THE YEAR 2012 should go down as one of China’s most eventful in recent memory. A blind lawyer’s dramatic escape from house arrest, controversies with neighboring countries over control of a string of islands, a Chinese novelist’s win of the Nobel Prize for Literature — there was no shortage of stories related to China that made international headlines. In spite of all this — and in spite of the fall from great heights of neo-Maoist leader Bo Xilai — it felt like a year in which nothing happened.
For the country has fixed its gaze on achieving a specific ambitious goal: that of rapidly becoming a globally admired and thoroughly modern nation through its own original methods, and to have this achievement go down as a formative and positive development in human history. Once China committed to this future, any year that ends without palpable progress towards it is bound to seem inconsequential. What China achieved in 2008, with its high profile Olympics, and in 2010, with the news that it had surpassed Japan to become the world’s second economy, 2012 simply could not match.
China’s long-term evolution has trended steadily if haltingly upward, albeit with violent setbacks along the way, including the descent into the misery of the Great Leap Famine (1958-1962) and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The country’s current path of change, which has brought it more wealth and power than any previous one, finds its origins in Deng Xiaoping’s market-oriented reforms, begun in the 1980s and accelerated after the Tiananmen uprising in 1989. This period solidified neoliberalism’s place as a stable option for reform. The Communist Party anointed the enterprise “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” still the core phrase defining modern China. The country’s guiding ideology, however, is probably more in line with Deng’s cruder slogan, “To get rich is glorious.”
The dominant order of Western capitalist democracies, which is still the ultimate judge of China’s economic progress, seems to agree with Deng. It was for this reason that in 2012, they deemed 2030 to be China’s magical marker. Jim O’Neill, head of global asset management at Goldman Sachs, had predicted in 2011 that China’s economy could surpass that of the Unites States by 2027. Perhaps to account for any rounding errors (and give China a reasonable horizon of 20 years), both the World Bank and the National Intelligence Council released reports detailing what China ought to do to become a fully mature global power by the year 2030. The implications, whether intended or not, are clear: 2030 is a deadline for China to profoundly restructure its economy, and if China can focus on achieving this goal, it will as a matter of course institute necessary political and social reforms. It is this complex web of political, social, economic, plain-view, and shadow dimensions to China’s development that Red Rising, Red Eclipse, the first installment of the China Story Yearbook project headed by noted China historian Geremie Barmé, seeks to chronicle. One indicator of the book’s comprehensive success is that the internet version has been banned in Mainland China.
When people call for economic reform in China, they reserve their lightest criticism for the methods of China’s highly skilled economists. In the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008, China pursued an expansionary monetary p...read more