Nobody can know if, when Deng Xiaoping launched his strategy of “Reform and Opening Up” 40 years ago, even he could have predicted the near-miraculous transformation of the Chinese economy that would follow. In the years since then, hundreds of millions have been lifted out of abject poverty and into the ranks of the global middle class; China’s industrial heartland became the workshop of the world; and the People’s Republic has muscled its way into the first rank of global powers.

Yet the tone with which Chinese Communist Party functionaries look back on this performance grates — and for good reason. China’s leaders view the country’s rise with a certain smugness: as a vindication of their model of governance, their form of state capitalism and their obsession with control. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is slowly coming to the realization that the party and its model don’t deserve all or even most of the credit.

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