatus spreads its tentacles widely to contain political speech, the media paradoxically tie the hands of cool-headed leaders. Oddly enough, the very media that Party censors tightly control are also a primary source of information for Party cadres and even top leaders. Without the varied outlets that democracies have to inform leaders of strong public sentiment, top Party officials gauge public opinion by relying too uncritically on their own censored publications.
How might the domestic fragility Shirk describes lead to war? China takes the line that in international relations it is "a responsible power." It seeks friendship with its neighbors in Asia. It conciliates potential rivals, like India. It prides itself as a team player in multilateral organizations. It joined six-party talks to help resolve North Korea's nuclear ambitions. It participates in UN peacekeeping operations. It has used its economic ties to make friends. Joining the WTO has brought it into the world's dominant trading regime. But while such gestures may have convinced most of the world that it is "a benign and peaceful rising power," a central contradiction remains in its foreign policy. Can China resolve the contradiction between its public opinion and a constructive foreign policy?
To solidify its nationalist support, says Shirk, the Party has used the United States, Taiwan, and Japan as triggers to arouse passion. Japan's brutal occupation of eastern China during the 1930s and 1940s remains fresh. For many Chinese, Japan compounds its perfidy by refusing to acknowledge honestly the measure of its atrocities, from the Nanking Massacre to the approximately 10 million Chinese war dead. When Japan approved a new textbook in 2005 that played down its wartime culpability, 10,000 students demonstrated in Beijing, smashed Japanese storefronts, overturned Japanese cars, bombarded the Japanese embassy with bottles, stones, and eggs, and called for a boycott of Japanese goods. Possibly 100,000 demonstrators turned out in Shanghai and many more elsewhere. Each time Japan's leaders visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are interred, tensions re-ignite. Chinese popular sentiment, fanned by Party leaders, is inflamed by any slights to national "face," including competing claims to oil and gas fields in the East China Sea, and, not least, Japan's support of Taiwan.
It is this last flashpoint, this potential affront to China's national honor, that is most likely to lead to war. Said a senior People's Army officer to Shirk, "If the leaders stand by and do nothing while Taiwan declares independence, the Communist Party will fall." To Chinese media and the publics they inform, Taiwan's leaders seem intent on provoking China to an armed response. In the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the United States gave a visa to Taiwan's president to attend a ceremony at his alma mater, Cornell University. The incident escalated when China fired missiles in the direction of Taiwan and the United States responded by sending in two battle fleets. Periodically since the late 1990s, pro-independence leaders in Taiwan have issued statements that engender heated Chinese reactions. Shirk believes China's current leaders are too weak to tone down shrill reactions and engage in meaningful negotiations to produce a long-term solution. In the meantime, Taiwan could precipitate an armed response from China that would pull in Japan and the United States.
The Chinese public, Shirk contends, is "highly mistrustful of the U.S. government," while top leaders believe that the United States wants to slow China's aspirations to become a world power. Periodic incidents reinforce this outlook. On top of the spy-plane confrontation in 2001 and the bombing of the Belgrade Embassy, the Chinese point to U.S. criticism of China's human rights record, not to mention steady U.S. support for Taiwan and, possibly, the re-armament of Japan. The invasion of Iraq demonstrated how far the United States will go to project its power.
Here again Shirk sees a leadership hard-pressed to pursue China's long-term interests. While top leaders have worked at improving Sino-American relations, and fully recognize that a peaceful rise—and their own power—depends upon U.S. cooperation and comity, they confront a fractious public which demands they stand up to the U.S. Their anti-American Propaganda Department is not entirely under top leaders' control. Their crisis-management machinery works too slowly for defusing of explosive incidents.
Not least, says Shirk, ultimately the Party relies on the People's Liberation Army to keep it in power, as Tiananmen bloodily revealed. Leaders who lack the gravitas of Mao or Deng Xiaoping have bought loyalty by spending heavily on military modernization. The military is projecting its naval power farther and farther from China's coasts; its rockets can destroy satellites in space; its missiles become ever more accurate and farther reaching. A stronger military tolerates slights less willingly. On a future hot-button issue, hard-line military leaders may demand action, not diplomacy. Thus Shirk confronts us with her worst-case scenario: "A future crisis with the U.S., especially one involving Taiwan or Japan, could arouse the public's ire to the degree that China's leaders might believe that the regime would fall unless they respond militarily to the insult to national honor."
For James Mann, former Beijing Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times, neither Peerenboom's relentless optimism nor Shirk's sober realism hits the right note. Mann tilts his lance toward The China Fantasy, the predilection of U.S. policymakers and opinion-leaders to engage in massive collusion with China's Party leaders to pretend all is well on the China front, both domestic and international. Their "Soothing Scenario," as he styles it, insists that China is heading in the right direction. The economy booms. People are getting richer. Eventually a big middle class will demand more political voice. Authoritarianism sooner or later will yield to liberal democracy. In short, Peerenboom's East Asia Model.
American business leaders and the foreign policy establishment buy into this sort of pollyannaish thinking because it suits their interests. Corporate CEOs can concentrate on profits while blithely assuming that democracy will follow. China experts get bought as expensive private consultants to tell politicians what they want to hear. And China élites in the United States insist that "the good guys in America and the good guys in China" have to team up and not rock the boat.
To rock the boat would be to tell the truth, Mann says, and the truth is ugly. China is a repressive state run by the Party (7-8 percent of the population) for its narrow interests. He concurs with Shirk that the Party will do anything to stay in power—mow down weaponless protesters with tanks, spirit away tens of thousands of political prisoners to remote camps, use torture and executions to silence dissidents. One way or another, political dissent is ruthlessly silenced. A peaceful demonstration, such as Falun Gong's brilliant organizational feat of ringing the entire leadership compound of China's leaders, was met with mass deportations, incarceration without legal redress, torture, and death. China's former Premier, Zhao Ziyang, was held under house arrest for fifteen years—from 1989 until his death—for being on the right side of Tiananmen. The United States, Mann charges, legitimates Chinese anti-terrorist programs that lock up Tibetan and Uighur activists.
Of course, China's leaders skillfully disguise their repression. Except for bank notes and the huge portrait of Mao at the entrance to the Forbidden City, visitors to Beijing would be hard-pressed to know that China is a one-party authoritarian state. Tourists and even business people do not see online bulletin boards shut down whenever their exchanges became too wide-ranging and thereby too appealing; they know nothing of arbitrary detention of unknown numbers in labor camps; they cannot observe lawyers who are intimidated and occasionally imprisoned if they defend their clients too vigorously; they are scarcely aware of surveillance cameras flowering in public meeting sites all over the country—a fitting symbol for a political system that fears its own people and stands ready to crush swiftly any seeds of dissent.
Champions of the "Soothing Scenario" explain all this away, says Mann. Jailing of dissidents is ignored. New headlines are treated as old news. China's leaders are excused for taking two steps forward and one step back, or by suggestions that leaders miscalculated. If evidence of China's authoritarianism is repressed, positive developments are over-hyped. Village "elections" become harbingers of state-wide democracy. Rule of law in business, to the extent it exists, gets generalized to basic freedoms. China's lapses are compared to those of India or, even more convincingly, of the United States. If critics talk of repression, they are "China Bashers," "anti-Chinese," tainted with a "Cold War mentality." They are "troublemakers" who are "ideological" and "provocative."
In Mann's view, purveyors of the "Soothing Scenario" subscribe to the "Starbucks Fallacy": more middle-class consumers will eventually lead to more political choice. In fact, China's population, it is said, is pretty happy. "People in China don't care about politics," they just care about "making money."
In response, Mann doesn't fall back on a fragility analysis, à la Shirk. He acknowledges that there is an "Upheaval Scenario" in which disaster looms through economic downturns and political disintegration in response to inequality, corruption, rural protests, land seizures, and ethnic struggles. But he cautions that China is a big and surprisingly resilient country that can bounce back under extreme domestic and international pressures.
A more plausible path, he proposes, is "The Third Scenario." The current economic trajectory is maintained. The middle class thrives and is contented. Rather than mobilizing against Party dominance, it accepts ongoing repression as a tradeoff. So long as material benefits improve, Party leadership will be accepted. No political opposition, no freedom of the press, no religious freedom, no elections beyond the local level, no substantive rule of law but a persistence of repression, a tightening of the security noose, and a non-democratic recasting of "democracy with Chinese characteristics."
It is sobering for foreigners to be reminded by Shirk and Mann that all is not as it seems. Tourist traffic to five-star hotels, the Great Wall, Xian's terracotta soldiers, Tibet's monasteries, the Three Gorges, Hangzhou's lovely West Lake, and Shanghai's bustling cosmopolitanism will never see the China described by Mann and Shirk. Since westerners are not well trained to recognize state-directed propaganda, and face formidable language and cultural barriers, too often they fail to observe the social unrest, stirrings of discontent, poverty, inequality, anger at official corruption, and persecution of minority races and religions that have been papered over. Mann properly advises us to sharpen our critical faculties, to be open to the diversity of opinions on China, even by specialists.
But specialists themselves are not immune from methodological lapses that undermine their premises and evidence for China's alternative futures. Peerenboom, for instance, consistently and properly urges readers to appraise China not only by some absolute standard or by those of advanced or modern countries but by its peers. Yet how those peers are selected substantially determines what conclusions result. It is conventional to compare China to Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore, all countries that experienced extraordinary economic development over fifty years. Except for Singapore, their economic growth led to increasingly open societies with vigorous multi-party liberal politics. But Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are small and homogeneous compared to China, and they all benefited economically and politically from shelter under the U.S. security umbrella as close U.S. allies. Korea and Taiwan would never have liberalized politically without significant pressure from the United States, particularly on repressive military leaders in the 1980s, pressure that helped widen the democratic opening that sprang from domestic reformers. Moreover, none of these countries had the scope and complexity of the fragilities portrayed by Shirk. And as for a hope that China will become a 21st-century version of late 20th-century Singapore—rich but authoritarian—the differences in history, size, law, and territory are so great as to render any extrapolation very doubtful. If there is an East Asia Model, China may not share its fundamental attributes.
False historical comparisons can also bedevil China predictions. If the end of the Cultural Revolution constitutes the baseline for contemporary comparisons, then conveniently the worst chapters of China's modern history get excised from the narrative. But this is like talking about American race relations beginning in 1867, without slavery or the Civil War. China's Communist Party rule looks benign if we are able to forget that under the rule of the ccp, China's leaders managed to kill tens of millions of their own people—many more than the Japanese. By pitching a thesis based on China only after the Cultural Revolution, it is possible for Peerenboom to compare China favorably to India, a country with an exceedingly diverse population speaking more than a dozen languages where hundreds of millions are poor, but which has nonetheless maintained a robust democracy and open society for a half-century and avoided a Great Famine in the meantime.
In China studies as elsewhere it is too easy to settle for straight-line projection from some series of points aligned in the same direction. For instance, observers look back over a period of 20 or 30 years, discover a steady line of growth and development, and simply extend it into the future as if history brings no surprises. But one does not need to be a historian to recall the society-transforming shocks of the 1929 market crash, Pearl Harbor, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, the Asian Financial Crisis, 9/11, or Tiananmen Square. Who expected them?
Shirk skillfully points to contingencies for China's future, to pressure points and faultlines in Chinese society and politics from which seismic shocks might abruptly alter the course of China's economy and position in the world. An international political incident could escalate out of control, shattering the fragile porcelain that is China's present creation. Or an economic shock—contamination of Chinese food, an international backlash against Chinese competition, an over-reaction to Chinese product safety—could precipitate a crash "that throws millions of workers out of their jobs or sends millions of depositors to withdraw their savings from the shaky banking system." The threat of such an event, Shirk warns, is the "greatest political risk" facing China's leaders.
Not only is history fraught with contingency, unexpected turns, and sudden jolts, but social and economic theories of democracy and markets cannot naively assume that one necessarily or inevitably accompanies the other. Mann does us the service of calling into question the widely held assumption that democracy in China is just over the horizon if we only wait long enough and don't interfere. As he rightly observes, another model altogether is possible—an economically developed country that is also politically repressive. Some recent empirical research on Latin America lends support to this argument. As countries get richer they don't necessarily get democratic. That research indicates that citizens tend to support the kind of regime that brought them material benefits. If the quality of life improved under an authoritarian regime, they are likely to continue to support it. China may get richer and use its wealth to clamp down on basic legal and political freedoms.
What then to do? From each diagnosis follows a prescription. Peerenboom's optimism leads to implicit counsel that China should be left alone to succeed on its own terms. In his defense, when Peerenboom speaks behind closed doors to China's senior officials, he takes a more contingent line. China's leaders should recognize, he says, that many countries stall somewhere along the upward climb to economic success. To break through requires hard and wise decisions, which include stronger rule of law. But his emphasis falls much more strongly on material than political values, on property rights than basic legal freedoms.
Shirk's counsel vividly illustrates Mann's complaint. After showing that China's domestic fragility could propel its weak leaders into dangerous military overreactions to an international incident, she might serve as an exemplar of Mann's "Soothing Scenario" on how to mitigate impending disaster. Like Peerenboom she urges U.S. leaders, whether politicians or monitors of human rights, to exercise restraint. The more noisome foreign pressures, the more muscle China's weak leaders will need to flex. Dramatizing human rights abuses merely raises the hackles of China's leaders and inflames their publics.
Mann will have none of this. The United States must care about democracy in China. American citizens cannot turn their backs on the fate of 1.3 billion fellow humans. Moreover, contra Peerenboom, an undemocratic political system is unstable because it provides no way to resolve high level disputes, a judgment likely shared by Shirk. And an undemocratic China clearly poses problems for the rest of the world. If China's rise manages to combine wealth with repression, this will become a perverse "model for the rest." Indeed, Mann warns, in such circumstances "China will serve as an exemplar for dictators, juntas, and other undemocratic governments throughout the world." The Burmas, Zimbabwes, and Sudans among nations will gain solace from a paradigm that combines wealth with secret police. They will also find an ideological compatriot to stand against pressures for human rights and democracy. Finally, Mann notes, a politically liberal regime in China would lower the threat of war.
It follows that we must not accept clichés of exotic China, or Panda China, or Olympics China. Compare, Mann says, the Rome Olympics of 1960, Tokyo in 1964, Seoul in 1988—all celebrations of countries that had emerged from authoritarianism—with the Berlin Olympics of 1936, which hoodwinked the credulous into believing that all was well in the Third Reich. All is not well in China, and U.S. leaders should not collude with China's Party hierarchy to pretend it is. Now is the time to forestall the installation of a permanent Chinese authoritarianism, not in those roseate decades ahead when it may be too late.
Although a mere coda, Mann's bottom-line deserves serious reflection. He calls for a vigorous domestic debate over what the United States should do about human rights and democracy in China. Such a debate might conclude, with Shirk, that direct public pressures on China's leaders harm democratic prospects. Or the debate might arrive at Peerenboom's position—that nothing can be done or should be done, since history will take care of itself. But the debate could conclude that the fate of China and its citizens requires action. Mann gives us few clues about what kind of action, but presumably prudence would lead in directions that would at least keep Shirk's cautions in mind.
Curiously, none of these authors has much to say about religion in either China or the United States, now or in the future. Since Peerenboom emphasizes property rights over human rights, it is not surprising that more is not said about basic freedoms. But Christians in house churches and even official churches across China would be startled to read "that freedom of religion exists side by side with state-endorsed atheism in China" and that "despite the official endorsement of atheism, China tolerates religious practice subject to concerns about social stability." So, too, would Buddhists, some of whose holiest sites are devoid of monks and guarded by uniformed soldiers. Peerenboom surely is correct that Christianity in China could be de-stabilizing, if by this he means that China's Christians will inexorably—some quietly, others more vocally—press for conditions under which their faith and witness can thrive, conditions that cannot exist alongside a one-Party state intolerant of competing ideologies. Shirk by contrast attributes none of China's fragility to religious restiveness, although she hints that rights-champions in the United States, some of whom are religious activists, might be among those whom China's leaders and publics find confrontational. Neither Christians in China nor their counterparts in the United States find their way into Mann's critique, though the former would be prime beneficiaries of the democratic China he advocates, while the latter could emerge as their international vanguard.
Friends of China rightly applaud its tremendous strides over the past twenty-five years, the achievements sympathetically documented by Peerenboom. Yet we do well to heed the cautionary voices of Mann and Shirk as well. The hand of friendship means little if China's people are abandoned to repression once the world's television cameras leave Beijing in August 2008. Then we will discover which of Beijing's Olympic predecessors Party leaders have chosen to follow.
Terence Halliday is Co-Director, Center on Law and Globalization, American Bar Foundation and University of Illinois College of Law. He writes on commercial law-making and the criminal justice system in China. He has consulted with the World Bank, OECD, and State Council Office on Restructuring the Economic System, PRC.