China's 40 Years of Reform and Opening-up

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Enhancing Mutual Understanding between China and the Outside World

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by Wang Jisi 

editor image © Springer​​​​​​​Forty years ago, when China began to embark upon domestic reform and opening up to the outside world, Chinese leaders and strategists reassessed the external surroundings. They had two major findings. First, in contrast with the observations in Mao Zedong years that China had faced grave dangers of war, the Beijing leadership concluded after 1978 that general peace in the world could be maintained, and therefore China could concentrate on its reconstruction. Second, China had wasted too much time during the ten-year Cultural Revolution when not only had the Western world become prosperous but many neighboring countries and regions, most saliently Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, had enjoyed rapid economic growth. China lagged far behind in terms of economy, education, and science and technology. It was this reappraisal of China’s position in the world that galvanized its leadership and elites to transform the course from “class struggle” at home and “supporting world revolution” to economic modernization and striving for international stability.


China’s miraculous achievements since 1978 have been accompanied by continuous readjustments in Beijing’s world view and foreign policy. In the wake of the Western sanctions against China in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union that shook China’s confidence in socialism, Deng Xiaoping called for caution and set up the principle of “keeping a low profile” in foreign affairs. Beijing prudently coped with international crises like Taiwanese leader Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the United States in 1995, NATO bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade in 1999, the air collusion between a Chinese fighter and a U.S. spy plane over the South China Sea in 2001, and the international financial tornado in 2008. In each of these episodes, along with other difficult problems in China’s foreign relations, there were heated debates – some exposed and others discreet – among China’s strategists and international affairs specialists. They provided different analyses and policy prescriptions that caught the attention of government officials and policymakers. Their opinions were also expressed in international media and publications.


In recent years, with China’s fast expansion of power and global interests, the interactions between its domestic imperatives and external activities have been intensifying. Consequently, there are increased needs for Chinese officials, business people, professionals, and tourists to understand global politics, economics, as well as nontraditional security issues such as terrorism, climate change, and energy. On the other hand, people around the world need to attain a better understanding of what China wants, does, and thinks.


China International Strategic Review (CISR), a new journal co-published by Peking University’s Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Springer from 2019, aims to establish itself as one of the best and authoritative channels to connect China’s strategic thinking and international perceptions of China. While the writings published in CISR are mainly focused on current issues, they shoulder the mission of reviewing China’s external surroundings and making them relevant to its domestic priorities, as Chinese strategists did 40 years ago. Leading analysts and scholars in China and other countries who have witnessed or observed the past four decades of China’s reform and opening will contribute their findings and ideas in this publication. They are expected to help the readers draw good lessons from history and see the future of China and the world in a clearer and more sober-minded way.

About the Author

© Springer

Wang Jisi is a professor in the School of International Studies and president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University. He is honorary president of the Chinese Association for American Studies, and was a member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee of China’s Foreign Ministry in 2008-2016. He is also Editor-in-Chief of China International Strategy Review

Professor Wang’s scholarly interests cover U.S. foreign policy, China’s foreign relations, Asian security, and global politics in general. He has published numerous works in these fields.