End of an Era | Carl Minzner

Summary of: End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise
By: Carl Minzner


Discover the unanticipated turn of China’s political and economic evolution in the book summary of ‘End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise’ by Carl Minzner. Once predicted to transform into a Western-style democracy and economic powerhouse, China now faces a reversal of its democratic progress as it enters an age of increased repression and declining growth. This summary delves into the hurdles of China’s shift from its earlier trajectory, the events leading to its authoritarian resurgence, and the challenges it poses to the economy, social mobility, and political stability, all while exploring the impact on China’s relations with the United States.

China’s Democratic Recession

China’s transformation into a Western-style democracy is no longer a possibility. The political and economic reforms that were explored in the late 20th century have stalled, and the promise of an open society governed by the rule of law has receded. Under the rule of Xi Jinping, China has experienced a democratic recession, and the country has returned to Mao-era treatment of dissidents. State officials, journalists, and lawyers are forced to make public confessions, and social media and free press crackdowns have been implemented to increase authoritarianism. Xi’s primary concern has been increasing his own power, resulting in the establishment of “Xi Jinping Thought” as the law of the land. Even though Xi has not staged Mao-style rallies yet, an economic crash or a conflict in the South China Sea might test his ability to retain power, thus leading to him following in Mao’s footsteps.

China’s Oppressive Regime

China’s current political situation is a result of the Communist Party’s suppression of democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The party rules with an iron fist, silencing any form of dissent and leaving the population with limited options. This repression has led to sporadic outbursts of violence, which the government responds to with more oppression. Higher education in China has become a luxury, divorced from its traditional role as a tool for social mobility. Beijing’s crackdowns have led to erratic and desperate responses from the public, with many turning to extreme measures to express their anger. Despite Westerners seeing such outbursts as a sign of budding democracy, they instead illustrate the lack of avenues for peaceful protest in China.

China’s Economic Rise and Decline

For three decades, China experienced a rapid economic growth averaging 10% per year, which transformed the country into a model of prosperity. However, the regime’s concentration on shutting down political dissent and expanding state monopolies during the Hu Jintao years led to a “lost decade” and hindered effective economic reforms. The current situation is worsened as the industries and investments that once drove China’s economic rise, continue to weaken, leading to an overall slowdown in growth. Although China has made progress in reducing poverty, income inequality is now on par with that of the United States, Africa, and Latin America. China can no longer promise a more prosperous future for everyone, and this underscores the fact that advancement eludes many.

China’s College Bubble

Over the past few decades, higher education in China has become more accessible to a wider range of students. The number of college graduates has risen, reaching nearly 7 million per year in 2015. However, the value of a college degree has decreased significantly as the job market is unable to absorb such an influx of graduates. In addition, the growth of the higher education sector has led to a corresponding need for professors to publish papers, which has resulted in a black market for phony academic papers. As a result, students are choosing to continue their studies and obtain master’s degrees to stand out in the job market, even traveling to the United States to complete their education. While this trend may benefit US colleges, it is a worrying sign for the Chinese economy’s future.

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