The Reluctant Dragon

Crisis Cycles in Chinese Foreign Economic Policy

Lawrence C. Reardon

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  • Published: 2002. Paperback 2014
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; History
  • Bibliographic information: 369 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Chinese foreign economic policy before 1978 has been considered isolationist and centered on Maoist self-reliance. In this revisionist analysis, Lawrence Reardon argues that China was not out of touch with the global marketplace during the 1949-78 period and that Deng Xiaoping's heralded liberalizations in fact were revisions and expansions of policies from the Maoist period.

The dramatic economic reforms initiated by China's leaders in 1978 boosted GDP by between 9 and 13 percent each year during the 1980s and 1990s, while the nation's foreign trade figures rose from a trivial US$1.94 billion in 1952 to US$325 billion in 1997. By opening to the outside world and liberalizing the domestic economic infrastructure, China has become the third largest and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

The story of China's on-again, off-again trade efforts provides an important window on the cyclical struggle for power between Mao Zedong's ideologically driven allies and more pragmatic leaders such as Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, whose approach eventually prevailed. Reardon relies on primary sources, including Chinese Communist Party histories and other restricted-circulation materials that have recently come to light, to show that China's apparently sudden turn outward in 1978 was actually an extension of previous experiments hobbled by bureaucratic infighting and conflict among rival elites. He describes in unprecedented detail the seemingly contradictory strategies used by Mao and other leaders to assert China's absolute self-sufficiency while also striving to modernize the economy and achieve maximum prosperity as rapidly as possible. These latter goals required engagement with global economic forces - even capitalist nations - but were necessary to enhance national security in a hostile geopolitical environment and to assure continued domestic stability.
Lawrence C. Reardon is associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

"Far and away the most comprehensive and detailed account of China's foreign economic policy making. . . . The range of primary source materials discovered and used in this study is truly incredible."
-Nicholas R. Lardy, Brookings Institution
The Domestic Determinants of Chinese Foreign Economic Policy
Antinomies of Chinese Development, 1949-1958
Neomercantilism versus Self-Sufficiency, 1959-1966
Chaos and the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1971
Resurrecting the Four Modernizations, 1971-1947
The Abbreviated Leftist Response, 1974-1976
The Great Leap Outward, 1977-1979
Appendix A: Note on Chinese Sources
Appendix B: CCP Central Committee and State Council Emergency Directive, 26 October 1959
Appendix C: CCP Central Committee Approval of Export Commodity Production Base Establishment, 30 June 1960
Appendix D: CCP Central Committee Emergency Directive on Foreign Trade, 10 August 1960

"I would strongly recommend this book as an introductory text for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. . . . Reardon has produced a book that goes a long way in extending the long and fruitful tradition of Chinese foreign policy study through an elite factional lens and incorporating fresh sources."
-China Review International

"[This book] adds to a growing literature on the nature of factionalism and policy formation within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It sheds new light on the processes by which policy is debated, policy experiments are initiated, knowledge is acquired by the elites, and struggles over future policy are generated."