In This Review

China Experiments: From Local Innovations to National Reform
China Experiments: From Local Innovations to National Reform
By Ann Florini,Hairong Lai,Yeling Tan
Brookings Institution Press, 2012, 216 pp

This book suggests that China is moving toward a new kind of authoritarianism, one that provides “greater voice and accountability” and is responsive enough to blur the distinction with democracy. China’s leaders face the need to rebalance state-society relations and cultivate greater legitimacy in response to the rise of a middle class, new media, and rights consciousness. Even though one-party rule remains sacrosanct, the authors identify a variety of local experiments that have loosened top-down control and opened channels for citizen input. These include an electronic supervision system to prevent corruption in issuing administrative approvals for new businesses in Shenzhen, the use of various forms of opinion polling and semi-competitive elections to help select government and party officials at the lowest levels, government cultivation of certain citizen groups that provide social services, and the adoption of regulations to increase public access to government information. The question is whether these experiments are less-than-halfway measures designed only to disguise the true structure of power or whether they are the early signs of real change, as the authors seem to believe.