Chinese Leaders Are Being Told To Read One Key Book During Their Crucial Leadership Transition

Alexis de Tocqueville

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What’s on the reading list for Chinese politicos, currently in the middle of a vital once-in-a-decade power change?According to the FT’s Jamil Anderlini, China’s next premier Li Keqiang has been telling everyone to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the French Revolution.

The book, published in 1856, was one of the first major history books to examine the Ancien Regime and exactly what caused the French Revolution that tore it down. Anderlini writes that many are viewing the book as a warning: “de Tocqueville blamed the 1789 French revolution in part on the fact that the bourgeoisie inspired envy among the masses while the nobles elicited scorn”.

Anderlini’s report seems to be supported by a number of prominent economists who have been discussing the book on Weibo, according to state newspaper China Daily.

“My old boss in Zhongnanhai (the seat of the central government) recommended Tocqueville’s book, adding that a modernizing heavyweight like China cannot expect roses all the way; it should brace for a rough ride,” economist Hua Sheng wrote on Tencent, the newspaper reported.

Peter Hartcher, the Sydney Morning Herald’s political and international editor, writes that the book does appear to be finding a new found popularity amongst Chinese leaders as they grow worried about the possibility of a counter-revolution. However, the book may not offer much actual advice to follow.

“He diagnoses the condition”, Hartcher writes. “Yet warns against attempting a cure.”