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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,601 ratings  ·  207 reviews
An eye-opening investigation into china's communist party and its integral role in the country's rise as a global superpower and rival of the united states

China's political and economic growth in the past three decades is one of astonishing, epochal dimensions. The country has undergone a remarkable transformation on a scale similar to that of the Industrial Revolution

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 8th 2010 by Harper
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Dec 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
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 e
Eric Tamm
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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

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 b
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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-doorma
Michael Gerald
Feb 05, 2014 rated it liked it
China is a popular and complicated subject these days. This book should be treated with a degree of caution as to its accuracy.
David Vaughan
Feb 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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, b ...more
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Frank Stein
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Peter Gregoire
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 t
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
"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 un ...more
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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 th
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 abou ...more
Aug 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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. T ...more
James Smyth
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ke
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Jun 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 d ...more
Hock Tjoa
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.)

Lauren Albert
Aug 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 wh ...more
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mcgregor
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, c
Gerald Tan
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mikko Ikola
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 travelin
Alexander Boyd
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-reads
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 whi
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Christopher Shoup
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.
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Still excellent and insightful, even though it's now a decade old. ...more
Tariq Mahmood
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How does it control?

The CPC has done and continues to control the largest population of the world with considerable success. It has succeeded because it has evolved with time, to counter the challenges from the very successful capitalist countries started depending on it for all their production needs. So its success is the direct consequence of the capitalist west’s failure. The new jobs created a powerful middle class who isn’t interested in China’s gory past because it is afraid of loosing it
Dec 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read that adds a lot of color to my understanding of China. I wouldn't say there are any major revelations or ground breaking conclusions here for anyone who follows China reasonably closely in the press or general history, indeed I think the best summary of the book is contained in the introduction where McG says the book is really an attempt to fill the void of understanding how the CCP works "by explaining the Party's functions and structures and how political ...more
Oct 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Brian by: the economist
(3.0) Expected a little more meat, less repetition

I dunno, it felt not that 'inside' the secret world of the Communist Party and its rulers. He did get some frank information and quotes from some (former) leaders within the Party, but this book felt far less revelatory than I had hoped. I did learn from it, but I could've done the same through other channels.

Quick summary (by chapter):
* The state IS the Communist Party, at this point pretty much by definition. No surprise here. Leads to corrupti
Zacharia Lorenz
Sep 08, 2018 rated it liked it
As someone who’s lived in China and worked for a Chinese company for the past 3 years, this book was very enlightening. It put to words many things that I sensed while living here and opened my eyes to aspects of China’s political/socioeconomic history to which I’d been totally oblivious. I now see so many similarities between the way my employer operates and the way the Party maintains its firm grip on the the Chinese government and society. That same blind obedience and unconditional trust in ...more
Steven Grimm
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating and eye-opening glimpse into how the Chinese Communist Party works, how it interacts with various elements of Chinese society, and how it's adapting as society changes around it. The book covers a wide variety of topics, from how the Party takes control of commercial enterprises in practice while leaving them as private entities in name, to how the elections in Taiwan threw the party leadership off its stride for quite a while but no longer do, to the changing relationship ...more
Jul 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
I had mixed feelings about the book; some of the material was interesting, but I didn't feel it was that well written - a lot of repetition, even a couple of typos.

Also, while it's understandable that he couldn't get many sources inside to the Party (or even Chinese who aren't Party members) to speak on record, I think the title is a little sensationalist, as it implies that the author is going to somehow give you access to this "secret world". As the author himself said in an interview, he didn
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Richard McGregor is a senior fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute.

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