The Role of Corruption in China's Speedy, Risky Boom

The Role of Corruption in China's Speedy, Risky Boom

Wednesday, May 5, 2021
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM

Via Zoom Webinar. Register at:

  • Yuen Yuen Ang

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Corrupt countries are usually poor, yet China is an exception. President Xi Jinping acknowledges that corruption in the country has reached crisis proportions. If this is true, why has China nevertheless sustained 40 years of economic growth and deep transformation?

In this talk, Professor Yuen Yuen Ang will analyze how different types of corruption exert different effects on the economy.  Reminiscent of America’s Gilded Age during the 19th century, reform-era China has steadily evolved toward a particular type of corruption: access money (elite exchanges of power and wealth).  Starting in the 2000s, the central government effectively curbed directly growth-damaging types of corruption such as embezzlement and bureaucratic extortion. But access money fueled commerce by rewarding politicians for aggressively promoting growth and connected capitalists for taking on increasingly risky ventures. Such corruption has also produced systemic risks, distortions, and inequality, however—problems that define China's Gilded Age under Xi Jinping’s leadership. As a result, China today is a high-growth but risky and imbalanced economy. 

Despite popular perceptions that China and the United States are two polar opposites, therefore, contemporary China and 19th century America share some striking commonalities.

Portrait of Yuen Yuen Ang
Yuen Yuen Ang is a PhD graduate of Stanford University, where she studied comparative political economy with a focus on China. She is the inaugural recipient of the Theda Skocpol Prize, awarded by the American Political Science Association for “impactful empirical, theoretical and/or methodological contributions to the study of comparative politics.” She was also named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow for “high-caliber scholarship that applies fresh perspectives to the most pressing issues of our times.” Her first, award-winning book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (2016), is acclaimed as “game changing” and “field shifting.” It received the Peter Katzenstein Prize in Political Economy, the Viviana Zelizer Prize in Economic Sociology, and was named “Best of Books 2017″ by Foreign Affairs. The sequel to this book, China’s Gilded Age: the Paradox of Economic Boom & Vast Corruption, is released in 2020. It was featured in The DiplomatThe Economist, and The Wire China. She is an associate professor in political science at the University of Michigan and previously a faculty member at Columbia University SIPA.

Cover of "China's Gilded Age" by Yuen Yuen Ang

American and Chinese flags
This event is part of the 2021 Winter/Spring Colloquia series, Biden’s America, Xi’s China: What’s Now & What’s Next?, sponsored by APARC's China Program.