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China's Journey into the Unknown

With a wave of regulatory and other actions against leading private-sector firms, Chinese President Xi Jinping clearly intends to re-establish the Communist Party’s ultimate control over all aspects of Chinese life. Yet that effort may well kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

OXFORD – China watchers have grown ever more anxious as President Xi Jinping has concentrated power in his own hands, and as the Communist Party of China’s leadership has become more coercive, both at home and abroad. The so-called trade war with the United States, deterioration in relations with many foreign governments, and the COVID-19 pandemic have had far-reaching consequences for China. And now comes Xi’s regulatory and legal clampdown on private firms and their owners, as he champions a new campaign to promote “common prosperity.”

The speed and scope of these developments exemplify the hazard of book-writing on contemporary affairs. Even so, the three books examined here provide (each in its own way) a valuable perspective on the more lasting aspects of Xi’s China, identifying features that can guide thinking about the future of a country that is both challenging the world and facing major challenges of its own.

The focus by these authors on systemic aspects of Chinese governance is all the more relevant in light of this year’s extensive and continuing regulatory measures. A broad array of sectors has been affected by this new regulatory activism, including technology, data, finance, education and tutoring, logistics, distribution, and now housing, where indebtedness, costs, and overbuilding have been deemed excessive.

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