Launching the political future of China

from Press News, posted 04/19/2011 - 10:31

Academic book launches come in all shapes and sizes but four types are common: the public launch often held in a bookshop; the conference launch often squeezed desperately into a coffee or lunch break and forced to compete with conference-goers’ desire to network and generally make a noise; the after-work launch often laced with wine and barely disguised collegial rivalries; and the formal scholarly launch, often couched in the form of a seminar.

The recent launching of Mikael Mattlin’s new book, Politicized Society: The Long Shadow of Taiwan’s One-Party Legacy (recently published by NIAS Press), was just such a formal scholarly launch. Held at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) in Helsinki, the seminar addressed the “Transformation of a one-party system: What the Taiwan case tells about the political future of China”. Here, Dr Mattlin, a research fellow at FIIA, gave a presentation based on his book. This was followed by another presentation by the discussant, Dr Lauri Paltemaa, research fellow at the East-Asia Research Centre at the University of Turku. After the presentations, the audience participated in a discussion moderated by Dr Matti Nojonen of FIIA. Some 35 people attended the seminar.

The seminar examined what similarities and lessons the protracted political transformation of Taiwan could offer when considering different scenarios for Mainland China’s political future. Taiwan’s transition away from one-party rule beginning in 1987 and the societal and institutional changes that followed can be seen as a testing laboratory for what might be ahead in Mainland China if the Chinese Communist Party gradually relaxes its monopolistic hold on power, Dr Mattlin argued.

Dr Paltemaa was especially pleased about the solid groundwork for the book, and the fact that it explored a less researched area of Taiwan’s transition, namely what happens when the political transition formally has been completed. According to Dr Paltemaa, the initial push for transforming a political system is usually prompted by a crisis; in Taiwan it was the foreign policy crisis after the United States changed the course of its China policy towards the People’s Republic. If the leaders of Mainland China some day come to the conclusion that they have to loosen up one-party politics, Dr Paltemaa agreed that they were most likely to follow Taiwan’s path.

Of course, the book is new and review copies are only now being sent out. But down track it will be interesting to see how the book is received – and how much that events on the ground in China match the Taiwanese experience.


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