Book | Forthcoming

Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth

by Regina M. Abrami, William C. Kirby and F. Warren McFarlan


At the time of the American Revolution, China was the strongest, richest, and most powerful civilization in the world. The Great Qing Empire ruled China and dominated East Asia by a combination of power and cultural prestige. China's economy was the world's largest. China seemed without peer. Decline came fast. By 1900, China had been invaded, defeated, and degraded, first by Western nations, and then by Japan. An entire system of governance was blown away. In 1911, an imperial tradition of more than 2,000 years ended. After the subsequent disasters of world war and Maoist utopianism, China was an impoverished third world economy holding 20% of the world's population and barely 5% of its economic activity. Today China has again emerged as a great power. Beijing is once more the capital of a multi-ethnic empire that dominates East Asia. Foreign students flock to China to live, study, and work. New infrastructure of airports, highways, railways, electricity, and telecommunications dominate the landscape. It has a powerful government, appears respected in the world, and for the first extended time in modern history, it faces no real external threats to its security. China's resurgence has been driven by a combination of private entrepreneurship and top-down bureaucratic capitalism, by an unmatched and unchecked culture of engineering ambition, of rote learning and educational experimentation, of sophisticated tastes along with basic concerns with food safety. It is a country that is at once cosmopolitan and confused about what its new global roles should be. How will those conflicting strategies, shortcomings, and achievements play out in the future? How do we imagine this great and resurgent nation with its embedded conflicts and challenges will look in 2034? We examine successively the forces that have made China as we know it today, the history and role of the Party, its success in engineering and infrastructure construction, its challenges in planning and innovation, and the special things that a firm must do to compete successfully in the Chinese market. We conclude with China's approach to the global economy and our prognostication for 2034.

Keywords: Economic Systems; Leadership; Power and Influence; China;


Abrami, Regina M., William C. Kirby, and F. Warren McFarlan. Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth. Harvard Business Review Press, forthcoming.