Unlikely Partners


Julian Gewirtz, Harvard University Press, 389 pages, $39.95. “Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China” vividly brings to life China’s economic debates. Julian Gewirtz, a doctoral candidate in Chinese history at Oxford, credits a large constellation of Chinese reformers for their country’s development. Indeed, one of the book’s virtues is that it puts the spotlight on Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party chief who wound up under house arrest after the 1989 Tiananmen protests. Zhao has been written out of official histories, but his consistent support for bold thinking was critical to China’s success. Nevertheless, to understand how China found its way, it is also necessary to recognize the influence of foreign ideas. Trade trips were made to Europe. Academics trained in Marxist economics lapped up translated versions of Western textbooks. The Chinese were most receptive to economists who themselves hailed from planned economies and understood their flaws. For example, Ota Sik, from Czechoslovakia, inspired a strategy in the early 1980s that gave enterprises ever more control over setting prices. The World Bank carried out two major studies of the economy (the first of their kind) and became China’s largest source of foreign capital. Gewirtz’s book does not attempt to provide a definitive account of China’s economic rise. Little attention is paid to what was actually happening on factory floors or in farm fields. But it is still a gripping read, highlighting what was little short of a revolution in China’s economic thought.