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

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China's secret rulers are the elephant in the room. They are the largest political organisation in the world. They control every aspect of Chinese life. And no one discusses them. Until now.

Who are they? And how do they operate? Richard McGregor has spent twenty years reporting on this region of the world and he has used all of his experience to uncover the true story of the Chinese Communist Party. This is the most revealing glimpse yet of how this extraordinary organisation works. From business to the army, McGregor tracks down the people who are on the inside, and reveals how they run the world's most populous country.

It is impossible to understand China without really knowing who is in charge. And this book tackles the subject head on. How did China's Communists merge Marx, Mao and the market to create a new superpower? How can they maintain such a grip on power in the face of a changing world. And just how corrupt are they? The Party gives us the untold story of China's rise to power as no other book has.

441 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 8, 2010

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About the author

Richard McGregor

21 books81 followers
Richard McGregor is a senior fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 243 reviews
Profile Image for AC.
1,721 reviews
December 28, 2011
This book flirted with 3-stars, but finally got a 4. It's overrated, in my opinion, but....

The author has great difficulty, though he is obviously well informed about the facts on the ground, in understanding (and contextualizing) the soft authoritarianism that is China today. This is proof, which one finds often in many walks of life, that those who know the most don't always understand the best. (My own experience in my own field has given me MANY examples of this, to be sure.)

I have already explained in my status updates the kind of error this leads him to. That China is corrupt, dirty, large and unwieldy, that the Party pulls the strings (as best it can), etc..., does not make comparisons with the Stalinist purges apt; that it is not forthcoming about SARS is hardly startling given Japan's handling of Fukushima (and cf. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14...) and the West's handling of Assange.... etc.

But the problem here goes deeper, I believe.

It seems to me that MacGregor started out with one thesis, and then -- to his own dismay -- ended up with a very different thesis. Apparently he had wanted to reveal the dirty secret that China is not, in fact, a liberal utopia -- and so plays up, and indeed with a touch of melodrama, the flaws in Chinese governance, the Party influence on SEO's etc -- none of which, in fact, is in the least remarkable or unknown. And in order to do so, he spends many long pages narrating anecdotes which do not quite rise to the emotional temperature he had hoped to reach. As such, the book is sometimes simply boring and predictable and can be easily scanned.

But then... finally, he comes to an Afterword and acknowledges that, for all the imperfections, the system actually seems to be working pretty well -- that for all the Atrophy, there is indeed a lot of Adaptation (and flexibility) as well -- and that, as David Shaumbaugh argued (http://www.amazon.com/Chinas-Communis...), the adapation seems to be winning out. He also points out how people have been predicting the implosion of China for 20 years and how "surprisingly", and 'to the dismay of many in the West' (quoting from memory here), they keep getting proven wrong.

(Even apart from the bears like Pettis et al, who are well known, I have a colleague who is connected with a well-known writer on China [among other things] and who was telling me with a certainty that China would soon fragment -- back in 1993 and 1994. So I know this type quite well -- When I raised the point a year or two ago, they nodded knowingly and assured me that their prediction wasn't wrong, because it hasn't come true yet. Hmmmm....?)

In fact, the Afterword is a very good (brief -- 10 pages, maybe?) summation of the TRUE state of affairs..., and if MacGregor had started composing this book AFTER he had come to his conclusions, rather than arriving at it -- in contradiction to the apparent aim and direction of his narrative..., simply because he had to admit to himself that his narrative had failed -- that is, rather than "thinking with the pen", this would have been a far more useful book. At any rate, the Afterword got him an extra star.

On the other hand, maybe he (and his editors) simply felt that the negative thesis would sell more books than would a sober, balanced, non-apocalyptic assessment... which, btw, his journalist's brief couldn't really have pulled off for 300 pages.... in which case, fuck him -- 3-stars!
Profile Image for Eric Tamm.
Author 3 books8 followers
August 21, 2010
The beast that is China’s ruling party

This review of The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor was originally published in the Vancouver Sun on August 14, 2010 and on my blog at http://horsethatleaps.com/theparty.

In the spring of 2006, I enrolled in a curious course at the B.C. Institute of Technology in Vancouver. It was called the “Fundamentals of Doing Business with China,” but it turn out to be more like “Leninism 101.”

Our instructor, Lawrence Gu, had just become dean of Canada’s first Confucius Institute, a partnership between BCIT and the Chinese government. There are now more than three hundred Confucius Institutes around the world, mostly offering Mandarin classes. BCIT, Gu enthused, was the first to offer a practical business course.

Our first lesson was on China’s governance. “It’s the most sophisticated structure in the world,” Gu said. “It looks familiar, but it isn’t.” He distributed four handouts. Stapled on top was one simply titled “Party.” It was an organizational chart showing the Communist Party’s Secretary General, the Politburo Standing Committee, Politburo and Party Central Committee, in descending order.

“Why do I put the Party first?” he asked.

At every level of government, Gu explained, village leaders, mayors and provincial governors are shadowed by Party apparatchiks who hold the real power in China. At the top sits the Politburo Standing Committee. “These nine members are really calling the shots,” Gu said. He described the Party’s Secretary General Hu Jintao, who is also China’s President, as “the emperor.”

Gu boasted of his “pragmatic” approach in beating out more prestigious universities for the country’s first Confucius Institute: “We followed the Chinese government strategy and you’ll find out that’s the strategy for success.” That is also the first fundamental: when in China you need to toe the Party line.

Gu’s greatest challenge was finding a course textbook. “I don’t think you can have one,” he said. “The subject is too difficult and fluid.”

That is until now. Richard McGregor’s new book, The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, should be required reading for anyone wanting to do any kind of business in China. Understanding the Party is fundamental to success—and survival, as McGregor describes in chilling prose.

McGregor’s narrative unfolds like Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard, in which the writer tracks the mysterious cat through the Himalayas. As we travel with McGregor in search of his “beast,” as he calls the Party, we see mostly the bloody trail of its mauled victims, from 35 million starved to death in the Great Leap Forward to students massacred in Tiananmen Square. With every gripping anecdote, McGregor gets closer to capturing the essence of the Party, but in the end this animal, like the snow leopard, proves elusive.

“The problem in writing about the Party… is that, much as the Party might be staring you in the face, you can’t easily glare back,” he writes. Indeed, he adds: “Sometimes, you can’t see the Party at all.”

“The Party is like God,” one Chinese academic tells him. “He is everywhere. You just can’t see him.”

Yet McGregor sees more than most. A reporter for the Financial Times, he’s been covering China for more than a decade, and is a seasoned, entertaining guide. His book is a page-turner, a mystery of sorts. Although he only glimpses into the Party’s inner workings, McGregor’s quest to shed light on the murky clique that rules the world’s largest country becomes a vehicle for understanding modern China with all its contradictions and paradoxes.

The Party is everywhere and nowhere. “Over time,” he writes, “the Party’s secrecy has gone beyond habit and become essential to its survival, by shielding it from the reach of the law and the wider citizenry.”

McGregor deftly describes how the Party has junked its outdated Marxist software, but “still runs on Soviet hardware.” It operates on a Leninist mainframe, keeping its “lock-hold on the state and three pillars of its survival strategy: control of personnel, propaganda and the People’s Liberation Army.” This point is often lost on many Western observers who hail the end of Communism in China. Not quite.

“The Leninist bureaucracy survives, but the Party has added a touch of McKinsey to ensure it performs,” he writes, referring to the global business consultancy.

The book’s first half focuses on the Party’s control of the state, business, personnel and the army while the second half describes the Party’s many challenges: reigning in corruption and rogue officials in the regions, controlling the growing capitalist class and managing the narrative of China, “because if this narrative unraveled, it could devour them all.”

At times, McGregor makes it seem like the average Chinese is living in the Matrix; workers may be improving their lot, but the real purpose of their daily toil is to sustain and enrich the “red machine,” whose greed and graft knows no bounds. And anyone who tries to expose the Party for what it truly is will be duly annihilated.

“As a political machine,” he writes, “the Party has so far proved to be a sinuous, cynical and adaptive beast in the face of its multiple challenges.”

McGregor is less successful at describing its evolution. That the Party has succeeded so spectacularly shouldn’t be a surprise. Lenin designed his dictatorship of the proletariat by a vanguard party of professionals as a means to industrialize rural peasants. Leninism is reverse-Marxism: first the political revolution and then an industrial one. That’s exactly what China’s Communist Party has done with aplomb.

But can this rickety “Soviet hardware” effectively manage an increasingly post-industrial, pluralistic society of tech-savvy citizens and irreverent youths? For many observers, democratization seems inevitable in China, just as the autocratic Kuomintang relinquished power to multi-party elections in Taiwan. Indeed, the Party already allows for elections of village leaders and in some townships. Yet McGregor sidesteps the issue of political reform.

The Party has become craftier too, but McGregor barely touches on the new methods and technologies being used to seduce and suppress, co-opt and coerce, public opinion. Besides the Great Fire Wall, the Party is employing electronic surveillance, polling and focus groups, and is probably monitoring Internet search terms on Baidu (China’s Google) and the blogosphere to keep one step ahead of the mob.

Whether it uses democratic elections or technological innovations (or a bit of both) to manage the complexities of post-industrial society, as McGregor rightly points out, the Party isn’t over in China.
Profile Image for Abi.
36 reviews5 followers
January 9, 2012
If this book had been written just a little better, I'd give it 5 stars. The information presented is nothing but enthralling to a China outsider. The organization of the sections deftly enhances the content. In about 200 pages, McGregor successfully manages to give you a comprehensive intuition for how The Party operates, even if you have no prior knowledge of China. That's a towering achievement.

The language, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired: it's your typical, found-on-your-doormat-every-morning dry journalistic prose, a style which seems to require (1) repeating things often, (2) providing a mini-summary before launching into the details of an anecdote and then (3), immediately following up with the obligatory but completely unnecessary summary (once again!) of the same anecdote, even while it's still (undoubtedly!) fresh in your mind unless you happen to have the memory capacity of a jellyfish.

The book starts off slow but hits its stride in the third chapter and roars onwards from there on, leaving you sleepless and eager to see the complete picture of the innards of the thing most aptly described as "the organism that controls one quarter of the world's population". The anecdotes handpicked by McGregor range from internationally notorious scandals such as the Sanlu Milk tragedy to war stories of lesser known crusades against the Party by suppressed journalists from within. With each anecdote, McGregor reveals a side of The Party (these include organization, propaganda, army, economy, federal-provincial relations, anti-graft campaigns and other smaller ones) and how it exercises control over said side. Take the Sanlu Milk scandal. The infant poisoning incidents first came to the notice of the Sanlu board of the company right before the start of the Olympics, a momentous occasion for the nation and The Party. At the time, local state officials as well as the leaders of state-owned enterprises (including Sanlu) had been instructed very clearly by the Propaganda department in Beijing to specifically avoid any press mentions of food-related issues. And therein, arises the cruel catch-22 for local officials and the executives of Sanlu. On orders from Propaganda in Beijing, they were left with no choice but to cover up the incidents and silence, through pay-offs, the parents of the affected infants. When the scandal was eventually uncovered post-Olympics by Beijing, it reprimanded the local officials heavily and put many of the executives behind bars for life, demonstrating to the international community that it took its food safety measures seriously.

Perhaps, the biggest realization for me — fret not, this isn't a spoiler — was that a communist government does not necessarily do better at long-term planning than its democratic counterpart. I'd always thought the converse was true. Singapore, for instance, can clearly take certain hard-line actions only because its ruling party never has to worry about getting re-elected. However, in China, this is certainly not the case. The Party is a massive beast that's in constant threat of exploding from the inside due to the insatiable hunger and greed of its own officials. Here's an astonishing nugget: If you take yearly GDP numbers reported by each province and sum them up, you'll end with a result significantly higher than the GDP number reported by the central authorities. Why? Because there's a very strong incentive for provincial party bosses to do better than their neighbors so they can move up the power structure of The Party and government. The reason The Party has succeeded in the massive economic transformation of the last 30-odd years emerges from studying the affects of this intense competition among party men and state officials: it's not the self-less lack of greed and self-sacrificing noble actions of individuals that have paved way for a greater collective, but precisely the opposite, it's the effective harnessing by The Party of the lust for power and money among officials that has bred a competitive (albeit short-term focused) system that pushes itself forward at a tremendous pace. That's what scientific communism is, not quite communism at all.

The sociopolitical problems that plague China and the United States are so similar in many ways (and this is something that I really shouldn't be surprised about, but I did hold a rather naive view that human nature might be slightly different depending on cultural circumstances (perhaps, a victim myself of the boisterous Chinese self-posturing international propaganda)). The age-old conflicts between public service and personal wealth, between historical legacies and an uncertain future, between immediate gratification and long-term sustainability.

Essential reading for anyone interested in the future of the world. An illuminating and exciting journey.
Profile Image for Michael Gerald.
383 reviews45 followers
March 24, 2021
China is a popular and complicated subject these days. This book should be treated with a degree of caution as to its accuracy.
Profile Image for Frank Stein.
990 reviews135 followers
May 9, 2017
For weiguoren (foreigners) the most difficult thing to understand about the Chinese system is the position of the Chinese Communist Party in it. As in the old Soviet Union, the Party acts as a strange parallel state, wielding all the real power in government, but only from behind the official legal screens of ministries and bureaus. In China this strangeness is amplified because the Party, which is supposed to be the keeper of the unified ideological "line," is ruling a country that is becoming shamelessly capitalist. Richard McGregor uncovers these contradictions and highlights them. He does a wonderful investigative job finding out how exactly the Party rules the world's largest nation.

For instance, in the 50 largest corporations in China, the CEO's most important relationship isn't with his or her stockholders or board members or workers but with the Party. The CEO is therefore not angry but thrilled to be granted a "red machine," the big red phone placed on the desks of top CEOs that gives the Party direct access to him or her. The most important function of the Party in these companies, as in the government itself, is to distribute positions. The Party's massive "Central Organization Department," operating, as much of the Party, out of an unmarked buildings in Beijing and the provinces, judges ideological vigour and places people where they will ensure Party control and flows of funds. The top CEOs also are expected to form Communist Party "cells" in their company, and to chair those cells and organize Party work and recruitment inside the company and in supposedly "independent" business organizations or labor unions. The "red machine" at a company is therefore a means to tell company leaders who to hire, but it also ensures government favors and contracts and bank loans to the company. It's a trade the CEOs are willing to make. In one infamous example, the Party told the CEOs of the top 3 telecom companies to switch places because they worried about independent power bases forming in the companies outside the Party's control.

The Party thus works on its 80 or so million members by both making demands and giving rewards. Party members have to toe the Party line on ideology and policy, attend one of about 2700 Party educational schools for special classes, and give up some perks (such as for CEOs, options in the companies that get partially privatized), but they also get ensured advancement and contracts and networks. In the case of a potential crime, the Party member is tried by the Party and not the regular judicial system, but a Party member is also subject to random investigative detention and questioning not used for most citizens.

Like in the old Soviet Union, the Party has a secret "nomenklatura" list of positions throughout government and society that it controls. In the early 1990s, it added the head of universities and journalists' organization to the list after concerns about too much independent thinking and reporting. The nomenklatura system also determines which sections of the government and the economy thrive and move upwards. The Party constantly harps on the "unity" of the Party and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), but hasn't appointed a military man to all powerful Politburo Standing Committee since 1992 (it used to be more than half), demonstrating that it wants to keep the military firmly under the Party's control.

The Party's obsession with control is always in evidence in this book. The Party is terrified of "direct sales" organizations like Amway and Avon because they organize groups and sellers outside of the Party. The Party's Propaganda Department makes official ideological statements on all of Chinese history (recently deciding to extend the Party's own history back to 1840, to better capture anti-foreigner campaigns then), and expects all reporters and historians to abide by such statements, such as the idea that Mao Zedong was exactly "70% good and 30% bad." The Party is infinitely more open than it used to be (an ideologically dangerous book today won't be published or reviewed, but the author will rarely be jailed or even hurt), but it still fears the dangers of another Tiananmen Square, and organizes constantly to prevent it. This book finally brings the Party's fears and powers to light, and leaves the reader in awe of the Party's secretive influence.
Profile Image for Nilesh Jasani.
1,019 reviews157 followers
July 22, 2021
Reading The Party about a decade since its publication throws good light on issues raised by perennial China skeptics. The book is informative in its details on CCP's hold over life and everything else in China. Its absolutism is laudatory at a level, even though most readers will wonder if the author - and similar commentators - would apply the same brush to nations and governments strategically more important to their host nations.

The main conclusions are elsewhere. There is no dearth of experts uneasy with the Chinese ways ever since its growth started drawing their attention, particularly from the Tiananmen protests. Almost all have forecasted an imminent political and economic collapse stressing the unsustainability of the Chinese ways while excessively drawing on the mistakes of the Mao times.

China will have ups and downs in the years ahead. The downcycles will be different from those elsewhere, even if equally or more/less painful, characterized by the Party's unique structure. And yet, three things are lost in the analysis of the kind presented in the book.

One, every system in the world is unique and causes its community to go through its distinctive cycles. This is not to say some systems are not more wrong, but a perspective on any success matter to analyze any predicted doom. None of the forecasted collapses of China have come to a pass so far. Books of the kind must discuss what has allowed the party to go on so long before turning to incremental changes that could lead to a complete collapse from now.

Two, Xi Jinping's era further solidifies that the Party continues to shift. This is not a hindsight analysis, but even when the book was written, it was clear that the 2010 CCP was utterly different from the one in 1995, 1979, or 1965, as it is now from 2010. It is important to recount events and disasters of the previous fifty years but the author - and many others - excessively use them to give their interpretations of reality now.

Three, some things on human rights and individual freedoms are wrong absolutely. End results in economic or political successes should not be used to either justify them or predictions of failures to announce their futility. Champions of such causes, however, always bear the burden of proving their credentials that they are not prejudiced. The book fails to establish this.

In conclusion, the book is a helpful read to understand the pitfalls of standard China analysis we see in abundance these days.

Profile Image for David Vaughan.
15 reviews2 followers
February 2, 2011
This fellow knows his China, and has known it with an "All Access" pass for decades. Well, as much access as a non-member can have. Plus, he has callouses on his feet from trying to walk into rough patches barefoot. Some of the things he asked to fairly senior Party members would be cringe-worthy if they weren't so gutsy and asked so ingenuously. Add in the asides he records from trusting low-level functionaries, whom McGregor actually names, and the verified tasty gossip from business people, bankers and executives, and you eventually realize that the author has had a deep-and-wide view of how the CCP works for so long that his assessment has become intuitive, like a musician being able to play what he hears. He's also smart enough to know this only means he knows where the moving target was, but he gives a good description of the Wendigo sighted in the woods at midnight. Nobody knows where it is now, or what fur it's wearing, but McGregor sure got a good glimpse of the beast for a moment or two. The book is well-paced and intrinsically fascinating, whether you are into reading about China or not. This can serve as additional info for the China hand, a primer for the beginner, or a good intro for the China generalist looking to add political cred to her vision. I'm almost done with the book and see no flaws of importance, so I give it five stars. The only people who know more -- actual Party members -- don't write books that I can read or have access to.
Profile Image for Dhanadi.
13 reviews
June 9, 2012
An up-to-date and fascinating insight into the party's inner workings. McGregor explains the byzantine nature of the Party's bureaucracy to minute details and unmasks the far reaching grasps of the Party's tentacles. What I find hard to believe is how the Party's organizational department controls nearly the entire Chinese elite (including those in the private sector) and leadership.
Profile Image for Niel Bowerman.
22 reviews17 followers
June 10, 2021
China doesn't run like any country that I had ever encountered until I read this book. It is a fascinating account of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) functions, and how they run the world's second largest economy.

The CCP is behind the scenes, but makes most of the decisions as the functioning of most major Chinese companies. Similarly, the 'government officials' in cities are frequently not the ones with the ultimate decision-making power, but rather the CCP behind them.

This book documents some of the exceptionally talented individuals in the CCP and their stories, as well as some of the darker sides of the CCP such as corruption in the party.

I have probably used more anecdotes from this book in casual conversation than I have from almost any book that I have read in the past few years. It is very rich and full of fascinating stories.

This book was written before the rise of Xi Jinping, and I would be excited to see an updated edition that talks more about Xi.
Profile Image for Peter Gregoire.
Author 9 books5 followers
June 9, 2013
Richard McGregor's "The Party" offers us a well-balanced, thought-provoking insight into the machinations of the Chinese Communist Party and, more generally, into how China functions.

Many Western commentators bray constantly about the imminent and inevitable collapse of the political system in China. According to them, the liberalization of the economic system and adoption of the free market, in which individual decisions about what to buy and what to sell hold sway, will inevitably undermine the autocracy of a political system where individual rights do not exist. In his masterful book, East & West, Chris Patten tells us that this contradiction cannot exist in the long-term. A breaking point is inevitable and when it comes, the Party will collapse.

MacGregor, however, questions this premise. Plenty of predicted breaking points have presented themselves and yet the Party continues to hold the reins of power. If nothing else, this has demonstrated its astonishing adaptability. As such, those who say history ended when the Cold War was "won", with the defeat of a society based on a politically authoritarian and centralized economic model, by a politically democratic free-market society, may have rushed to judgement. For the resilience of the Communist Party in China, potentially offers a third-way of politically tight control coupled with relaxed control on economic matters. This was Deng Xiaoping's answer following events of June 1989. To this day, it continues.

MacGregor further points out that rather than succumbing to the challenges of joining the WTO and the global financial crisis, some may say that the Deng's formula has seen China come off better than its Western counterparts. The ability of the Party, through the control it can still exert over the Chinese banks (which had been transformed from state owned monoliths into IPO'd companies whose shares were hoovered up) to quickly ensure money was pumped into the economy, stood in stark contrast to the US and Europe where quantitative easing was debated until the cows came home (and still is). The message from China's consequent economic uptick was: "look how better we are than you are". It also cemented the continued legitimacy of the Party.

My particular favourite chapter in this book is that on the sinister, grey, anonymous and yet ultimately powerful, Central Organization Department, which MacGregor describes as the Party's HR department. The Organization Department, according to MacGregor, vets and controls an astonishing range of appointments so vital to the Party's continued exertion of power and control. I couldn't help but be amused and astonished by this description, as it seems to fit the way an HR department works in any large multinational company, albeit in "China plc" you can multiply the appointments it has to oversee by ten!

Make no mistake, however. This book is certainly not an advert for China's system of government. MacGregor points out that corruption in China remains deep. The rights of those who question the system are ultimately suppressed if they cannot be shut up by co-option. But what MacGregor's books gives us is a different insight to the Party, one which does not judge its "goodness" or "badness" but seeks to bring to our attention the fact that it has proven to be far more adaptable to meet the continuing challenges presented to its existence than we can imagine. Protests are met with the strategy of pay-off first, and only if that does not work, will they be stamped on. Propaganda, which failed in the SARs crisis, has since borrowed from the Blair government's handling of the mad-cow disease crisis to correct things.

In its adaptability, the Party has so far found the key to its survival, and (through the continued deliverance of an economic miracle even in the midst of the financial crisis) its strengthening. It is, in short, not going anywhere. And as China continues its advance to world superpowerdom, we would all do well to take that lesson on board.

Peter Gregoire - author of Article 109
Profile Image for R.
27 reviews11 followers
April 5, 2018
"a similar department in the US would oversee the appointment of the entire US cabinet, state governors and their deputies, the mayors of major cities, the heads of all federal agencies, the CEO of GE, ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, and about fifty of the remaining largest US companies, the justices on the Supreme Court, the editors of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, the bosses of the TV networks and cable stations, the presidents of Yale and Harvard and other big universities, and the heads of think-tanks like the Brookings Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Not only that, the vetting process would take place behind closed doors, and the appointments announced without an accompanying explanation why they had been made."

McGregor admits such analogies with the U.S. are over simplifications and in fairness to him, uses them sparingly. However, the book could have done with more of them. For non-Chinese, understanding the dynamics of Chinese politics and economics is an immense challenge, and perhaps unfortunately, such analogies to familiar places are a helpful aid.

If you're looking for a beginner's guide to the CCP this book isn't for you. If you have an understanding of the fragmented authoritarianism in China and the contradictions of "communists" ruling over a "capitalist" economy then you’ll get by. Rather than provide a digestible overview of the world's largest and most secretive political organization, McGregor takes you into the weeds to learn with great detail how the CCP, literally, runs China. McGregor’s immense knowledge enables him to piece together names and events that add colour to the endless numbers of state agencies and party cadres of modern China.

The Party is a good book and worth a read if you’re committed. The final chapter is a highlight, explaining how the CCP controls the narrative of Chinese history, with obvious parallels between "Tombstone" and the Gulag Archipelago, albeit with a Chinese twist.
Profile Image for Adrian.
251 reviews25 followers
April 8, 2016
The Party turns both commonly misunderstood analyses of China on their head, namely that China has a wholesale embrace of unrestrained capitalism, and the more unobservant one, that China is still communist.
The Party's central thesis is that, in the words of one Beijing University professor "The Party is like God. He is everywhere, you just can't see him."
What follows is a series of detailed accounts of how the party is at the heart of all the instruments of state, the economy, the media, and the military.
Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 6 are in many ways rather similar, detailing the party's involvement in the economy, in both state and private enterprise and how the demarcation between the state and private sector are increasingly blurred.
Toward the end of the book, greater insight is shown into several high profile corruption cases, such as the Sanlu baby milk poisoning scandal, and the initial attempt to cover it up.
Perhaps little new is offered in the chapter concerning corruption, an issue highly familiar to many China hands, but the most insightful chapter for myself was Chapter 4, Why we fight: The Party and the Gun.
Here is examined one of the most curious aspects of modern China, and indeed the modern world, a national military, the world's largest by standing troop numbers, who's first loyalty is to the party, as opposed to most other armies, who's first loyalty is to the state and constitution. The workings of the subordination of the military to the party are given better examination than this reader has hitherto encountered, and chapter 4 is a chapter worthy of disciplined re-reading.
The final chapter on the Party and their official rendering of history, and control of the national media may be familiar to experienced China hand's but nonetheless new insights are contained.
On the whole, The Party is a highly readable and detailed examination of China's system, and essential reading for new and old China hands alike.
Profile Image for Hock Tjoa.
Author 8 books89 followers
July 23, 2013
This is a well written analysis of a subject important to the understanding of contemporary China. The author has provided much factual analysis and enlivened the book with anecdotes regarding events and actors.

It is fascinating that there is a hotline for the top 400 leaders of government and industry to be able to reach other by dialing only four digits and that these secure lines are also used for fax machines. (One wonders if the NSA has been able to hack into this communications system.)

Also useful is the juxtaposition of the Tienanmen Square crackdown with the deteriorating political dynamics in the USSR. Read together with Ezra Vogel's volume on Deng Xiaoping who was appalled by Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin (he thought it the beginning of the destabilization of the Party in the USSR and remained convinced that nothing similar should happen in China), the crackdown was inevitable.

This is a serious book for serious readers.
Profile Image for AskHistorians.
918 reviews3,022 followers
October 4, 2015
Never before has there been such an amazing in depth look at the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) before the publishing of this book. McGregor's work was cut out for him because the CCP is probably one of the most secretive political regimes ever. Most Chinese people don't even know how many departments and adminstrative bodies there are, or which ones belong to the 'government' and which belong to the Party. McGregor dives deep and brings up a treasure trove of knowledge about the mechanics of the strange political system where the Party is the government while pretending not to be, putting faces to names and names to faces, and the corruption that runs to the very core of the system. He provides history and analysis while his masterful writing prevents it all from burying the reader.
Profile Image for Ben.
969 reviews90 followers
May 5, 2022
Useful for its overview as well as some of its anecdotes. But there is nothing particularly insightful or groundbreaking, and it is becoming dated.

> Most US presidents become lame ducks in the last years of their final term. So topsy-turvy is the Chinese political system that Hu, like Jiang Zemin before him, only really consolidated power by the time he was approaching the end of his period in office.

> When Jiang Zemin was appointed party secretary in May 1989, weeks before the tanks rolled into Beijing, he had to be smuggled into the capital to take up his position. A rattled Jiang was picked up at the airport in a VW Santana, China’s everyman car, instead of the Red Flag limousine then standard for top leaders. He was told to change into worker’s clothes for the ride into town to meet Deng, lest any of the angry demonstrators still filling the streets should spot him

> Jiang’s handover of power to Hu Jintao at the 2002 congress, held at around the same time as Xu Haiming received his first eviction notice in Shanghai, was a milestone event in the history of the Party. It was not just the fact that Jiang was replaced by Hu as general secretary, but that he agreed to step down without a public fuss. Hu’s displacement of Jiang was not only the first peaceful handover of power in China since the 1949 revolution, which was notable in itself, but the first in any major communist country at all. In addition, the transition from Jiang to Hu was carried out according to an evolving set of rules in the Party, setting retirement ages for top leaders and ministers, and establishing a new unofficial limit of two five-year terms for the party secretary and premier. … Each succession in the Soviet Union, from Lenin to Gorbachev, followed a death in office or a purge of the top leader. In China, Mao had nominated his own successor, the hapless Hua Guofeng, who in turn had been ousted by Deng Xiaoping. Deng declined to become party secretary himself but remained the paramount power behind the scenes, later overseeing the removal of two of his protégés, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, the latter being then placed under house arrest in 1989 for the remainder of his life

> Baidu had long finessed its internet searches for the Chinese government, to block commentary critical of the Communist Party. It sold the same service to commercial clients, in the case of Sanlu for rmb 300 million, to limit or screen out searches linking the company’s products to sick babies and melamine. (Baidu later denied selling this agreement.)

> Ask any genuine entrepreneur whether their company is private, or ‘siying’, literally, ‘privately run’, it is striking how many still resist the description in favor of the more politically correct tag ‘minying’, which means ‘run by the people’. In a people’s republic founded on a commitment to abolish private wealth, an enterprise which is ‘run by the people’, even if it is owned by an individual, is more favored than a company that parades itself as purely private. Most economists now skirt the issue, by dividing companies into two categories, state and non-state, and leave it at that.
Profile Image for Ben Rogers.
2,387 reviews156 followers
August 7, 2023
One of the Best Books I've Read on Corruption

This book is an engrossing and insightful read that peels back the layers of the enigmatic Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Prepare to embark on a gripping journey into the inner workings of this secretive organization, where policies and corruption intertwine in a web of intrigue.

This book serves as a deep dive into the heart of the CCP, shedding light on the policies and pervasive corruption that shape the party's grip on power. McGregor's meticulous research and immersive storytelling bring to life the hidden truths behind China's ruling party. The Party is undoubtedly one of the best books available on the subject of corruption, providing readers with a clear-eyed view of the challenges posed by this influential organization.

In today's rapidly changing global landscape, The Party emerges as a timely and indispensable resource for understanding China's political dynamics. McGregor's ability to offer profound insights into the inner workings of the CCP is both compelling and eye-opening. As you navigate the pages of this book, you will gain valuable knowledge that sheds light on the complexities of modern-day China.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Party to anyone seeking to comprehend the inner workings of China's political landscape. Be prepared to be captivated by the depth of McGregor's research and insights into critical topics such as Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square incident.
Most notably, the book highlights the vast disparities in wealth and power between the party members and the general citizens, underscoring the income and life inequality that exists within the Chinese society.

I also found this book a very timely read for me, as I was reading it while the sudden speedy removal of Qin Gang was announced. If you know who this is, and were at-all in-the-know about China foreign policy, this was pretty important news.

In conclusion, The Party stands as an essential read that unveils the secrets of China's Communist Rulers. With its well-researched and insightful narrative, this book leaves a lasting impression on readers. Embrace the opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of the CCP's policies and corruption, and be empowered to navigate the complexities of contemporary Chinese politics with newfound clarity.

Profile Image for Ladye.
11 reviews
August 4, 2012
If you're interested in China, you ought to make some attempt to understand how the CCP works, but don't expect to find a page-turning thrill ride. This book helped me, but took forever to get through (long march?) and by the time I finished it, I forgot where it began. Luckily, the author saved one of the most interesting stories for last: that of the Party's determination to keep a tight control on the history that is known to its people, including much of the history that predates the CCP. The Party's pushes a narrative that extends well into the past and points well into the future (a future that only the CCP could be trusted with).

[The first time I was confronted with mentions of the Opium War (in a comment thread on the China Daily website) as an injury from which China is still recovering or an indication of how the West in general has always treated China, I was shocked. We have few institutions in America that can keep such old history alive for political purposes: those invoking racial inequality and those who still have issues with FDR are the only two I can think of. Then again, crackpots from the far right are constantly trying to say we have drifted significantly from the principles of the founding fathers. Invoking the founding fathers is a special American argument technique and the founding fathers get older every day . But is there some injury that we suffered as a nation over which we still hold an international grudge? I can't think of one.]

Clearly, the CCP has a political interest in maintaining a distrust for outsiders amongst its population. Placing history, even what many Americans might think of as ancient history, front and center serves them in this capacity.

Hiding their own limitations and flaws, past and present, is the other fascinating CCP specialty. The final chapter of this book also mentions the efforts to hide the disastrous famine that resulted from the Great Leap Forward in the late 50s and early 60s. This is an area about which I hope to read more in the near future. This book gave me lots of questions to take to my next book.
Profile Image for James Smyth.
22 reviews2 followers
September 16, 2014
Believing that The Communist Party of China Is Bad is not enough. One must understand how they operate, and THE PARTY by Richard McGregor is a worthy read for doing this so well in so few words. It covers everything you've heard about and a number of details you hadn't heard of but won't forget. It's structuralist, not biographical or polemical.

It's easy to see why the Party's rule is now so secure, and at the same time why the PRC will never be dynamic or a model for other nations: the Party keeps a tight grip on every part of society and holds down dissent, while adapting potentially disruptive innovations (like the Internet) to serve its own ends, squelching potential creativity and reform at the same time. This week's news that half of rich Chinese are considering leaving the PRC in the next five years, and that the PRC will not compromise on Hong Kong sovereignty, are both natural consequences of what this book teaches.

It's tempting to extrapolate this information to past empires of China, and say that the mental habits and intellectual systems built up over millennia of empires were not eradicated in the 20th century: rather, they were adapted to the new paradigm. While the centralization of power and destruction of other potential sources of authority can make administration smoother in small things, when the system can no longer support the weight the fall is vast and violent: the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Rebellion, Communist-Nationalist Civil War, and other civil wars are far bloodier and more common than those that states with greater balance of domestic power and more frequent handovers of authority, like England and Germany, have had in past centuries.

One sees, from this book, that the Party is doing terrible things, but at the same time is so deeply embedded it is irreplaceable. (PRC officials are quoted as saying the KMT used the same playbook, but less well!) The collapse of the Party would be a cataclysm, as were the falls of past regimes. And at the same time, people's mental habits are so attuned to life under the Party that once it's gone the next system cannot help but take up many of the same traits.
115 reviews7 followers
June 7, 2011
If you have any sort of interest in the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese politics, or modern China in general, this is the book you need. The Party is by far the best single resource I have ever come across in terms of describing how China really works on a political level. Even better, the writing is completely accessible and the details are presented in an entertaining, almost journalistic, kind of way. Unlike the Shambaugh book on the CCP, which amounted to painfully dry academia, McGregor's classic is a reasonable option for anyone interested in China at any level. He intersperses anecdotes and news items fluidly with his own research and analysis, and no other book I've read does quite such an excellent job of explaining how an authoritarian system like China's functions on a day-to-day basis. Reading this book is absolutely akin to getting a peak into the back closet of the modern version of China's communists, but beyond just the dirty laundry it also explains exactly how the instruments of power work -- and don't work -- in this gigantic country. There's no way anyone is going to understand what 21st China is without knowing this information.

One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, though of course I am biased towards the topic.
93 reviews1 follower
July 21, 2019
The author says that all aspects in China are viewed by the Party through the lens of how it affects the Party's hold on power. The CP is involved in all aspects of public life; it is felt but not always seen, except when it makes a point to be seen.

This was a very educational book and I would recommend it for a better understanding of the Chinese system. I had always wondered how a country that calls itself Communist can continue to do so despite its obvious capitalist tendencies. I think this can be best explained by viewing capitalism as a tool for the CP through which it grows more powerful, richer, and attains legitimacy.

The book does need an update as it was largely written during the global recession. Xi Jingping was not in power yet.

The CP's intrusion into private companies coming into China was talked about at length but what was not discussed was the forced handover of trade secrets and goods. Maybe that wasn't happening at the time.

Also this is not a clear history of the Party or the Revolution. It is a book about the system and how it functions, not a comprehensive history of how it came to be.
Profile Image for Lauren Albert.
1,809 reviews161 followers
August 5, 2010
Astute and fair minded look at the Chinese Communist Party. He criticizes without demonizing and praises without sanctifying. He answers so many questions--But most of all how China manages to have a booming economy while the Party maintains an iron grip and control over the largest companies. He shows us how the centralized economy sometimes benefits them and how it sometimes stifles change and growth. The most fascinating part of the book was getting to know the culture of the party-how and why "it" thinks, works, punishes, praises.
Profile Image for wally.
2,530 reviews4 followers
June 2, 2017
finished this one this afternoon, 2 jun 17, good read, 3 stars, i liked it.

enlightening and informative about china. reminded of when nixon visited china, you remember that don't-cha? jim croce, on 8-track, swoosh! swoosh! swoosh! people over in japan, what's that noise? oh that's just every chinaman, sweeping the snow. moa zedung, communist red china, vietnam was hot and heavy and korea wasn't that long in the distant past. the mystery of the orient.

this helps the reader understand, somewhat, china.

several times as i read, came across something that some big talking head, some big financier, someone who should know all...comes across as clueless. weren't his colleagues who didn't have options jealous, the fidelity broker asked? the executive replied that the options were meaningless, as they weren't really his. the fidelity broker erruted in anger, the banker recalled, demanding to know if all the other information attached to the new issue was equally fake. the executive quickly realized his mistake and backpedalled, saying he had donated the money to the state, so as not to cause divisions with his colleagues. there was one other place that had to do with something like this...guess i didn't bookmark it and i'm not going to look for it now...but it was along these same lines. and yet another that i do remember though i didn't bookmark that one either, had to do with bush senior. should i look. naw, read it and discover it on your lonesome.

has to do with china being more "open"...foreign investment, that sort of thing...some able, persuaded, encouraged, to partake. but the party. always the party. china differs crucially from the soviet union in one respect: the system is far more pervasive, penetrating deeper into lower levels of government and other state-controlled institutions.

has to do with what "foreign" firms must do to be on the up and up...who's in control, who sits where at the table. though some are/were encouraged to become public...offering...i dunno, seems like those big talking heads should have known that "the party" is/was still in control. is and isn't. here, there, but even the locals bounce and strut. there's a new saying, the new black-collar class that sums it up.

ummm...did see in that other non-fiction piece i'd read...how dictatorships coop "protest" movements to handle them. that is explained here in a number of ways. as well as outright stomping them into the ground...that manner of speech in all its forms is also handled by "the party"

just as 'investment' is handled. the real issue for the party was the threat that the foreign and local private sector might become a political rival. the fabled middle class again...necessary, i'm told, to any successful revolution. but it if is co-opted...handled. all is well and all manner of things are well. there's a sense of learning. the realization that the chinese economy could not grow and prosper without private enterprise took nearly four years to sink in after the post-1989 backlash.

too...in that ho chi minh biography i'd read...there too, there is that sense of allowing private enterprise time to flourish (and handled) to allow the economy (vietnam's) to grow. i believe the same thing happened, in a sense, in lenin's soviet union.

there's quite a bit to this one, lots of information, all of it enlightening, at times orewellian. sanlu. the sars scare, the 30-35 million starved to death under mao, more...more as in bits and pieces, lines that suggest volumes could be written about each one, covered in a line here...but the sanlu, sars, tienanmen are covered in more detail. this was put out before the arab spring, though...wasn't it. thinking of the "jasmine" revolution and perhaps it was in that other one, about dictatorships....some bits and pieces about china. the party had its watchful eye out at the time.

beijing has cannily leveraged a modern tool to keep the sesame officials in line, allowing chinese journalists and bloggers to expose local abuses of power in a way they would never tolerate with senior leaders in beijing handled. co-opted. that sort of thing.

the system's blindspot is overwhelmingly political

reminds me of the idiots here in america. for eight years during the clinton abuse of the white house, all and sundry had no problem using vitriolic speech, using words like white trash, rednecks, trailer trash, big-haired wimmen and the like...this, followed by eight years of all and sundry being a "racist" is one opposes the one...and lately we have had hillary doing stand-up on the pulpit, blaming all and sundry for her not hold the office she coveted. in the end, what's the use. you could tell them but they won't listen. 'bout all you can say is, well, i remember when.

book makes the point that many have forecast the downfall of china. if china continues to invest far more than it consumes, the domestic economy will eventually stagger under the weight of its own imbalances, with an impact on the rest of the world. and then too, he makes the point that china will have an impact, staggering or swaggering, my word, not his.
Profile Image for Gerald Tan.
9 reviews7 followers
October 29, 2019
The story telling element and organisation of the book wasn't the best but then that's not why I read it. Brilliant depiction and characterization of The Party and its place in the intersection of civil society, politics and business. The resources the author was able to tap into were invaluable towards building a fair perspective of how China works. I appreciated the fact that the author did not judge the system but often showed that there are always two sides to a story and in fact, can often be two sides of the same coin.

My biggest takeaway was that for all its criticisms, a relatively simple paradigm shift in thinking is all that is needed to understand how the Party's view on the judicial system could possibly be beneficial.

"A retired judge in Chongqing, a vast metropolis in western China, recounted the response he got when he objected to interference of party officials in his court rulings. ‘You call it interference,’ the official replied. ‘We call it leadership.’"

It could allow justice and law to enforced without confusions or bias over it's interpretations. Because the party knows what is right, it is always right. At least at that point of time. But this does not preclude it from improving and adjusting over time. I suppose in this case what is right is based on the fact that the party is constitutionally the only leader of the country. And what is right is whatever they decide on is the best way to retain power and grow the wealth of the country.

Certainly a much simpler way to understand a country than the ebb and flows of democracies and semi-democracies across Southeast Asia.
Profile Image for Mikko Ikola.
44 reviews9 followers
August 30, 2020
Must read for anyone working with China

The way how strongly Communist Party in China affects and controls all aspects of lively hood, whether it’s business, religion or culture, is absolutely different compared to any other country. While at the same time, the Party is trying to play down its own role, especially internationally. Thus, it is impossible to understand China without careful studying of the Party and it’s fairly short history. This book is a great starting point.

Even after traveling to China several times and doing business there, this book explained many dilemmas that I’ve had for years. Such as:

1) How the Party and it’s power was organized to create miraculous economic growth (local municipal governments had absolute power to help local businesses succeed — multi-fold resources, power and speed than most western cities — while local top officials owning a stake in the ventures, which leads to the next point...)

2) The darker side of system: corruption, how it spreads between the different layers of the governance, and how it seems to be difficult to completely remove because of systematic problems of having the Party above all other government bodies, including legislative bodies. Much good progress have been done during the last few years, though.

3) How Tiananmen Square happenings in 1989 still affects to many things today. The main objective of the Party is simply to stay in power. This thinking leads to lot of implications.

Even though this book was published already some time ago (2010), and doesn’t cover Xi Jinping’s era, it’s still relevant. To understand how China works today it’s important to understand the entire history of the Communist Party.

Solid five stars.
Profile Image for Golding.
48 reviews10 followers
June 4, 2021
Vital book to understand the CCP.

The personal stories of Chinese people and the CCP's naked exercises of power keep the book moving; the linkage of those two elements into the big picture is used to explain what we see in China today - how the techniques the CCP uses to survive, and how their attempts to restructure society and the state have changed over time.

It's also a beautiful thing to drive a wedge between the "Chinese People" and the CCP - they're not the same thing. The people resist majestically and consistently, driven by their desire to create businesses and make something of themselves, or the desire for truth and justice - and they've kept on resisting despite an inhuman, cultish mob of party members trying to stop them. So it's interesting not just as an investigation of the systems of control, but also to humanize the individuals striving to resist it.

Even within the CCP there are divisions - the book also makes it clear that it's made up of individuals who often come into conflict with each other. In the same way that China is not the CCP, even the party isn't really unified.

I loved it, absolutely vital for people who care about humanity, government, the modern world and our political future.
Profile Image for Carlos.
2,109 reviews67 followers
January 4, 2023
An interesting look at both the overt and covert ways in which the Chinese Communist Party manages to keep control and the challenges it imposes on itself with its obsession for secrecy and unassailable power. In an approachable and comprehensible style, McGregor follows the particular situations that lead regional power brokers to know when to pay lip service to the dictates of the centralized bureaucracy and when to crack down to the letter. He shines the light on those who, either from within or from without the party, try to challenge the system towards improvement and the difficulties the party imposes, to avoid giving an inch towards what would expose the rot at the center of the system. He is also cautious about writing off the institution, showing the skill it has managed to display in riding the different ideological waves of Chinese history in its 70 years in power.
Profile Image for Alexander Boyd.
28 reviews50 followers
May 18, 2020
Whether diving into the intricacies of the Corporate-State-Party divide, listening to Yan Xuetong lament China’s abandonment of military conquest of Taiwan, or in thoughtful demonstration of both the method behind and the importance of Yang Jisheng’s Tombstone, this book is a must read. It will now be among the first books I recommend to the China-curious.

McGregor just gets it right.

A triumph of investigative reportage with a human touch. My favorite anecdote is the extremely 土豪 method with which Nian Guangjiu saved his immense cash piles from summer mold.

The book’s afterward ends with a sobering conclusion that we would all do well to remember. The Party’s primary goal is to survive and, so far, it has shown an incredible ability to do so at any costs.

Must read.
5 reviews
October 22, 2017
A must read for anyone interested in modern China. I thought I had a decent grasp on the Party's role in daily life, but this book reveals a level I was not aware of. With that said, the book felt somewhat incomplete. It is by no means an all-encompassing examination and history of the Communist party in China. However, to many casual readers this is a feature, not a bug. McGregor uses personal stories and individual anecdotes without getting too far into the weeds. This is an easy, approachable book and one I would readily recommend.
Profile Image for Syed Emir.
65 reviews2 followers
November 18, 2022
An introduction to the Communist Party of China that manages to be both light and solid. The author clearly knows his subject matter. Even though it was written a little over a decade ago, the book is in need of updating. It seems to have been written for a contemporary audience (refers to Hu Jintao as if he were still the party’s General Secretary). All in all, I enjoyed it - I learned quite a bit about the CCP and how it operates in this day and age.
September 8, 2019
This is not a super engaging book. I can't put my finger on why exactly. Everything about it is interesting, but it's just not told well. Nonetheless I'm very pleased with how much I learned from reading it, even if it did take more than two months for me to finish. It was both deeply fascinating and yet, a bit dry.

Still, if you're at all interested in learning about how China works as a government and political entity, it's a must-read.
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