Allies of the State: China's Private Entrepreneurs and Democratic Change by Jie Chen and Bruce Dickson Harvard University Press, HK$486 Among Westerners who fancy their societies morally superior, two schools of conventional wisdom have grown up around China's spectacular changes. One holds that robust capitalism, which requires foreign trade with a once-pariah regime and thus a tactical retreat on human rights, will eventually bring redemptive freedoms. 'Trade freely with China, and time is on our side,' went George W. Bush's rationale. Journalist Nicholas Kristof posits that 'no middle class is content with more choices of coffees than of candidates on a ballot'. The histories of South Korea, Taiwan and Brazil may fit this optimistic thesis. The sceptics, anchored by polemics such as James Mann's The China Fantasy, look at Singapore and Russia. They see cosy ties between business and government and a bought-off bourgeoisie whose memories of hunger and fear of both chaos and the government keep them in line. No liberalisation is on the horizon. Life is better than ever, so why rock the boat? Despite the ironically Marxesque determinism of the trade-to-freedom optimists, China's capitalists are people, too. And what's been missing from this debate is a thorough, dispassionate assessment of their attitudes and priorities. True, the title Allies of the State leaves little suspense about the conclusion of this rigorously designed academic survey. But there are many worthy points - some surprising - along the way. Sociologists Jie Chen and Bruce Dickson took a random sampling of more than 2,000 businesspeople in five coastal provinces and ran this raw data through a series of sophisticated statistical analyses. First, the cold water: China's capitalists are highly unlikely to lead the charge for democracy. The more successful and influential a businessman is, the more entwined he will be with a web of institutions supporting the status quo, from business associations to official bodies such as the national People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The authors note that 'only 19 per cent of the capitalists in our survey were outside the reach of the state, in that they did not belong to any business association'. The survey asked a series of carefully phrased questions about elections, multiparty rule, satisfaction with party policy, and other gauges of attitude. Here, an interesting distinction emerges: 'red capitalists' - former party cadres - are ideologically aligned with the regime to a high degree. But from party rank-and-file businessmen down to the small-fry, least-co-opted entrepreneurs, support for the party is contingent on its performance and protection of their interests. This contingent support - and the dense web of connections, money, and experience it represents - may not remain loyal to the party forever. This latter group's ideas about democracy did not correlate as closely as one might expect to the size of their stake in the system. Below a certain stratum, entrepreneurs' levels of embededness may be a poor predictor of support for the party when push comes to shove. Chen and Dickson know that the Western understanding of words like 'entrepreneur,' 'government,' 'regulation' and 'private' often do not apply, as commonly understood, in the Chinese case. They show, for instance, how many entrepreneurs will support competitive elections for political positions, but oppose a multiparty system, a jarring contrast to Western ears. The old stereotype among Chinese that northerners are more bureaucratic-minded and deferential to government while southerners are more independent is duly confirmed as well. While this book does not pretend to be for laymen, its findings could resonate far beyond academy into policy circles, if only certain concessions were made to accessibility. Clearer graphs might have accompanied large tables of numbers, and certain technical language might have been explained and contextualised. Clearly, Western optimists' scenario of a political liberalisation through economic reform has not yet come to pass in China. Indeed, capitalism seems to have entrenched the current regime more than ever, giving them both a profit motive and economic clout that no authoritarian regime in history has matched. For now, Chinese capitalism and authoritarianism seem to be part of the same unchallengable edifice. But history teaches that solid-seeming things can unravel very quickly, catalysed by the wealth and savvy of the entrepreneurial classes. If that ever does happen, Allies will give us a clearer idea why.