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China's New Business Elite The Political Consequences of Economic Reform

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China's transition from a planned to a market economy and its "opening" to the outside world, initiated under Deng Xiaoping, unleashed a plethora of changes throughout the country. One result of the economic reforms has been the creation of a new business elite in China. The economic impact of this new business elite is unquestioned, but what is its political impact? Is it, as often assumed in the West, a carrier of democratization? While members of China's emerging business elite have benefited greatly from the new economic freedoms in China, have they pushed for political reforms as well? To explore this question, Margaret M. Pearson conducted extensive interviews during the first half of the 1990s with Chinese-born managers of foreign-backed joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned companies in China. She further researched the activities of domestic-sector entrepreneurs. Pointing to the new business elite's newly granted independence from the socialist state, Western models of change assume that it is politically independent and motivated to bring about substantial political change. Yet China's foreign-sector and domestic entrepreneurs are not at the forefront of democratization or the emergence of a civil society. Rather, as Pearson's interviews show, they are at the head of a new form of state-society relations in China, a hybrid of "socialist corporatism" and clientelism. This hybrid pattern has deep roots in Chinese history, as merchants in the Qing and Republican eras also exhibited a dual role toward the state: a mix of independence and state control. In its post-Mao form, the hybrid pattern of state-society relations has been shaped deliberately by the state to ensure that economic development does not spill over into democratization. Pearson concludes that this is a potentially stable situation, without an internal necessity for change.