The Legacy of Tiananmen

China in Disarray
James A. R. Miles
From talking to the powerful in Beijing and the peasants in the countryside, an experienced journalist interprets China and its post-Deng future


In The Legacy of Tiananmen, James A. R. Miles asks whether senior leader Deng Xiaoping's gamble that prosperity would bring stability to China has worked or whether, instead, the country's economic transformation is fueling instability. The author, who was the BBC's Beijing correspondent from 1988 to 1994, argues that China today remains at least as unpredictable and volatile as it was at the outset of the Tiananmen Square protests.

On the basis of extensive interviews with officials, ordinary citizens, and intellectuals, the author concludes that China in the late 1990s is a country deeply unsure of its future. Politicians and public alike are asking themselves whether China is emerging as a new economic superpower with global influence to match, or if it is heading toward the chaos they so much fear. In the coming years, the answer to this question will have major implications for the outside world. With a population four times that of the former Soviet Union, a China in turmoil would have a colossal impact on some of the world's most successful economies.

Praise / Awards

  • "James Miles has written a fascinating, sobering book that contrasts with much of the conventional wisdom on China. . . . [His] argument needs to be considered by all those who think about the future oft he world's largest country and its potential impact on the rest of us."
    —Kenneth Lieberthal
  • "Miles's book is extremely lucid, coherent, and well-written. Its controversial main theme—that China is a country in deep trouble and may very well not survive a fractious succession struggle after Deng's death—is argued with persuasive force on many different societal levels."
    —Richard Baum, author of Burying Mao
  • "Miles makes a sustained and unsettling case for China as a crisis waiting to happen."
    —Michael H. Hunt, Boston Book Review
  • ". . . one of those rare works that successfully bridges that difficult divide between journalism and serious scholarly writing: it falls neither into the anecdotalism so characteristic of journalism nor the dry scholasticism more typical of academic writing. This is a book that will appeal to scholars, to students of China and to a wider, generally educated audience."
    Bulletin of the School of Oriental & African Studies
  • "Basing his account on both officially and unofficially published sources and on extensive personal experience as a journalist in Beijing, Miles has produced an important and very readable assessment of the meanings and possible orientation of China's development."
  • "[Miles] writes with the vigour of the best of the 'reportage' school of journalism and his description of rising inequality, weak leadership, deep social crisis, and rampant corruption in the modern Chinese system is powerful."
  • "This thoughtful study of China today passed its test, for this reviewer, when Deng Xiaoping died, with a sober assessment of the new paramount leader Jiang Zemin--a man who 'lacks vision' and 'inclines towards neo-conservatism.' That fitted the picture much better than the uncritical potted biographies being published at the time. . . . Anyone who writes from first-hand experience about China must be influenced by the circumstances of the time, which for Mr. Miles was dominated by the events of 1989. This may have led him into greater pessimism than seems warranted in 1997, but the central question posed in this perceptive book remains to be answered: can 'socialist' China learn from the mistakes of the former Soviet bloc countries and find a way to evolve peacefully. China, as the author makes very clear, is still a deeply unpredictable place."
    International Affairs
  • "Beneath China's glittering surface [Miles] explores a troubled country polarized along class, ethnic, and cultural lines whose corrupt elite has lost its sense of social and national purpose. With rich anecdotal evidence, Miles sketches the depth of rural unrest and the plight of China's fragmented dissenters."
    Library Journal
  • "...[A] sobering and convincing analysis of China's present and its likely future.... "
    —Jonathan Mirsky, New York Review of Books
  • ". . . The Legacy of Tiananmen comes at a critical time for China and is a valuable tool for Westerners seeking a context with which to observe this hardly sleeping giant."
    —Ellen Emry Heltzel, Oregonian
  • "By brilliantly gathering together newspaper stories, street interviews, leaked official documents and Western chronicles, Miles creates a compelling story of economic change, internal political uncertainty and, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ideological isolation. . . . This is more than just narrative. Miles analyzes the results of Deng's 1992 endorsement of capitalist initiative (paired, always, with continued political control) and shows the fearful workers, destabilizing inflation, income disparity, corruption and rural crime behind the generally rosy official statistics. Miles also looks at the conflicting ideologies and personalities waiting in the wings. It's not a reassuring picture, but one that readers—and not just old China hands—should understand. This is an important book now and will be even more so any minute now."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "[Miles's] conclusions are a sobering read for anyone who needs to believe that China's rapid economic development has a stable political foundation that will lead towards freedoms taken for granted in industrialised countries. . . . It is a lucid, relentless and well-researched argument that optimists would rather not hear. . . . Miles describes a government cornered by the momentum of both its economic reforms and the consequences of declining central and party control."
    South China Morning Post
  • "Miles is a hands-on journalist who asks tough questions and exposes the emptiness of answers that do not ring true. His carefully researched book sets out the big picture without explaining everything so neatly that all the conundra dwindle to a reasonable whole. . . . [It] is difficult to ignore the warning signs that Miles has assembled. Stability is what everyone wants. This substantial and intelligent study provides a balanced case to suggest that its prospects are not that good."
    —Timothy Brook, Toronto Globe & Mail
  • "[Miles] makes a sophisticated political argument, backed up with some fine insights about Chinese ruling elites and Chinese society in a state of flux."
    —Steven Mufson, Washington Post Book World & International Herald Tribune (Paris)

News, Reviews, Interviews

WATCH: BBC World News Audio Slideshow with James Miles

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 408pp.
  • 19 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1997
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08451-7

Add to Cart
  • $27.95 U.S.