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Book Discussion

Middle Class Shanghai

June 30, 2021 | 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. EDT | Online

At this event, China Corner Office podcast host Christopher Marquis will talk to Cheng Li about his new book - Middle Class Shanghai -  and discuss why the U.S. needs to readjust its thinking when it comes to what kind of a place China truly is.

The United States may be headed toward a disastrous conflict with China unless Washington updates its understanding of contemporary Chinese society

After four decades of engagement, the United States and China now appear to be locked on a collision course that has already fomented a trade war, seems likely to produce a new cold war, and could even result in dangerous military conflict. The current deterioration of the bilateral relationship is the culmination of years of disputes, disillusionment, disappointment, and distrust between the two countries. Washington has legitimate concerns about Beijing’s excessive domestic political control and aggressive foreign policy stances, just as Chinese leaders believe the United States still has futile designs on blocking their country’s inevitable rise to great-power status.

Cheng Li’s Middle Class Shanghai argues that American policymakers must not lose sight of the expansive dynamism and diversity in present-day China. The caricature of the PRC as a monolithic Communist apparatus set on exporting its ideology and development model is simplistic and misguided. Drawing on empirical research in the realms of higher education, avant-garde art, architecture, and law, this unique study highlights the strong, constructive impact of bilateral exchanges.

Combining eclectic human stories with striking new data analysis, this book addresses the possibility that the development of China’s class structure and cosmopolitan culture—exemplified and led by Shanghai—could provide a force for reshaping U.S.-China engagement. Both countries should build upon the deep cultural and educational exchanges that have bound them together for decades. The author concludes that U.S. policymakers should neither underestimate the role and strength of the Chinese middle class, nor ostracize or alienate this force with policies that push it toward jingoistic nationalism to the detriment of both countries and the global community.

With its unique focus, this book will enlighten policymakers, scholars, business leaders, and anyone interested in China and its increasingly fraught relations with the United States.

Learn more and buy the book here


Cheng Li


Cheng Li

Cheng Li is the director of the John L. Thornton China Center and a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. He is also a director of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Li focuses on the transformation of political leaders, generational change, the Chinese middle class, and technological development in China. Li is also the author or the editor of numerous books, including “Chinese Politics in the Xi Jinping Era: Reassessing Collective Leadership” (2016), “The Power of Ideas: The Rising Influence of Thinkers and Think Tanks in China” (2017), and “Middle Class Shanghai: Reshaping U.S.-China Engagement” (Spring 2021). He is currently completing a book manuscript with the working title “Xi Jinping’s Protégés: Rising Elite Groups in the Chinese Leadership”. He is the principal editor of the Thornton Center Chinese Thinkers Series published by the Brookings Institution Press.

Christopher Marquis


Christopher Marquis

Chris Marquis is the Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. Prior to joining Cambridge, he worked at Cornell and for 10 years at Harvard Business School and has held visiting professorships at Harvard Kennedy School, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Peking University, Fudan University, and Shanghai Jiaotong University. Marquis’ current teaching and research examines how the interaction between corporations, governments and civil society lead to socially and environmentally beneficial outcomes, with a particular focus on China. In the fall of 2022 will publish a new book titled Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise that examines the unique form of entrepreneurship and market development that has occurred in China over the last 40 years. He received a PhD in sociology and business administration from the University of Michigan.

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