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

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,786 Ratings  ·  146 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 (first published 2010)
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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
This is a very well informed book about the current state of modern China. However, (as AC has helpfully said), this book is poorly organized and the author seems to change his mind over several pages. Nothing wrong with changing your mind over the course of an investigation, of course, but the book, as a finished product, should reflect that.

The key traits of the party, as McGregor finds out, are a sort of adaptive soft authoritarianism. From my perspective (at the lowest rungs of academia, as
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
Michael Gerald
Feb 05, 2014 rated it liked it
China is a popular and complicated subject these days. To make it simple yet concise as possible:

Almost every thing about China for the last 60 or so years is about the Communist Party of China, its centrality and primacy can be seen in its society, culture, politics, media, corruption, etc. The Party takes precedence before anything, maybe even before China itself. Its presence can be quite literally be felt by a person, from the womb to the grave. It is a totalitarian yet adaptive system, ridi
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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. Th ...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
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
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, politics
Very useful book. Perhaps not the smoothest read, but very necessary. Simply put, the Chinese communist party is not what you think it is. It's not necessarily better or worse, just different. Practically hard to call communist, but not sure what else to call it. Anyone familiar with American machine politics from the mid 19th to mid 20th century, will find uncomfortable similarities. LOTS of corruption, lots of wealth, lots of control, but all in ways that are "different."
Nov 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
A good introduction to the Party. Nice prose. Entertaining and illustrative stories. Still valuable, even if it's bit outdated now given the leadership transition that happened since it was written.
Aug 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Chapter 1: The Red Machine: The Party and the State

Describes how the government is a front for the Party. Party positions matter more than official government positions and behind each official committee and title there’s a puppet master in the Party wielding real power. Via the Party seemingly disconnected elements of government, military, and business have tight links.

"The ‘red machine’ is like no ordinary phone. Each one has just a four-digit number. It connects only to similar phones with fo
Sep 11, 2017 rated it liked it
A 'The Party' centric approach towards China, and hence the author talks about the party structure, censorship, needs for control in China and also the history associated with Mao's killings, Mao's communism, Deng's capitalist move while never really saying it, and very importantly, the very strong and even strongly hidden connections between the party and man of the big chinese corporations.

Intgly, even the need for a properly privately held company to liason deeply with local and state politic
Jacob van Berkel
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: time machine havers
Shelves: eastasia
Rubbed me the wrong way almost throughout. For the biggest part of the book, the 'secret world' McGregor seems to be exposing is that China is - get this, gang - not a liberal democracy! And don't just take McGregor's word for it, he has collected lengthy, boring, irrelevant, and distracting anecdotes to back up this bold claim!

The last chapter was good though, on Yang Jisheng's Tombstone and the CCP's relationship with history in general, both enlightening and surprising, and it is the reason
Jeroen Kraan
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read, still relevant seven years after the original publication. Its core insight - that the Party and the state are separate, but interconnected entities, with the party generally in a more powerful position - is important to understand for anyone who follows China. The chapters about the Party's influence in business and society are also very valuable.
Ryan Kennedy
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A dense read for me, but well worth it.
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fantastic research. He provides a series of descriptions of different aspects of the party. The book fails to pull together these strands.
Oct 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Thus it is obvious that the only visible, tangible government we have is made up of these professed agents or representatives of a secret band of robbers and murderers, who, to cover up, or gloss over, their robberies and murders, have taken to themselves the title of “the people of the United States”; and who, on the pretense of being “the people of the United States,” assert their right to subject to their dominion, and to control and dispose of at their pleasure, all property and persons foun ...more
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“Before she landed, Ms Clinton publicly downplayed the importance of human rights. At a press conference ahead of leaving, she beamingly implored the Chinese government to keep buying US debt, like a travelling saleswoman hawking a bill of goods.” 1 likes
“In a remarkable research finding, Yasheng Huang, an MIT economist, established that Shanghai had the lowest number of private businesses relative to the city’s size and its number of households in 2004, bar two other places in China. Only Beijing and Tibet, where government and the military are, respectively, the main businesses, had lower shares of private commerce.” 1 likes
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