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Three Visions of Chinese Political Reform

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The central argument of this paper is that while political reform has remained a focal preoccupation of China's leadership, no unified vision of either the goal culture or the transfer culture of reform has yet emerged. Instead, there are at least three more or less clearly articulated visions of political reform currently in play. The first is the developmental perspective, according to which political reform is defined as whatever is most appropriate for rapid economic growth. The second vision is one of institutionalized personalism, according to which the informal sector will become normatively integrated and ultimately formalized, a source of innovation and no longer a threat to the established political order. The third vision, the percolation model, foresees the dissemination of successful local experiments as the appropriate engine of reform, a more open public realm as its goal culture. Each of these visions, though not necessarily incompatible, harnesses different grievances, satisfies different interests, and appeals to different constituencies.


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