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Mariya Y. Omelicheva and John James Kennedy

After years of communism and central planning, Russia and China embarked on broad transformations from planned to market economy and limited political liberalization reforms. Chinese reforms commenced in 1978, while those in the Soviet Union started in 1991. The two countries took contrasting paths to economic reform, and their experiences during economic transition have been viewed as polar opposites. The reform experiences of Russia and China sparked intense academic debates over a variety of issues surrounding transition from communism to market economy. The primary source of scholarly disagreement is whether the pace, the sequence, or country-specific initial conditions determines the success of economic and political reforms. The debates revolved around questions such as whether there is a relationship between economic processes and political reforms in the transitional states, or whether economic liberalization should pave the way for political liberalization. Two dominant approaches to transition from socialism to capitalism advanced in the literature are “shock therapy” and gradualism; the former was adopted by the Russians and the latter by the Chinese. Several lessons can be learned from the Russian and Chinese transition, such as the impact of structural forces on the leadership’s policy preferences and the importance of tenable development policies to ensure the success of economic reforms. Notwithstanding these lessons, there remain a number of questions that deserve further investigation, mainly in terms of the role of China and Russia in world politics.