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Jean-Philippe Beja Guest Editor’s Introduction FA SCIN A TIO N W IT H C H IN A IS D E FIN IT E L Y NOT A N EW PH EN O M EN O N . Without going back to Marco Polo, whose book of marvels gave birth to that fascination, one can instead recall that the Enlightenment philosophers regarded the government of the Middle Empire as close to their ideal. In his PhilosophicalDictionary, Voltaire claimed that China was governed by the equivalent of philosophers, and encouraged European monarchs to study its example. After the Industrial Revolution, when Western captains of industry were searching for new markets every­ where, they naturally turned toward China. The myth of the hundreds of millions of toothbrushes to be sold if eveiy Chinese was to brush his or her teeth goes back to the second half of the nineteenth century. Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church and protestant missionaries were eager to save the souls of the hundreds of millions of Chinese heathen. In the 1920s, European and American children, when told to finish their meals, were regularly reminded that they were very lucky to have enough to eat when Chinese children were starving to death. For Europe, the flower ofthe continent’s intelligentsia, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Louis Althusser, and even Michel Foucault, who is now so popular in American universities, were fascinated by Mao’s Cultural Revolution. They were followed by Henry Kissinger, Jeffrey Sachs, Wall Street gurus, and the theoreticians of neoliberalism. In the last couple of years, not a day has passed without a news­ paper headline calling attention to the “awakening of the dragon,” the rise of the twenty-first-century superpower and the extreme pressure that a developing China is putting on world resources. In Washington, the Pentagon recurrently issues papers pronouncing a “China threat,” while others in Washington claim that the Middle Empire has become a social research Vol 72 : No 3 : Fall 2005 vii responsible power fully involved in the war on terror and doing its best to solve the Korean nuclear crisis. On the evolution of the political system, opinions vary. The opti­ mistic believe that the development of a market economy, the rise of a middle class, and the opening of the country to the outside world have deeply changed the Chinese Communist Party, which has shown a seri­ ous commitment to the rule of law. Others say that it has yet to eman­ cipate itself from the totalitarian matrix established by Mao Zedong in 1949. Even though China is very much an open country whose citi­ zens travel around the world, providing large cohorts to international migrations, and even with the development of Western tourism and the growing number of adoptions of Chinese children by Western fami­ lies, the People’s Republic remains a considerable mystery. We do not pretend that this issue ofSocialResearchwill unravel this mystery. But, by asking both Western and Chinese specialists to present the results of their research on this countiy, we hope to contribute to a balanced understanding of a countiy that, whatever one’s opinions, is sure to weigh heavily on the development of the world in the decades to come. Some of our authors are intellectuals who have been deeply involved in the various debates that have shaped the fledgling cultural scene in the last few years. Some are Western researchers who have spent long years studying and living in the country and have a good grasp of its language and culture. Some are Chinese who live abroad. All are well-known scholars in their fields. Of course, this issue is not comprehensive. It is impossible to write on all aspects of a countiy of 1.3 billion people in the midst of one of the greatest transformations to have taken place in history. Except for an article that shows the impressive changes that the economy has undergone, we have deliberately decided to concentrate on the social and political questions in an attempt to present some of the main prob­ lems China has been confronted with during the last two and a half decades. This is why we asked the Chinese Academy of...


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