In a Politburo group study session on 23 November 2015, China’s president, Xi Jinping, recommended the book Capital in the Twenty-First Century by the French economist Thomas Piketty. “The rich data he used demonstrated that … unrestrained capitalism accelerates wealth inequality … [His] conclusion is worth us pondering on.”

Back then, Piketty’s work on inequality was reported all over the world and sparked soul-searching among elites from Wall Street to Main Street. Some were surprised that Xi was paying attention, too.

Since his ascent to power in 2012, Xi has discussed the issue of inequality on several occasions. Early this year, he told his provincial ministerial-level cadres that achieving common prosperity was “not just an economic issue, but a significant political one that matters to the party’s basis to rule”.

In the four decades since Xi’s predecessor Deng Xiaoping enabled economic liberalisation, booms…

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