UNLIKELY PARTNERS: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China.

AuthorHarris, Peter
PositionBook review

UNLIKELY PARTNERS: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China

Author: Julian Gewirtz Published by: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, and London, 2017, 416pp, US$39.95.

A neglected aspect of the economic reforms undertaken in China from 1979 onwards is the role of Western advisers. These advisers, many but not all of them American, helped Chinese decision-makers steer their country towards a less Stalinist, more market-oriented and more effective economy. In this engaging book the Harvard- and Oxford-educated scholar Julian Gewirtz does a fine job of setting the record straight, providing a well-researched and informative account of how these advisers spent the 1980s providing their Chinese counterparts with a wide-ranging overview of economic and financial policy-making in both capitalist and Soviet-bloc economies. They provided Chinese decision-makers and scholars with some of the know-how they needed to move China away from the dead-end policies of late Maoism, and launch the country on the road to wealth and power--the goal of most Chinese reformers, communist and non-communist, from the late Qing dynasty onwards.

Gewirtz shows that China was well served by these foreign advisers, and on the whole made fairly good use of them. With the notable exception of Milton Friedman, the influential Chicago monetarist who at a critical juncture in 1988 advised Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang to take radical measures to promote free-market reforms, most of the advisers were gradualists who understood the extraordinary difficulties facing Chinese leaders, many of them woefully ignorant of capitalist economics, and the need for them to move ahead incrementally. Typical of die advisers were two specialists from eastern Europe, whose knowledge of Soviet-style economies was very helpful in bridging the conceptual gaps separating China and the Western world, and in injecting a dose of realism into Chinese deliberations. These were the Hungarian economist Janos Kordai, whose ideas, as Gewirtz notes, 'flooded into Chinese debates' in the early 1980s, and the Polish economist Wfodzimierz Brus, who left Poland in 1972 and spent many of his remaining years at Oxford grappling with the problems of socialist economies in transition.

Other important figures included the US Nobel laureate James Tobin, who the Chinese economist Wu Jinglian--a leading reformist who features largely in Gewirtz's book--regarded as 'the...

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