, Volume 91, Number 5

Tim Summers
China’s social and economic transformations, and their growing global impact, have prompted a plethora of books. This review article examines five recent books in Polity’s China today series as a basis for discussion about society and politics in China. The series is structured around applying different themes or concepts to China, and these five look at consumption, social welfare, class, ethnicity, and the nature, role and performance of the Communist Party and state. The books provide well-researched and balanced accounts of developments in China, especially since the era of ‘reform and opening up’ began in 1978. The article argues that important themes of the books—the growing discourse of consumption, the depoliticization of class as socio-economic strata, the Party-state as a pragmatic provider of citizen services, and the role of the private sector in the provision of social welfare—are all features of the current phase of a globalized capitalist modernity, and concludes that while the country wants to be seen as different, the accounts of politics and society in this series suggests that China today offers more of an alternative within that modernity than an alternative to it.

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