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  • The Reluctant Dragon: Crisis Cycles in Chinese Foreign Economic Policy
  • Kun-Chin Lin (bio)
Lawrence C. Reardon . The Reluctant Dragon: Crisis Cycles in Chinese Foreign Economic Policy. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. Hardcover $45.00. xii, 355 pp. ISBN 0-295-98121-0.

Lawrence C. Reardon offers a most convincing account of how "tendency" or "opinion" groups persisted through the turmoil of Mao era factionalism, to continually redefine the foreign policy goal of self-reliance. Nicholas Lardy does not exaggerate in his book cover review in calling this book "[f]ar and away the most comprehensive and detailed account of China's foreign economic policy making...." I would strongly recommend this book as an introductory text for advanced undergraduate and graduate students, alongside such classics by Barnett, Dittmer, Ho and Huenemann, Whiting, and Yahuda.

Examining variations in China's policies on foreign trade and investment and export-oriented institutions such as trade fairs and insulated economic zones from 1949 to the early 1980s, Reardon shows how Chinese leaders had never resorted to autarky in their attempts at rapid economic development. A powerful coalition of politicians led by Premier Zhou Enlai had continually explored initiatives to deploy foreign resources to help China achieve import substitution industrialization, even as detractors such as Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four [End Page 503] occasionally derailed its momentum. Whereas the structural constraints imposed by the Cold War-in particular during the Sino-Soviet rift of 1960s-dramatically narrowed China's access to the global market, the Chinese kept business dealings with Japanese, Europeans, and Eastern Europeans, in the process acquiring experience in international trade and marketing. Limited liberalization in the Deng era thus does not represent a break from the Mao era, but rather a shift from simple and cyclical policy patterns to complex and more linear learning dynamics. In fact, Deng Xiaoping firmly grounded Zhou Enlai's pragmatism in referring to the experience of East Asian Tigers and other cases of using various incentive structures to compensate for the nation's initial state of backwardness and the rigidities of administrative planning. By implication, it also becomes comprehensible that Chinese leaders could confidently reject neoclassical market prescriptions.

Reardon focuses his analytical contribution to theories of factionalism in China studies. He argues that factionalism is not zero-sum, as shown in the persistence of Zhou Enlai's priorities and a coalition of like-minded reformers. Reardon offers a fascinating interpretation of Zhou as rather stubborn and idealistic, but also manipulative of policies and of Mao's declared intentions even, as compared to conventional accounts that portray Zhou either as clearly subservient to Mao or as playing a precarious role of a survivalist or a balancer in a cut-throat political arena. The political horse trading and positions taken by key players are excellently documented through Reardon's careful reading of new Chinese sources, mainly biographies of Zhou Enlai and Zhu De issued by the Central Party Literature Research Centre and restricted as well as open official documents. (Reardon offers an appendix on pages 217-225 explaining the Chinese categorizations of the primary and secondary official sources. This appendix should prove mighty useful to students.) Inheriting the best tradition of historical-political analysis exemplified by Roderick MacFarquhar, Reardon presents his narratives with chronological precision and a real dramatic flair, interweaving seminal data with provocative quotations. More importantly, he lets policies speak for themselves, by avoiding interjecting psychoanalysis of larger-than-life individuals or overly complex court intrigue diagnosis. I also appreciated his honesty in pointing out key empirical gaps, such as the lack of data on export-oriented processing during the Cultural Revolution mentioned on page 148.

Reardon's book unearths several key areas for further research. First, what were the origins of foreign policy ideas? Reardon's analysis boils down to the Weltanshauung of top leaders, with the more liberal and pragmatic views deriving from the European education of Zhou Enlai and Zhu De. Yet Reardon concedes that even the normatively driven Mao also learnt from his failed initiatives and responses from his colleagues. If so, one wonders if the liberal and the Maoist views were equally rigid in their own ways...


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pp. 503-506
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