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Unlikely Partners

Unlikely Partners

Chinese Reformers, Western Economists, and the Making of Global China

Julian Gewirtz

ISBN 9780674971134

Publication date: 01/02/2017

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Unlikely Partners recounts the story of how Chinese politicians and intellectuals looked beyond their country’s borders for economic guidance at a key crossroads in the nation’s tumultuous twentieth century. Julian Gewirtz offers a dramatic tale of competition for influence between reformers and hardline conservatives during the Deng Xiaoping era, bringing to light China’s productive exchanges with the West.

When Mao Zedong died in 1976, his successors seized the opportunity to reassess the wisdom of China’s rigid commitment to Marxist doctrine. With Deng Xiaoping’s blessing, China’s economic gurus scoured the globe for fresh ideas that would put China on the path to domestic prosperity and ultimately global economic power. Leading foreign economists accepted invitations to visit China to share their expertise, while Chinese delegations traveled to the United States, Hungary, Great Britain, West Germany, Brazil, and other countries to examine new ideas. Chinese economists partnered with an array of brilliant thinkers, including Nobel Prize winners, World Bank officials, battle-scarred veterans of Eastern Europe’s economic struggles, and blunt-speaking free-market fundamentalists.

Nevertheless, the push from China’s senior leadership to implement economic reforms did not go unchallenged, nor has the Chinese government been eager to publicize its engagement with Western-style innovations. Even today, Chinese Communists decry dangerous Western influences and officially maintain that China’s economic reinvention was the Party’s achievement alone. Unlikely Partners sets forth the truer story, which has continuing relevance for China’s complex and far-reaching relationship with the West.


  • Shedding light on how China achieved radical economic change in less than two decades, [Gewirtz’s] book is instructive for anyone who wants to know how other countries can emerge from poverty and place themselves on the path to development…At a time when the Chinese model again seems to be creaking, President Xi Jinping would be wise to heed the message of Gewirtz’s book: that China does best when it is open to foreign ideas.

    —Howard French, Wall Street Journal


  • Julian Gewirtz is author of Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists, and the Making of Global China (called “a gripping read” by The Economist). His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Financial Times, Past & Present, and Foreign Affairs. He has been a Rhodes Scholar, Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Lecturer in History at Columbia University. He is currently serving as China Director on the National Security Council (NSC); his work on Never Turn Back: China and the Forbidden History of the 1980s was completed before his government service and does not necessarily reflect the views of the US government or NSC.

Book Details

  • 416 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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