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Party versus wealth? David Goodman rethinks reform in China

Goodman Zoom

As he watched the sunrise in Suzhou, China, Professor David S. G. Goodman spoke eloquently to an evening crowd on the east coast of the United States and to audience members around the world. A truly international individual himself, Dr. Goodman hails from Britain, was educated at University of Manchester, Peking University, and the School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London, but has spent most of his career split between China and Australia. Having served as Deputy Vice Chancellor International at the University of Technology Sydney, he has in recent years assumed the post of Vice President of Academic Affairs at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, the biggest of the nine "joint venture" universities in China. The video recording of the talk can be found on our video page.

Goodman's talk, titled “China’s Ruling Class: Elite Persistence and the Ironies of Social Change,” was comprised of a series of highly revealing slides and his analytical remarks that made the case for something like a longstanding durable “aristocracy” that transcended the recent decades of tremendous garnering of wealth, even new wealth, across China. The process, as he described in detail, and with ample numbers, was dubbed the “intergenerational transfer of privilege.” Importantly, wealth has not been the consistent barometer of elite status in China, according to Goodman’s argument, since Party membership has had its own privilege even when it was not overtly correlated with material wealth. What Goodman showed was that family history was a greater predictor of current elite status – whether professional, entrepreneur or party official – than was any form of newfound gains. Moreover, Communist Party officials still had more sway over many decisions than did capitalists. Even more striking, perhaps, was the assertion that prerevolutionary family status still correlated with present-day elite position.

Goodman, a lifelong China specialist, spoke to an audience that included attendees from predictable places such as China, New York and New Jersey. Discussion was lively, and peppered with Goodman’s stunning photographs and pointed storytelling. As the Q&A went on, however, interlocutors emerged from Hyderabad, India as well as Singapore. Goodman graciously asked his questioners about their own projects as well as responding to their questions about his. 

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