China has undergone substantial transformations in the past number of decades. Emerging from a 5,000-year old history of feudalism defined by dynastic rule, the country redefined itself as a People’s Republic declared on October 1 1949 following a tumultuous civil war (that had itself come on the heels of an earlier revolution in 1911), and has subsequently become the second-largest economy in the world and soon set to ascend to being the principal economy in the world. Under the direction of various leaders and the diligent application of policy, the country serves for many as a fascinating case study for analysis. This development has taken place along various junctures and periods, with various experimentations in the economic and political spheres.
Against this backdrop, the Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS), the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) and the UJ Library convened a seminar under the theme of ‘The People’s Republic of China at 70 Years: Policy, Institutions and Development’, which was attended by a large audience consisting of academics, students, embassies, and members of civil society.
This seminar sought to delve into core and critical questions of China’s developmental story since 1949 by drawing from different experts and scholars as well as practitioner-scholars their understanding of China’s past and future. Two internationally-renowned speakers were Professor Martin Jacques (author of the global best-seller When China Rules the World: the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order) and Hannah Ryder (CEO of the China-based think tank Development Reimagined). The seminar addressed numerous issues pertaining to China, as well as its relationship with Africa. These include questions around the context of origins of the Chinese Revolution in 1949 and the transformation it brought for the Chinese and East Asian landscapes, the patterns of continuity and change in the Chinese experience; as well as the nature of China’s development model and the degree to which it can be replicated in other parts of the developing world.
The question and answer session reflected the diversity of opinion in the audience, including the future of the world in which China is the new largest economy, as well as concerns around the degree to which African leaders are not living up to the task of extracting gains from their relationship with the Chinese.