Book review of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China

 By Helmut Schmidt, former Chancellor of Germany

I visited China for the first time in 1975. Since then, great changes have taken place in China’s governance and diplomacy. During my visits to China over the past decades, my admiration for the country and its 5,000-year civilization has increased. President Xi Jinping’s new book, which has just been published, is an inspirational piece of work.

I met Mr. Xi for the first time in Beijing in May 2012. Six months later, in November 2012, he was elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Through my observations of his two years in office, I have come to a more profound realization that during the past 40 years significant changes have taken place in the interests, concerns and perspectives of China’s leading statesmen. They have, nonetheless, adhered to the country’s traditions of governance and diplomacy.

In contrast to other ancient civilizations such as Ancient Egypt, the Chinese Civilization has an uninterrupted history going back 5,000 years, and is still thriving with great vitality today. The Chinese tradition, represented by Confucianism, has held a dominant role for more than 1,000 years, which means that there has never been an established state religion imposed on the whole population. Instead, Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islamism have reached out to their respective audiences in peace and harmony. There have been power struggles between lords and factions, but religion has never played a key role in these. There were times when the Central Plains was occupied by the Mongolians and then the Manchurians, but they adapted their rule and conformed to Han tradition.

In the 15th century China still led the world in terms of shipbuilding, printing, and military technology, then industrialization began to sprout in Europe, followed closely by North America. In the 19th century the European powers, not yet in total control of China, established their so-called foreign settlements there, in actions spearheaded by Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. Germany was also involved. In the 19th century China suffered temporary frustration and became poor and weak; in the 20th century it endured untold miseries inflicted by Japan’s mass aggression. Sun Yat-sen spent years trying to rid China of foreign occupation, and the Chinese people eventually gained victory under the leadership of Mao Zedong in 1949, when the country began reconstruction. Mao was without doubt the political leader of China at the time, and today’s China was built on foundations laid by Mao.

But Mao also made serious mistakes, notably the "Great Leap Forward" movement in the 1950s, and the "Cultural Revolution of the Proletarians" in the 1960s. After Mao passed away in 1976, Deng Xiaoping became the paramount leader of the nation. It was under his stewardship that China began to reform and open up, and became integrated into the global economy. It was also under his leadership that the Chinese people found new ways to prosperity.

After 35 years of rapid growth since 1978, China now ranks second in the world in terms of economic aggregate. Within a few years it will take first place — this expectation being based on the fact that the country and its governing body remain relatively stable. Having faith in China’s growth model, the new generation of Chinese leadership with President Xi Jinping at the core also needs to deal with the important, strenuous and complicated tasks brought about by the high-speed economic development. By 2020 the per capita income of urban and rural residents in China will be double that of 2010. China will continue to improve and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, and promote modernization of the state governance system and its governing capacity, so as to lay a solid institutional foundation for the country’s development in the long run. China will promote new industrialization, informationization, urbanization and agricultural development, and encourage investment and consumption at the same time. It must also reform its finance industry. President Xi will pay special attention to problems caused by corruption, environmental pollution, illegal occupation of land, labor disputes, and threats to food safety.

Reducing smog in China’s major cities is an urgent issue. Factors contributing to carbon dioxide smog are complicated, and implementing control measures on different fronts requires a huge budget, which might affect power supply to the public, or their incomes. The state’s climate policy will also be part of the process. At a time when calls to curb global warming get louder, China cannot back away.


Another serious issue for China is that its rapid urbanization process is accompanied by an aging population, and a national network for old-age care is imperative under the circumstances. China will also have to reconsider its one-child policy. The household registration system also calls for adjustment.


People visiting China today will notice that the country is pressing forward with reform in many areas. The rights of migrant workers are better protected, and there are larger and more successful agricultural enterprises in the market. Comparing China from Mao’s era 40 years ago to today’s China, one can see that the space for development, freedom and other civil rights has greatly expanded.

Undoubtedly, China has realized the harmonious coexistence of tradition and modernization. For 2,500 years the Chinese have honored the rational ethics of Confucianism. For at least 1,000 years until the early 20th century, China was ruled by feudal bureaucrats, and Confucianism was the governing school of thinking. After it took control of the country in 1949, the Communist Party of China swept away Confucianism. However, in today’s China, Confucianism is making a return as a philosophy that is imbedded within the Chinese minds. The interpretation of Confucian principles by President Xi shows that China is becoming ever more confident in its culture. In a country the size of China, cohesiveness is central. But placing one’s hopes on nationalism can backfire, as this will probably lead to crisis or even war against our intentions, while the Chinese civilization, with its history and substance, will do a better job at boosting the confidence and purposefulness of the Chinese. During the 5,000-year course of Chinese culture, there has rarely been any trace of imperialist thinking, and China has always honored peace above all else. A good example of this is that according to Chinese historical records General Zheng He, the 15th-century Chinese mariner and explorer, did not take advantage of his fleet’s military superiority when visiting foreign countries.

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