The Death of China’s Reform Era

Matt Schiavenza reviews End of an Era by Carl Minzner

In terms of shock value, the announcement on Sunday 25 February that China would abolish term limits for its president and vice president – thus setting the stage for Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely – registers several notches below Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election. China’s presidency, after all, is only Xi’s third-most important position, ranking below his chairmanship of the Chinese Communist Party and leadership of the country’s Central Military Commission – neither of which have ever been bound by term limits. Sinologists have referred to Xi as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong since the early days of his presidency, a status only solidified when Xi neglected to anoint a successor at last October’s 19th Party Congress. Removing presidential term limits is, itself, a move of little consequence, acknowledging changes that seem to have already taken place.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t significant. Now is as good a time as any to declare that the most recent period of Chinese history, one that replaced Maoism with Deng Xiaoping’s nascent market reforms in 1978, has come to an end. A new period – one some observers have dubbed “the Xi era” – has begun.