Minqi Li: The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy.

Author:Morgan, Jamie
Position::Book review

Minqi Li The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy, Pluto Press: London, 2008; 208 pp.: 9780745327723, 19.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)

I liked this book despite myself. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it is more a criticism of my own preconceptions when I became aware that it was a book based on world-systems theory. World-systems theory (WST) has been out of vogue for some time, partly for good reasons--a point to which I will return. This, however, is a fresh and provocative work. But it is not a book about China in the sense that many would-be readers might anticipate. If you are looking for a detailed history and political economy of China, look elsewhere. This is a book about the broader significance of China. Li begins from the position that the 'rise of China' need not be viewed in terms of adjustments within the current world economy. This would be a restricted vision that took the system as given; either in terms of the simplistic binary of China as 'threat to the West' versus China as a potentially positive stabilising political and economic force; or through the further question that cuts across these: is China the next hegemon, and if so, what kind of hegemon is it? Li's thesis is rather one of historical and implicitly dialectical dynamics in which the rise of China can be viewed as a key element in the final death throes of the current capitalist system. For Li, Chinas rise is indicative of an emerging structural crisis, and is liable to play an important constitutive role in the form it will take.

The theoretical architecture for Li's case is provided by WST. The core idea of WST is that the current capitalist world system is historically unique in the sense that production is based on profit that in turn, and as an extension of the struggle for survival of each capitalist unit, creates a focus on the accumulation of capital as a systemic necessity. This is facilitated by a multi-state system that prevents any given state power from decisively reducing the capacity to accumulate, but is also disciplined by a hegemonic state. The system is perpetuated by the continual extension of exploitation of resources and lower costs by capitalists across geographical locations, constituting a mutable hierarchy of states, from a core to a periphery (pp. 13-15, 113-25). It is also perpetuated in the shorter term by a given hegemon able to provide historically specific, system-wide solutions to...

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