Image of Photo of Prof Edward S. Steinfeld

Is China still playing our game? Institutional outsourcing in the era of Xi Jinping

The China Centre lecture on Wednesday 11 May 2022 was delivered by Professor Edward S. Steinfeld, Director of the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, Brown University.

Professor Edward S. Steinfeld lectured on the transformation in China’s political economy since the publication of his book Playing our Game. In his 2010 book Professor Steinfeld analysed the ways in which China was increasingly integrating with the international business system and global regulatory structures, such as the WTO and the IMF. Integration with the international economy had a deep impact, including large-scale lay-offs in the state-owned sector and a rapid increase in private enterprises. Professor Steinfeld’s lecture examined the way in which China’s institutional reforms in this era incorporated features from the advanced capitalist economies (‘playing our game’), including enterprise corporate governance, labour market organisation, treatment of intellectual property and changes in the system of higher education. Professor Steinfeld also examined the changes that took place within the Chinese government system, including opening the CPC to entrepreneurs and professionalisation of the bureaucracy. In hindsight, Professor Steinfeld considers that in his 2010 study he should have paid more attention to issues such as socio-economic inequality and the rise of conspicuous consumption.  In his lecture, he argued that the Chinese economy and society have changed greatly in the past decade, including increased income and wealth inequality, the dramatic impact of social media and labour-displacing technologies. These are taking place in the context of growing US-China tension and an adversarial relationship between the two countries. Professor Steinfeld concluded by exploring ways in which the relationship between China and the USA might move in a cooperative direction.

The Q&A session addressed the following issues: China’s role within global technological progress; the underlying causes of US-China hostility; the impact of listing on global capital markets upon corporate governance of China’s large firms; the role of Hong Kong in China’s corporate governance; evaluation of the significance of China’s ‘common prosperity’ policy; the role of the West in shaping the context within which China ‘Plays our Game’; the relationship between wealth and power in China and the West; the impact upon US-China relations of the ‘Tilt to the Pacific’ policy under President Obama; and the possibility for two ‘games’, one Western and one Chinese, to be played simultaneously and harmoniously, without conflict.

Edward S. Steinfeld is Professor of Political Science, the Dean’s Chair in China Studies, and the Director of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University in the United States. Professor Steinfeld's expertise focuses on contemporary China's political, economic, and commercial rise, with a particular focus on industrial development and business-government relations. He received his PhD, MA, and BA in Political Science from Harvard University. Edward S. Steinfeld previously served as a faculty member in MIT's Sloan School of Management and Department of Political Science. He is the author of Playing Our Game (Oxford University Press, 2010) and Forging Reform in China (Cambridge University Press, 1998), as well as numerous articles in academic and media outlets.