Hung, Ho-fung: "The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World."(Book review)

Author:Stapleton, Kristin

Hung, Ho-fung. The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

Ho-fung Hung, a sociologist with a keen interest in comparative history, aims in this study to both dash hopes and calm fears that China is transforming the capitalist world order in radical directions. China supports the status quo, he argues, and "is a key force in helping perpetuate U.S. global dominance" (173). As a concise, incisive, and provocative introduction to the history and contemporary state of the Chinese economic system, this book is invaluable, particularly for students and newcomers to the field. Even those familiar with the arguments Hung presents, though, will appreciate the clarity and fairness with which he dissects debates on China's role in the global political economy.

An introduction sets out Hung's twin goals of explaining the development of capitalism in China and assessing the nature and extent of its impact on the world. Hung argues that, more than simply a market economy, a capitalist system requires a cultural drive to accumulate material wealth and institutions that encourage this drive. The history of markets in China is long and rich, but the "capitalist spirit" of accumulation did not take firm hold until its political economy was transformed by the collapse of the imperial order in the twentieth century.

Hung devotes the three chapters of part one ("Origins") to a survey of economic change in China from the Qing era (1644-1911) to the present. Over the course of these chapters he engages critically with works by Kenneth Pomeranz, Thomas Rawski, and many other analysts of China's political economy. He argues that the Maoist regime managed to accomplish what its nineteenth- and twentieth-century predecessors had tried but failed to do: harness the wealth of the countryside to industrialize. In Chapter Three, he analyzes the "capitalist boom" since 1980 as partly a legacy of Maoist policies that benefitted industry over consumption, but spread education and health services to the countryside. The household registration (hukou) system, put in place in the 1950s to prevent rapid migration to the cities, now serves to suppress the wages of relatively well educated and disciplined migrant workers. The entrepreneurial Chinese diaspora contributed to the boom, as well, by responding enthusiastically to Deng Xiaoping's invitation to bring its organizational expertise and capital to the motherland in the...

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