China's Transition

In This Review

China's Transition

By Andrew J. Nathan
Columbia University Press, 1997
313 pp. $27.50
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The author has an easy time dismissing those who argue that China is not culturally capable of democracy. Taiwan demonstrates the fallacy of such a contention. And he also convincingly argues that the Chinese legacy of authoritarian rule does not bar a democratic transition. Indeed, if that were the case, few countries would ever have made the transition. He is also correct to warn that without an institutionalized rule of law, China could become a twentieth-century version of Bismarckian Germany or Meiji Japan. Unfortunately, in this collection of essays, Nathan does not test his own ideas against the impressive body of theory on democratization associated with such scholars as Henry Rowen, Samuel Huntington, Guillermo O'Donnell, and Juan Linz. Rowen has demonstrated that a per capita income of $8,000 or more is highly correlated with democracy. And where there are exceptions, such as the Persian Gulf emirates or Singapore, the absence of democracy can be explained by a paternalistic authoritarian elite. Both in Taiwan and South Korea, the two Asian countries that have recently made a transition to democracy, the key factors were leaders who were more prepared to have free elections and much higher levels of per capita income than are now present in China.