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The China Dream and the China Path

The China Dream and the China Path

Jonathan Sullivan25 Feb 2014One comment

Written by Kerry Brown.

Zhou Tianyong is one of contemporary China’s finest and most sophisticated economic and political thinkers. A member of the influential, and largely very liberal and open minded, Central Party School in Beijing, he was a co-author of `Fortress Besieged: A Manifesto for Political Reform after the 17th Party Congress’ which he issued with Wang Changjiang, his colleague at the School, in 2009. This work set out a number of interesting proposals for how China could reform its legal, congress and tax system.

`The China Dream and the China Path’ (World Scientific, 2014) which has just been issued in English by Zhou should, therefore, offer the opportunity for key insights into how leading Chinese thinkers actually view their country’s development and potential future path. But the translation of this work is so poor that much of it reads like a dreary political speech by a provincial leader on their tour abroad. It is clear that the work has not been edited by a native speaker of English, and on almost every page there are inaccuracies, or passages that are simply incomprehensible. Sentences like `The urban network system, formed by the connections of fluid objects and nodes is the compound network and economic system integrated with various networks’ (p 34)  or `The civilization in China has been multi-national, multi-regional, multi-periodical and extremely diversified…’ (23). Clauses are heaped on top of each other, so that some paragraphs consist simply of one elongated sentence. This is, of course, permissible in Chinese, where clauses almost function like sentences in English, but looks clogged up and impenetrable when so literally translated.

Through this translation, one can just about work out that Zhou’s argument is that the China Dream is focussed on people having a good standard of living, of being well educated, prosperous, enjoying a diverse cultural life and a healthy environment. They are also going to need to be increasingly urban. Not much to argue with there. But the uniformity that he imputes to Chinese views of what they want makes the reader a little suspicious. It all seems somewhat mechanistic and utilitarian. There is little deep discussion of ethnic or social or even generational and cultural differences between Chinese people, with the sort of dream outlined here would really best fit a tiny demographic. Zhou does discuss some interesting issues of how, for instance, the household registration system needs reformation to create greater social equity, how people in cities need more living space, and how there needed to be a stronger spiritual element in contemporary Chinese life.

None of this mitigates much for the fact that, going from this book, one feels one is reading the sonorous lecture of a party official rather than someone who is elegantly as learned and sophisticated a thinker as Zhou is. The book is co-published by the Social Sciences Academic Press in Beijing, and this might therefore have restricted the latitude given to the translator. Even so, as it currently stands this book does a disservice to Zhou, and to the publishers outside China. Hopefully their future works in this series will be edited much more rigourously. This book is largely unreadable, and that is a real pity.

Kerry Brown is Professor of Chinese Politics and Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Kerry is head of  the EU-funded Europe China Research and Advice Network and a CPI Blog Regular Contributor. He tweets @Bkerrychina

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1 comment to “The China Dream and the China Path”

  1. Hans Kuijper says:

    Zhou Tianyong ‘one of contemporary China’s finest and most sophisticated economic and political thinkers’? I doubt if he is. One cannot but be suspicious of somebody who joined the Central Party School, in-house think tank of China’s Communist (or Capialist?) Party. And besides, it is hard enough to be expert in one scientific domain (economics, or politics), as Professor Brown will readily acknowledge; it is enormously difficult, if not impossible, for one (wo)man to become an expert in two disciplines.

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