China in the Era of Xi Jinping: Precedents and Comparisons

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From the abandonment of the collective leadership to an assertive foreign policy, Xi Jinping’s domestic and foreign policies have marked an interesting deviation, if not complete severance, from the traditions of his predecessors. American understanding of Xi and Chinese politics today are usually infused with misconceptions about Chinese traditions. Is Xi indeed as revolutionary as he appears? A leading historian on modern Chinese history and politics, Professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom discussed the multiple strands and the contradictory aspects of Chinese traditions embedded in Xi Jinping’s politics and personality and examine the implications for his policies and the future of Chinese politics. In particular, he shared insights on how these traits of Xi Jinping and Chinese traditions affect China-U.S. relations in the era of the Trump Administration. 

WHAT: A discussion of Chinese traditions embedded in Xi Jinping’s politics and personality, and their impact on China-U.S. relations.


Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chancellor’s Professor of History at UC Irvine, where he edits the Journal of Asian Studies and holds courtesy affiliations with the Law School and the Literary Journalism Program. He has written five books, including Student Protests in Twentieth Century China (1991), China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (2010 and 2013 editions, with a third edition co-authored with Maura Cunningham in preparation), and Eight Juxtapositions: China through Imperfect Analogies from Mark Twain to Manchukuo (2016). He has edited or co-edited several other volumes, including, most recently, The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China (2016). In addition to writing for academic journals, he has contributed to many general interest venues, among them the New York Times, the TLS, Time, the Wall Street Journal, the FT, the Guardian, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and New Left Review. He was a co-founder of the China Beat blog, which ran from 2008 until 2012, and served a term on the Board of Directors of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. An Associate Fellow at the Asia Society, he is on the editorial board of Dissent Magazine and is advising editor for China at the Los Angeles Review of Books. He has been traveling to China regularly for thirty years.

Aynne Kokas is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. Kokas’ research broadly examines Sino-U.S. media and technology relations. Her book, Hollywood Made in China (University of California Press, 2017) argues that Chinese investment and regulations have fundamentally altered the landscape of the U.S. commercial media industry, most prominently in the case of major conglomerates that rely on leveraging global commercial brands. Her next project Networked Chinawood examines the cybersecurity and policy implications of digital media in the Sino-U.S. relationship. Kokas has been a visiting fellow at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. She is a non-resident scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a fellow in the Public Intellectuals Program of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. Her writing and commentary appears regularly in popular media outlets including the BBC, The Los Angeles Times, NPR’s Marketplace, Variety, The Washington Post, and Wired. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and began her career in Chinese media as a student in the Directing Department at the Beijing Film Academy.

Yun Sun is a Senior Associate with the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center. Her expertise is in Chinese foreign policy, U.S.-China relations and China’s relations with neighboring countries and authoritarian regimes. From 2011 to early 2014, she was a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, jointly appointed by the Foreign Policy Program and the Global Development Program, where she focused on Chinese national security decision-making processes and China-Africa relations. From 2008 to 2011, Sun was the China Analyst for the International Crisis Group based in Beijing, specializing on China’s foreign policy towards conflict countries and the developing world. Prior to ICG, she worked on U.S.-Asia relations in Washington, DC for five years. Sun earned her master’s degree in international policy and practice from George Washington University, as well as an M.A. in Asia Pacific studies and a B.A. in international relations from Foreign Affairs College in Beijing.

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