Albuquerque native Carl Minzner took an unusual path to becoming one of the top scholars in the U.S. about Chinese politics and government.
Minzner shared his journey after returning to his hometown for a speaking engagement about his book “End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise.”
That first step to becoming an expert on Chinese government and an author began when he was a kindergarten teacher in Taiwan in 1994.
“After spending a year in Taiwan, you sort of get sucked in,” Minzner said. “I wanted to understand more not only about Taiwan but the mainland. You get led progressively in step by step.”
The Albuquerque Academy graduate moved to the mainland the next year to study Chinese in Yunnan province. Minzner said he lived in China for about four or five years and goes back every summer to spend months at a time. He said he has several contacts that he keeps in touch with.
“I got involved in China during the reform era and started seeing some dramatic changes,” Minzner said. “You get sucked in and it becomes part of your life.”
It has become so much part of his life that he’s been interviewed by National Public Radio and the New York Times about changes in China’s government.
His book “End of An Era,” which he said took four years to write, has been reviewed by the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.
Minzner, now a professor of law at Fordham University in New York, spoke on Monday to the World Affairs Council of Albuquerque, where he gave an overview of the book.
“The basic thrust of the book is that the reform era post 1978, what people have come to think of as modern China, is ending,” Minzner said “The period of 30-40 years was marked by three factors: rapid economic growth, a certain degree of ideological openness to the outside world and relatively political stability where it seemed to be forming institutions. It is starting to come undone. The economy is slowing. Ideologically, China’s closing up.”
He said it’s an important issue that Americans need to be aware of.
In the reform era, China was under a collective leadership and had presidential term limits. That is no longer the case under current President Xi Jinping.
“Once you start to see the getting rid of norms like presidential succession and there comes a rise of cult personality, it really makes you wonder what comes next,” Minzner said.
When he lived in China during the reform era, he said there was some openness in civil society that allowed for things such as academic and religious expression. He said there was a hope that it would continue.
“Looking outward, there is an increasing nationalistic tone that the leadership is taking that has resonance among people in Chinese society that there could be clashes over strategic and economic areas,” Minzner said.
In the past two years, Minzner said, there have been relocation, education camps for Muslims in northwest China.
“We haven’t seen anything like that since 1978,” Minzner said. “This is an extreme repression measure being taken that really looks like the resuscitation of practices we thought were dead and buried.”