Education About Asia: Online Archives

Teaching China’s Legal and Political System: Culture and Revolution

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Teaching about China’s legal and political system is closely related to the issue of whether—and how—China’s government might change in the future. Good teaching cannot be based on inappropriate Western models or fly in the face of available evidence. After a century of research on China, one would think that Western expectations of China’s conformity to any foreign models would be diminished. After all, scholars have had decades to consider Jonathan Spence’s To Change China,1 which chronicles the follies of Westerners who traveled to China between 1620 and 1960 bent on transforming Chinese civilization, only to end their life’s work with the discovery that they changed more than China changed. The improbability of significant change is also suggested by Lucian Pye’s work, which demonstrates the durability of Chinese culture.2 As recently as 2007, James Mann found it necessary to publish The China Fantasy, in which he argues that with China, what one sees is what one gets.3 Mann argues that many American observers and politicians promote one of two dysfunctional fantasies— the gradual democratic transformation of China’s government or a revolution that will result in a democratic China.