China's reform era is ending. Core factors that characterized it-political stability, ideological openness, and rapid economic growth-are unraveling.
Since the 1990s, Beijing's leaders have firmly rejected any fundamental reform of their authoritarian one-party political system, even as a decades-long boom has reshaped China's economy and society. On the surface, their efforts have been a success. Political turmoil has toppled former Communist East bloc regimes, internal unrest overtaken Middle East nations, and populist movements risen to challenge established Western democracies. China, in contrast, has appeared a relative haven of stability and growth.
But as Carl Minzner shows, a closer look at China's reform era reveals a different truth. Over the past three decades, a frozen political system has fueled both the rise of entrenched interests within the Communist Party itself, and the systematic underdevelopment of institutions of governance among state and society at large. Economic cleavages have widened. Social unrest has worsened. Ideological polarization has deepened.
Now, to address these looming problems, China's leaders are progressively cannibalizing institutional norms and practices that have formed the bedrock of the regime's stability in the reform era. Technocratic rule is giving way to black-box purges; collective governance sliding back towards single-man rule. The post-1978 era of "reform and opening up" is ending. China is closing down. Uncertainty hangs in the air as a new future slouches towards Beijing to be born. "End of an Era" explains how China arrived at this dangerous turning point, and outlines the potential outcomes that could result.