A dominant assessment of China’s post-Mao reforms is that they have been an economic success but a political failure (Lichtenstein 1991; Shirk 1993; Shell 1994; H. Wang 1994; Pei 1994). For example, after praising the success of the strategy of growing a market economy, Barry Naughton (1995,310) adds the following qualification:
According to some scholars, because the Chinese political system has failed to adapt itself to the countiy’s economic development, the change of the latter has led to the decay of the former. A troubling sign of this syndrome of political decay is that the control of the central government over the country is slipping away. As economic growth soars, decentralization deepens, and changes in local/central relationships follow. The state capacity of the central government, both politically and economically, has declined drastically (Zheng 1995, 3; Jia and Lin 1994; Segal 1994). The reason why this regime has not collapsed can be attributed primarily to China’s economic prosperity. When a government is able to continue providing more goods and services people are satisfied. To borrow Habermas (1973)’s terminology, the success in dealing with the efficiency crisis has helped the Chinese government alleviate its legitimation crisis. All in all, it has become a cliché that China’s economic performance has not benefited from its political system. Even if it did not happen in a political vacuum, the political system only hampered the economy from achieving its
full potential. According to this view, the political system now depends on robust economic growth for its survival.