Penn's resident expert on Chinese politics answers these and other questions in a wide-ranging interview.


It has never been easy for Westerners to understand China. Not during the ages of rule by emperors and warlords, when the land was more or less closed to foreigners; not during the tumultuous century now ending, when it went from being governed by the corrupt and moribund Qing dynasty to the troubled Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek to the often-brutally suppressive Communist Party of Mao Zedong and his successors.
   But China continues to fascinate, even as it confounds. It is, after all, the world's most populous nation, a sleeping economic giant that is finally waking up and smelling the tea, a military power that cannot be ignored. It is also -- nominally -- the last great communist power on the planet, albeit one that is quietly transforming its state-run economy to one embracing free-market principles. The Communist Party's high-wire balancing act between (from our view) empowering change and repressive continuity, or (from its view) order and chaos -- which came to a head 10 years ago at Tiananmen Square -- continues to be the stuff of drama.
   To get some insight into China today, Gazette Senior Editor Samuel Hughes spoke with Dr. Avery Goldstein, C'75, GEd'76, associate professor of political science and that department's resident China hand, not to mention director of its Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics and director of the Asia Program for the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute. Goldstein, who claims that he was "not a very serious political-science student" during his undergraduate days at Penn, nonetheless got bitten by the China bug during an independent-study course with Dr. Jack Nagel, then an assistant professor in the department. That bug led him (after a brief interlude teaching in the Philadelphia public-school system) to the University of California-Berkeley, where he earned his master's degree and Ph.D. and garnered a prize as the "outstanding graduate student in political science." He returned to Penn as an assistant professor in 1985.
   The first interview took place in Goldstein's Stiteler Hall office this past November (just as, quite coincidentally, Penn President Judith Rodin, CW'66, was in China on University business); the second, by phone, in January. The talks covered a wide range of issues: from President Jiang Zemin and the current Communist Party leadership, to the economy and such social issues as pollution and the effect of the Internet, to affairs of state. The last category includes the recent return of Hong Kong, held by Great Britain as a colony since 1897; the occupation of Tibet and the persecution of Buddhist monks by the Chinese People's Liberation Army; and the long-simmering tensions over Taiwan, whose democratic Nationalist government has, with American support, remained independent from the mainland. That dispute almost boiled over in 1995 and 1996, when Beijing conducted military exercises in the Taiwan Straits and the United States sent in the Seventh Fleet as a warning.

  Sidebar: "Guess Who's
Coming to Tea?"

  Since it has been two years since the death of Deng Xiaoping, the last of the old Communist Revolutionary leaders of China, we began by looking at some significant developments -- and non-developments -- since Deng's successor, Jiang Zemin, took the reins. For Goldstein, the biggest non-development was that, contrary to expectations, there has been no obvious power struggle among the leadership. (Given the amount of blood shed during earlier power struggles, that has to be considered good news for the Chinese people.) Under Jiang, Goldstein pointed out, China has continued to move toward a free-market economy, gradually divesting itself of its inefficient state-run enterprises along the way. And by naming Zhu Rongji as premier last year, "they appointed someone who has a reputation for getting things done."
   Unfortunately, Goldstein added, "just as those efforts got underway, the Asian financial crisis began to kick in, and any hopes that they could make such economic reforms work without creating significant unemployment were dashed." On top of that, China had to cope with the catastrophic summer floods. As a result, he said, there has been a slowdown in economic reforms, and while the official numbers published by the government -- including a 7.8-percent growth in the gross domestic product -- indicate that the Chinese economy did quite well compared with other Asian economies, "people seem to have less confidence in the numbers for this year than the numbers they have gotten in the past."
   The other big change, he said, has been the "more active international strategy of the leadership, and particularly the attempt to strengthen relations with the United States." In fact, he added, the current leadership has restored U.S.-China relations to their best point since prior to Tiananmen Square. Whether that will survive the recent report by a House subcommittee chaired by California Representative Christopher Cox -- that some "militarily useful" technology has been transferred to China over the past 20 years -- remains to be seen.
   What follows is an edited version of those two interviews.

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