from Asia Program

The Third Revolution

Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State

The Third Revolution argues that Xi Jinping’s dual-reform trajectories—a more authoritarian system at home and a more ambitious foreign policy abroad—provide Beijing with new levers of influence that the United States must learn to exploit to protect its own interests.

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

Read an excerpt from The Third Revolution.

The new paperback edition includes updates since 2018 on Chinese domestic political and economic events as well as changes in U.S.-China relations.

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Xi Jinping

Political Transitions


“One of the great paradoxes of China today,” writes eminent China scholar Elizabeth C. Economy, “is Xi Jinping’s effort to position himself as a champion of globalization, while at the same time restricting the free flow of capital, information, and goods between China and the rest of the world.” In her new book, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, Economy explains that “the ultimate objective of Xi’s revolution is his Chinese Dream—the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.”

Characterized by “a reassertion of the state in Chinese political and economic life at home, and a more ambitious and expansive role for China abroad,” Xi’s China is exercising “new levers of influence and power that others will have to learn to exploit and counter to protect and advance their own interests,” warns Economy, C. V. Starr senior fellow and director of Asia Studies at CFR.

Xi has reversed the thirty years of reform and opening initiated by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s Second Revolution and replaced it with his own Third Revolution, she writes. “What makes Xi’s revolution distinctive is the strategy he has pursued: the dramatic centralization of authority under his personal leadership; the intensified penetration of society by the state; the creation of a virtual wall of regulations and restrictions that more tightly controls the flow of ideas, culture, and capital into and out of the country; and the significant projection of Chinese power.”

Thought-provoking and thoroughly researched.
Liselotte Odgaard, Asia Policy

“An illiberal state seeking leadership in a liberal world order,” China poses a set of distinct new challenges for the United States. Xi “seeks to project the current Chinese political and economic development model globally,” and to “become a standard bearer for other countries disenchanted with the American and European models of liberal democracy.” While China “takes advantage of the openness of the United States and other market-based liberal democracies to further its economic interests and advance its political and cultural influence,” it “increasingly constrains opportunities” for other countries to do the same.

“The United States . . . must continue to seek opportunities for cooperation but at the same time be prepared to counter and confront China when Xi’s Third Revolution spills over into the rest of the world, undermining the principles underpinning global security and prosperity it purports to uphold,” she writes.  

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Xi Jinping

Political Transitions


Nuanced [and] persuasive.
Global Asia

Economy urges the United States to adopt a strategic framework for its relationship with China that establishes U.S. priorities and the diplomatic, economic, and military approaches necessary to realize them, “[retaining] what has worked well for its policy toward China while adapting to a new political reality.” She offers several recommendations to U.S. policymakers:

  • Leverage Xi’s ambition for leadership and “[encourage] China to do more on the global stage,” such as addressing the global refugee crisis and ensuring that its global development strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative, adopts better governance practices. 
  • Advance technical cooperation between China and the United States around the big issues of global governance “to build an institutional infrastructure for cooperation.”
  • Work with U.S. allies and partners in Asia and Europe to support the underlying principles of a “free and open Indo-Pacific, rooted in a rules-based order” by revisiting “U.S. participation in the [Trans-Pacific Partnership],” deterring “further efforts by China to realize its sovereignty claims through unilateral actions” in the South China Sea and Taiwan, and developing “programs that build good governance capacity” such as the rule of law, in countries such as Ethiopia and Pakistan, where Chinese political influence is expanding. 
  • When U.S. political, economic, or security interests are “directly and meaningfully undermined,” adopt firmer policies such as economic retaliation and reciprocal action, “making clear to China the costs of noncompliance with agreements or established norms.”
  • Prioritize U.S. government support for the “development and adoption of new technologies” to compete effectively with Made in China 2025 and other innovation-driven industrial policies.
  • Support through “both word and deed,” fundamental values including “democracy and respect for human rights, a market economy, and free trade.”  

“China cannot be a leader in a globalized world while at the same time closing its borders to ideas, capital, and influences from the outside world,” Economy concludes.

A Council on Foreign Relations Book

Educators: Access Teaching Notes for The Third Revolution.

Reviews and Endorsements

Short-Listed for the Lionel Gelber Prize

One of the Australian's "Politicians' Best Reads of the Year"

A Foreign Policy Interrupted Book of 2018

One of Politico's "Ten Names That Matter on China Policy"


The must-read book of 2018. . . . Economy's book traces Xi's influence and ambitions through an exhaustive reading of his speeches as well as an astute knowledge of Chinese politics and policy. It should be required reading not just for China-watchers but for anyone interested in U.S.-China relations and the future of world order.

Bloomberg Opinion

This panoramic evaluation is as thorough as it is balanced and should be core reading for anyone looking to understand how Xi’s revolution is transforming China.

LSE Review of Books

This work is thoughtful, balanced and highly analytical. Economy has successfully produced a book that appeals to all interested to learn about China under Xi Jinping. . . . Economy is at her best in analysing Xi’s China for what it is and putting forth constructive ideas for the US to engage it without giving up its core values.

China Quarterly

The book is accessible and well written. In the months since I purchased the book, I found myself returning to it, while other books have languished unfinished on my nightstand and coffee table. The Third Revolution probably is the first book I would recommend someone read to understand what happened in China during the last five years.

War on the Rocks

Economy’s marvelous new book The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State is an example par excellence of both the breadth and the depth of her China knowledge. . . . For anyone seeking a well-informed, well-researched, up-to-date 'one stop shop' on China in the Xi Jinping era, this is it.

David Shambaugh, Asia Policy Book Review Roundtable

Compelling. . . . Veteran China watcher Elizabeth C. Economy carefully chronicles the sweeping, dangerous changes implemented by Xi.

City Journal

A thorough and informative account of China’s recent past and present.

American Interest

A compelling book. . . . Economy has written a thought-provoking and thoroughly researched analysis of the CCP’s pervasive influence throughout Chinese society and politics. She convincingly demonstrates how Xi’s dismantlement of liberal elements of the past three decades, including growing freedom of speech, market economic mechanisms, and enhanced international exchanges, has consolidated the party as an indispensable structure influencing all aspects of Chinese life.

Liselotte Odgaard, Asia Policy Book Review Roundtable

Economy investigates these ongoing transformative changes in China not as a disinterested academic but as an acutely involved policy analyst concerned with understanding the 'seeming inconsistencies and ambiguities of Chinese policy today.' . . . Economy’s deep knowledge, insightful analysis, and engaging style of writing make The Third Revolution a highly rewarding read for anyone who wishes to understand the contradictions and paradoxes in the political, economic, and social trajectories of Xi’s China.

Yongjin Zhang, Asia Policy Book Review Roundtable

The Third Revolution is a welcome addition to the still-emerging literature on China’s problems. . . . Deftly covering a huge range of issues familiar to those who keep up with news from Beijing, Economy has in essence crafted a handbook on contemporary China. . . . Economy should be lauded for her clear-eyed, sober assessment of a China that is not the country many believe or wish it to be. . . . Avoiding surprise in dealing with China is perhaps the most important goal of U.S. policy, and The Third Revolution goes a long way toward reaching it.

Michael Auslin, Asia Policy Book Review Roundtable

A timely account of how Beijing is expanding its influence makes for sober reading.

Financial Times

How should observers, especially those in Washington, assess Xi’s China? In The Third Revolution, Elizabeth Economy offers a nuanced, persuasive answer: while China’s heft in world affairs is growing rapidly, so too are the contradictions inherent in the attempt of an authoritarian country to shape what remains a predominantly liberal world order.

Global Asia

Economy . . . offers an engaging look at how areas such as internet regulation, reform of state-owned enterprises, and foreign policy are evolving under Xi’s leadership.

Reuters Breakingviews

Economy begins by meticulously tracing Xi’s ascent to the top of the Chinese political system before delving into the policies that he has espoused in pursuit of expanding China’s national power. . . . The advice that Economy, therefore, offers actors in the international arena is to focus not just on China’s foreign policy but also its domestic affairs. It is only then that one can frame appropriate policy responses towards a nation whose rise is undoubtedly re-shaping our world.


To understand and navigate China in the coming years, this is the book to read. At the heart of doing business in this opaque and contradictory country is understanding Xi Jinping, a masterful and complex politician. Elizabeth Economy’s exceptionally clear account gives you the tools to do just that.

Fred P. Hochberg, Former Chairman and President, Export-Import Bank of the United States

The Third Revolution is enormously valuable for anyone seeking to understand the ways in which China is changing (and not changing) under Xi's leadership, and how the U.S. should best approach its relationship with China. Essential.

Robert E. Rubin, Former Secretary of the Treasury

The one book that tells you all you need to know about how China has changed under Xi Jinping. A clear-eyed, richly researched, and engaging account by one of America’s most knowledgeable China experts.

Susan L. Shirk, University of California, San Diego

A timely and sobering analysis of the profound—and disturbing—political change that has occurred since the rise of Xi Jinping. This is by far the most insightful and illuminating study of China’s new political landscape, and should be required reading for those concerned with China’s future under strongman rule.

Minxin Pei, Author, China’s Crony Capitalism

Elizabeth Economy provides a clear-eyed net assessment of China under Xi Jinping: its global ambitions, domestic limitations, and the paradox of its external hubris and internal insecurities. The Third Revolution should become staple reading for all who want to understand China today and where it is headed in the future.

David Shambaugh, Author, China Goes Global

Americans are slowly realizing that they live in a bipolar world with China, a nation that is incontrovertibly rising despite the destabilizing effects of serial self-reinvention. The advent of the latest progenitor of rejuvenation, Xi Jinping, has raised a host of vexing questions, but Economy's wonderfully lucid and well-researched book fills in many of the blanks regarding Xi’s strengths and weaknesses.

Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations

For the first time in modern history, we have a communist country poised to be the biggest and most important driver of the global free market. That’s astonishing. And we still don’t know what makes China’s political leadership—and Xi Jinping in particular—tick. If that freaks you out (and it should), Liz Economy’s book is the place to start.

Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group

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