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  • The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State by Elizabeth C. Economy
  • Martin Schönfeld (bio)
The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State. By Elizabeth C. Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xvi + 343. Paper $25.00, ISBN 978-0-19-086607-5.

The Third Revolution is an examination of the historic transformations in contemporary China. Elizabeth C. Economy is director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). According to its mission statement, the CFR is a think tank “dedicated to being a resource for … government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students … to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States.” The Third Revolution is about the societal, economic, and political changes under the administration of General Secretary Xi Jinping. Published by Oxford as a CFR Book, the study is written from a foreign policy perspective with regard to strategic U.S. interests.

The monograph is not about Chinese philosophy, and neither is it on China’s culture or ideas. Still, it deserves attention, for reasons that concern philosophy and reality. Granted, these reasons can be debated, for if one defines ‘philosophy’ as a love of wisdom and Socratic inquiry into human subjectivity and agency, the contents of Economy’s Third Revolution will seem off-topic. But if one defines ‘philosophy’ as wisdom-based inquiries into objective concerns of humanity, as zhexue 哲學, in other words, then Third Revolution may be quite relevant. In China, Xi Jinping is regarded as a philosopher, and Xi Jinping Thought 习近平思想 is the leading variant of Marxist-Leninist philosophy. The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State is on the accomplishments and limits of Xi Jinping Thought.

It should be noted that the two definitions of philosophy share a common ground in the historical pioneers of the German Aufklärung. Christian Wolff (1679–1754) and his student Georg Bilfinger (1693–1750) were deeply inspired by Confucianism, and their result was an East-West synthesis: rational systems that aspired to be a ‘theory of everything’ and rested on a notion of philosophy as wisdom of living in the world [End Page 1] (Weltweisheit). This ‘world-wisdom’ involved Socratic critique, Confucian ideas, and metaphysical conjecture based on then available empirical data. It aspired to make sense of collective reality for the sake of the common good. In a strange twist of history, Xi Jinping Thought appears to be a modern variant of Wolffian Weltweisheit. What is remarkable about it is its pragmatic, science-based, and future-oriented approach to the climate emergency.

The Third Revolution is an account of China’s transformation since Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2012 and President in 2013. It consists of eight chapters, notes, and an index. Chapter 1 is a description of “the Xi vision” (p. 2): a call for the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” which emphasizes “the linkages between an imperial China and a China led by the Communist Party.” This call is the “Chinese Dream” (zhongguo meng 中国梦), rooted in “collective values” such as “opportunities for better education, higher income, and a cleaner environment” (pp. 3–4). Deng Xiaoping’s “second revolution” in 1978 (after Mao’s in 1949), “signaled the beginning of a transition from a command to a more market-driven economy” (p. 6) and initiated “an outward turn to the rest of the world” (p. 7). The third revolution, under Xi, involved a move away “from a collective leadership to elevate Xi as the preeminent leader, deepened the role of the Communist Party and state in society and in the economy, and sought to elevate China’s role in world affairs” (pp. 9–10).

Economy notes that the third revolution constrains the influx of foreign ideas, while enhancing “the flow of ideas and influences from China to the outside world” (p. 11). Chapter 2 is a survey of the centralization of power, the growing presence of the CCP in daily life, and the adoption of legal reforms. One of the centerpieces of Xi’s first five years in office has been an anti-corruption campaign. Economy drily remarks...


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