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A Third Way

A Third Way

The Origins of China’s Current Economic Development Strategy

Lawrence C. Reardon

ISBN 9780674247888

Publication date: 01/05/2021

From 1949 to 1978, communist elites held clashing visions of China’s economic development. Mao Zedong advocated the “first way” of semi-autarchy characteristic of revolutionary Stalinism (1929–34), while Zhou Enlai adapted bureaucratic Stalinism (1934–53) to promote the “second way” of import substitution industrialization. A Third Way tells the story of Deng Xiaoping’s experimentation with export-led development inspired by Lenin’s New Economic Policy and the economic reforms of Eastern Europe and Asia.

Having uncovered an extraordinary collection of internal party and government documents, Lawrence Reardon meticulously traces the evolution of the coastal development strategy, starting with special economic zones in 1979 and evolving into the fourteen open coastal cities, the Hainan SEZ, and eventual accession to the global trade regime in 2001. Reardon details how Deng and Zhao Ziyang tackled large-scale smuggling operations, compromised with Chen Yun’s conservative views, and overcame Deng Liqun’s ideological opposition. Although Zhao Ziyang was airbrushed out of official Chinese history after June 4, 1989, Reardon argues that Zhao was the true architect of China’s opening strategy. A Third Way provides important new insights about the crucial period of the 1980s and how it paved the way for China’s transformation into a global economic superpower.


  • Built on decades of rigorous research, A Third Way provides a fine-grained, nuanced, step-by-step analysis on how China opened up to the world. It is an extremely important new addition to a recent body of literature on the beginning of China’s reform. …The author’s on-the-ground knowledge also enables him to accurately capture the social atmosphere in South China during a period of radical changes. …[A] highly informative read for political scientists, historians, and economists interested in modern China, post-socialist transformations, and international trade and investment.

    —Taomo Zhou, China Review International


  • Lawrence C. Reardon is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of New Hampshire.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center