Monday, December 27, 2010

The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers

The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist RulersThe Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers Richard McGregor

China's often a contradiction-- a booming market economy but a communist government. The West used to say that we needed to do business with China because for we'd be selling democracy with every hamburger, but it hasn't worked out that way.

In this book McGregor lays out a fascinating account of how the Party controls government and the economy (including how much control they have over many large Chinese firms that look like they're not held by the state.) As someone with a long-term interest and knowledge of China, McGregor's book didn't hold many surprises, but it did confirm many things I've long suspected and laid out exactly how they work.

I think it's best put in the quotation from a professor in Beijing that starts the first chapter. "The Party is like God. He is everywhere. You just can't see him."

The most interesting chapter for me was the one covering the Sanlu milk scandal. This was a story I remember following in the news as it unfolded. At first it was a little weird as McGregor mentions Sanlu and then seemingly changes topics and talks about something else for 5 pages and then ties it to Sanlu and then seemingly changes topics and talks about something else for 5 pages and then ties it back to Sanlu and then seemingly changes topics (you get the point.)

But, in the end, you get a thorough background that shows the general corporate culture and tensions between Party and economy so a scandal and cover-up like this was almost inevitable. A interesting thing that was an "oh, duh" moment for me was that one of the reasons for the cover-up was timing. Sanlu first because aware it had a huge problem in May, 2008 but the government wanted to have such a good image for the Olympics in August, they put extreme pressure not only on newspapers to not report negative news, but also on companies to not *have* any negative news.

McGregor also uses several recent high-profile corruption cases to show how the Party works-- how it places people in power and can remove them just as quickly-- and what happens to non-members who run afoul of it.

In the West, it's hard to wrap our heads around how the Party is the government and the oversight and the army and the police and the fourth estate and even big business. Although I found the writing to be a bit clunky in the beginning,* McGregor clearly untangles the Party's web to explain it to the outside observer.

*The example that still sticks in my head is when he described China as a panopticon and then spent half a page explaining what the panopticon meant. If you don't think your readers will get the reference, don't use the reference!

Book Provided by... my local library

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reviewing this book. It looks quite promising. I've be doing a little reading on China over the last couple of years so I think I will put this on my TBR.
Thanks !!!