There has been considerable discussion about whether and how China’s political economy will change with economic growth and development. The debate has focused for the most part on the possibilities for either market transition or continued path dependence, and in particular, research has centred on the emergence of business activities and the changing role of local business elites. The results of interviews with 469 members of the new economic elites in five cities suggest that while local politics may indeed have adjusted to the new environment, in elite formation, the market plays a role alongside and sometimes secondary to status and political power. There is a significant pattern of elite privilege that reaches back into the era of state socialism, with further origins for some to be found in the pre-1949 local elites. Even where there are reasons to be sceptical about long-term status claims, there can be no gainsaying the strength of such narratives as motivational forces in business and elite behaviour.
David S. G. Goodman is Professor of China Studies at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, where he is also the Vice President Academic. Educated at the University of Manchester, Peking University, and the London School of Oriental and African Studies, his research focuses on social and political change at the local level in China. Recent publications include 'Class in Contemporary China' (2014); the 'Handbook of Research on Politics in China' (2015); and 'China Impact: Threat Perception in the Asia-Pacific Region' (2018). He is currently co-authoring with Marc Blecher, Yingjie Guo, Jean-Louis Rocca, Tony Saich and Beibei Tang 'Class and the CCP: A hundred years of social change' (for publication in 2021) from which this presentation is derived.