There’s Been a Revolution in How China Is Governed

Produced by ‘The Ezra Klein Show’

There are few stories that are more crucial to the world’s future than what’s happening in China. Take any of the most important issues of our time — climate change, geopolitics, the global economy, advanced technologies — and China is at the center of them. American politics itself has increasingly come to revolve around competition with China.

In other words, what happens in China doesn’t stay in China — it reverberates through the global economy, the American political system and the international order. And a lot is happening in China right now. In November, China experienced what many have called its most significant protests since Tiananmen Square in 1989. In response, Beijing loosened its “zero Covid” policy, demonstrating a level of public responsiveness that shocked many observers of the increasingly authoritarian regime. However, that policy shift also unleashed a huge wave of infections and hospitalizations that puts the country’s immediate future in question.

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Yuen Yuen Ang is a professor of political economy, a China scholar at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “China’s Gilded Age: The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption.” Her basic argument is this: In order to understand what’s happening in China today (and what all of it could mean for its future) you need to first understand China’s unique, often misunderstood political system — one that Ang calls “autocracy with democratic characteristics.” Because we in the West are so fixated on how China selects its leaders, she argues, we’ve overlooked a more subtle but far more consequential revolution in how China is governed. That transformation of the Chinese political system is the deeper story behind both the country’s economic success — as well as its current troubles. And it provides an illuminating lens through which to view American politics as well.

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(A full transcript of the episode is available here.)

Credit…Courtesy of Yuen Yuen Ang

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Emefa Agawu, Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld, Rogé Karma and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris and Kate Sinclair. Original music by Isaac Jones. Mixing by Jeff Geld. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Carole Sabouraud and Kristina Samulewski.

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