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Rose Deller

August 14th, 2017

Book Review: Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China by Julian Gewirtz

1 comment

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Rose Deller

August 14th, 2017

Book Review: Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China by Julian Gewirtz

1 comment

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China, Julian Gewirtz documents the interactions between western economists and Chinese intellectuals and decision-makers in the pursuit of a wealthier China between 1976 and 1993. Yao Han appreciates Gewirtz’s work in filling the gap in understanding the influence of western economists and the dramatic debates over ideology and policy regarding China’s development.

This book review has been translated into Mandarin by Corinne Estermann, Andrew Siu and Kevin Li and proof-read by Fei Yuan (Mandarin LN808-2, teacher Fei Yuan) as part of the LSE Reviews in Translation project, a collaboration between LSE Language Centre and LSE Review of Books. Please scroll down to read this translation or click here.

Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China. Julian Gewirtz. Harvard University Press. 2017.

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I can still remember the days when we sang ‘socialism is good, socialism is good, people are highly valued in a socialist country’ at primary school, and the shock at seeing some elders start private businesses. Shouldn’t urban people have dignified jobs either in a state-owned company or in the public sector even if the work is cleaning the toilet?

I also have a clear memory of the teacher in my primary school expressing his longing for the life of a teacher in Shenzhen who had a much higher salary (about 110 dollars per month), and his disdain mixed with complex feelings about what that teacher taught the students: studying for the purpose of earning money and marrying a beautiful wife, a personal life goal that valued money over the welfare of others. Where were the lofty aims towards the ideal human community under communism?

Transformations in everyday life are an epitome of wider society, and the change in the thoughts of ordinary people reflected the change in the minds of those governing the country. In 1976, the Chairman Mao Zedong died. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping launched the ‘reform and opening’ campaign. In 1993, the Communist Party of China (CCP) formally accepted the ‘socialist market economy’. But how did this change happen? Specifically, how did a closed and socialist country both accept and refuse the influences of foreign ideas and transform from ‘pure though poor’ to ‘rich though diverse’?

In Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economics and the Making of Global China, Julian Gewirtz brings the interactions of western economists and Chinese reformers to life. They are ‘partners’ because they collaboratively contributed to China’s development and globalisation, yet ‘unlikely’ ones because the combination of western economics and the economic development of a socialist country overcame the divergence between socialism and capitalism, with China nonetheless sticking to socialism throughout the process of learning.

Gewirtz borrows the metaphor of a river used by Chinese reformers: a river which China is crossing by feeling for the stones; a river where contradictory thoughts about how the China vessel should be navigated clash with one another; a river of practice providing the platform for the helmsman to test theories; and also the Yangtze river carrying the real cruise ship S.S. Bashan where the International Conference on Macroeconomic Management (‘Bashan Boat Conference’ or ‘Bashan Conference’) took place when Zhao Ziyang was the premier.

Image Credit: Yangtze River Bridge (Harvey Barrison CC BY SA 2.0)

Gewirtz shows that the primary goal of China as led by Hua Guofeng after Mao’s death was to promote economic development. Since practice was set to be the criterion of truth, knowing how to develop demanded seeing how development works. Hence, when China was stuck in poverty after the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese delegates went to different areas to seek the keys to development. When Chinese leaders thought the economy was out of control, a new round of learning from abroad was launched.

According to the book, Chinese decision-makers and economists learnt from socialist countries such as Yugoslavia and Romania. The prosperity of those countries confirmed that socialism could have multiple modes for China’s leaders. Besides, they learnt from developed economies: for example, the trip to Western Europe in 1978, led by Gu Mu, bred the idea of China’s special economic zones (SEZs).

European and North American economists also helped China to increase levels of technical sophistication, such as through econometrics, to the benefit of both sides. Western economics were introduced into China. Besides the interactions depicted in the book (e.g. between János Kornai and Wu Jinglian), my impression is that economists such as Milton Friedman, James Tobin, Lawrence Klein and Alec Cairncross also played an active role in shaping China’s history. Some have been in contact with China and active in conferences, seminars and classes. The thoughts of some are frequently referenced in Chinese websites on economics or economic affairs. Some have entered Chinese books on Chinese development history, such as Sixty Years of Studies on Economics in China (1949-2009) (Zhongguo Jingjixue 60 Nian (1949-2009)). ‘Western Economics’ became a name of a typical module for economics major students in Chinese universities. Various kinds of economics textbooks in English and their Chinese versions were introduced into classrooms. Some Chinese economists also wrote textbooks to introduce western economics, such as Western Economics (Macroeconomics) and Western Economics (Microeconomics) by Gao Hongye. (It is often helpful to read both types of textbooks since their writing styles differ a lot, with western texts more concrete and Chinese ones more abstract.)

Chinese decision-makers not only learnt to develop from western economists and experiences, but also from those in Asia, such as the four Asian tigers (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong) and Japan (though the intellectual interactions with the latter were much less systematic compared with Eastern European and Western capitalist countries). For example, after the death of Mao, Chinese leaders feared inflation. They sought experiences and knowledge from abroad while the pressure still existed. In 1989, Sho-Chiech Tiang, a Taiwan economist, proposed to raise the interest rate  a strategy Taiwan had used in the 1950s  and encouraged bolder price reform.

China was nonetheless suffering from conflicting ideas. Should China indiscriminately mimic western economies or selectively imitate them? What should be imitated and what not? Should the change be based on the existing system or a new one? Regarding the same case, such as Hungary, economists’ opinions could also diverge. Price reform or enterprise reform had been the focus of debate. During the development by learning and trying process, how to maintain stability had been a headache for Chinese reformers. How did China figure a way through these clashing ideas according to the book? A critical point is that Chinese reformers learnt that they should not copy from western economics or models indiscriminately. Instead, these needed to be adapted to Chinese situations.

Image Credit: Pudong Skyline (Kamal Zharif Kamaludin CC BY SA 2.0)

Deng Xiaoping’s idea of developing a market economy to strengthen and enliven socialism first found its practice in Hungary and Yugoslavia in the late 1970s. Then, the endeavour to accept the co-existence of ‘market’ and ‘socialism’ featured in the development of China’s model through the learning and trying process. To smooth the adaptation, new concepts were created to fill the theoretical gap as to how China, as a socialist country, could develop its economy influenced by foreign knowledge. New practice allowing the co-existence of ‘the market’ and ‘planning’ under socialism was introduced.

For instance, since a ‘commodity economy’ was taken as being incompatible with a ‘product economy’ in Marxian economics, the concept of a ‘planned commodity economy’ was finally approved and used in the October third plenum of the CCP Central Committee in 1984. To give another example, on S.S. Bashan, Tobin, recipient of the Novel Memorial Prize in Economics, presented the basic tenets of macroeconomic policymaking in the USA, including the fundamental idea of aggregate demand management and the tools of fiscal and monetary policy. Subsequently Edwin Lim and Wu Jinglian invented a new word, ‘hongguan tiaokong’, meaning ‘macroeconomic management’, to help western economics be situated in the Chinese situation.

The combination of a market economy, Chinese political institutions and the fast economic development of China during the last 40 years since 1978 created a model for development. Gewirtz shows that during the process of learning and practising western economics in China, Chinese leaders stuck to ‘reform and opening up’. The book nonetheless provokes further questions: in which direction will this combination continue to travel? When the country becomes richer, will it enter the higher stages of socialism? Western economics have contributed to the development of China as a socialist country. Will western politics be transplanted to China’s politics in the future, or will the West learn from China’s political economy model instead?

Besides this, the deeper roots of the interactions during 1976-93 and their subsequent development could enrich further study. For instance, the influence of the western economists as supervisors when Chinese intellectuals or Chinese reformers were studying abroad could be explored. Chen Daisun received his doctoral degree in economics from Harvard University and taught western economics to undergraduate students, including one important economist, Liu Guoguang, during the reform at the National Southwestern Associated University in Kunming, Yunnan province of China during the 1940s. Their pursuit of education in western countries and the subsequent dissemination of western thought in Chinese universities already implied their potential influence on the future of China. Gewirtz’s focus on the role of western economists during 1976-93 also ignites interest in other actors and other regions, such as businesspeople and economists from Asia as well as the mass workers and peasants at a time when interactions within Asia surged and the world economic centre shifted towards the East.

In all, Unlikely Partners examines the impact of western economists on China by documenting the interactions of western economists and Chinese reformers during 1976-93 when China eagerly sought to change its poverty status. It is a process of liberal idea diffusion from the West to the East: a process for the West to transfer macro-economic policy to the East and also a process for the East to learn policies from the West. Elegantly framed by the metaphor of a ‘river’, this book helps readers enjoy a discovery trip on the China vessel led by Gewirtz. The book is valuable for readers interested in history, economic development and theory, policymaking and Chinese politics. Besides, the book is full of interactions among various people, conferences and meetings, organisations and locations, providing the potential for researchers favouring quantitative analysis to turn this study into network graphs and data.

Yao Han, PhD in Quantitative Social Sciences Program, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin, 2017; Researcher, Geary Institute for Public Policy, University College Dublin (2012-2017); Visiting Research Fellow, Department of Asian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2017. Beyond her doctoral research on global trade and conflict embedded in networks, she has broad interests such as development and history. She wishes to thank Dr. Rosemary Deller for her edit. Twitter: @hanyao_sara. Read more by Yao Han.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

《不太可能的合作伙伴: 中国改革者、西方经济学家和全球化中国的构建》,朱利安 葛维茨,哈佛大学出版社,2017年。

Review translated by Corinne Estermann, Andrew Siu and Kevin Li and proof-read by Fei Yuan (Mandarin LN808-2, teacher Fei Yuan) 

在《不太可能的合作伙伴: 中国改革者、西方经济学家和全球化中国的构建》一书中,朱利安 • 葛维茨记录了1976–1993年间在追求更富裕的中国过程中,




日常生活中的变化是更广泛社会的一个缩影,而普通人思想的变化反映了国家主导思想的变化。 1976年,毛泽东主席去世。 1978年,邓小平发起了“改革开放”运动。 1993年,中国共产党正式接受了“社会主义市场经济”。 但这种变化是如何发生的? 具体而言,一个封闭的社会主义国家如何接受和拒绝外国思想的影响,并从“纯粹的贫穷”转变为“富裕但多样化”?

Image Credit: Yangtze River Bridge (Harvey Barrison CC BY SA 2.0)

在《不太可能的合作伙伴:中国改革者、西方经济学家和全球化中国的构建》中,朱利安 • 葛维茨生动地描述了西方经济学家和中国改革者的互动。 他们是“伙伴”,因为他们协同促进了中国的发展和全球化,然而,他们又不太可能成为真正的伙伴,因为西方经济学和社会主义国家经济发展的结合不一定能成功克服社会主义和资本主义之间的分歧,尽管如此,在整个学习过程中,中国仍然坚持社会主义。

葛维茨借用了中国改革者所使用的比喻:摸着石头过河。这条河上对于中国船只如何航行的思想冲突; 一条试炼之河,为舵手提供测试理论的平台; 还有载着真正游轮SS巴山的长江,那时候赵紫阳是总理在那里举行了国际宏观经济管理会议(巴山会议)。

葛维茨表示,毛泽东逝世后华国锋领导中国的首要目标是促进经济发展。 由于实践是检验真理的唯一标准,因此要知道如何发展,就需要了解发展是如何运作的。因此,当文化大革命十年后中国经济陷入困境时,中国代表前往不同地区寻求发展的途径。当中国领导人认为经济失控时,就开始了新一轮的海外学习。

根据书的说法,中国的决策人和经济学家跟社会主义国家学习比如南斯拉夫和罗马尼亚. 这些国家的发达为中国的领导人确定了社会主义的多样性。此外,他们还向经济发达国家学习: 比如,在1978年有谷牧带领的西欧访问团就建立中国经济特区的意图。

欧洲和北美的经济学家帮助中国提高技术水平,如通过计量经济学,是使双方都受益。西方经济学也被引进到了中国。 除了在书中描述的互动(如雅诺什-科尔奈和吴敬琏之间), 我的印象中经济学家如米尔顿·弗里德曼,詹姆斯·托宾,劳伦斯·克莱因和亚历克·凯恩克罗斯等也在塑造中国历史中发挥了重要的作用。 有些人与中国保持联系,积极参加会议、研讨会和课程。中国经济或经济事务网站经常引用他们的想法。有些还进入了中国发展史的书籍,如中国《经济学六十年》(1949-2009)。《西方经济学》成为中国大学经济学专业学生的典范教科书。各种经济教科书,以英文及其中文版被引入课堂。一些中国的经济学家还编写了教科书来介绍西方经济学,如高鸿业的《宏观经济学》和《微观经济学》。(由于两类教科书写作风格的不同,西方的更具体,中文的更抽象,两者兼读更有帮助。)

Image Credit: Pudong Skyline (Kamal Zharif Kamaludin CC BY SA 2.0)

中国的决策人不仅从西方的经济学家和经验中学习,而且还借鉴亚洲,比如亚洲四小龙(新加坡,台湾,韩国和香港)还有日本(与东欧和西方资本主义国家相比与后者的智力互动没有那么系统化了)。例如,毛泽东去世以后,中国的领导人担心通货膨胀。他们在压力之下向国外寻求经验和知识。在1989年,台湾经济学家提出提高利率- 20世纪50年代台湾在用的策略- 鼓励更大胆的价改。


邓小平用发展市场经济以加强和活跃社会主义的想法第一次在二十世纪七十现代后期在匈牙利和南斯拉夫得到了实践。然后经过不断的学习和尝试的过程, 努力接受“市场”和“社会主义”的并存,这是中国模式发展的特征。为了顺利地适应,以填补中国作为社会主义国家在受外国经济理论影响而创造了新的概念的空白。介绍了允许在社会主义制度下“市场”和“规划”并存的新实践。







姚汉,量化社会科学计划博士,政治与国际关系学院,都柏林大学,2017;研究者, 格里公共政策研究所, 都柏林大学 (2012-2017) ; 访问研究员, 耶路撒冷希伯来大学亚洲研究系, 2017。除了她的博士研究关于全球贸易和冲突的内嵌在网络中,她拥有广泛的兴趣,如发展和历史。


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Rose Deller

Posted In: Asia | Development | Economics | Europe and Neighbourhoods | History | International Relations | Reviews in Translation | Translated Reviews | USA and Canada


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