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The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers [Hardcover]

Richard McGregor
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 31 2010

“Few outsiders have any realistic sense of the innards, motives, rivalries, and fears of the Chinese Communist leadership. But we all know much more than before, thanks to Richard McGregor’s illuminating and richly-textured look at the people in charge of China’s political machinery.... Invaluable.” — James Fallows, National Correspondent for The Atlantic

The Party is Financial Times reporter Richard McGregor’s eye-opening investigation into China’s Communist Party, and the integral role it has played in the country’s rise as a global superpower and rival to the United States. Many books have examined China’s economic rise, human rights record, turbulent history, and relations with the U.S.; none until now, however, have tackled the issue central to understanding all of these issues: how the ruling communist government works. The Party delves deeply into China’s secretive political machine.


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Review

“A masterful depiction of the party today. . . . McGregor illuminates the most important of the contradictions and paradoxes. . . . An entertaining and insightful portrait of China’s secretive rulers.” (The Economist)

“A fascinating and ambitious book. . . . Revealing. . . . McGregor lays bare the secretive machinery of the party, how it operates far more pervasively in public life and commerce than many suspect.” (Forbes)

“McGregor does a persuasive job of sketching how communist the country really still is. . . . Anyone who wants to understand more about China would be well advised to pick up McGregor’s book. (Newsweek)

“As informative as it is entertaining. . . . China has been transformed. There is no denying it. The system that takes the credit is brilliantly described by McGregor.” (The Financial Times)

“Astute. . . . A sober, realistic book. . . . A readable guide to how China is governed.” (Bloomberg)

“Richard McGregor has penned a detailed look at the Chinese Communist Party that is must reading for U.S. officials and China affairs specialists who profess to be perplexed at why the regime in Beijing consistently operates like a Soviet-style communist dictatorship and not a Western-style democracy.” (The Washington Times)

“Fascinating. . . . The Party examines the intricate relationship between the Communist Party and the Chinese government, exposing how a political machine subverts the will to properly govern a billion people.” (Esquire)

The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers is a careful, highly well-informed and entertaining account of China’s ruling class, chronicling the country’s 30-year rise to major economic power despite high levels of poverty.” (The Associated Press)

“A compelling exploration of the world’s largest and most successful political machine.” (Isabel Hilton, New Statesman)

“Superb in its depiction and demystification of the most important force at work in China today. Essential , riveting guide to how the rising power really works.” (Jonathan Fenby, author of The Penguin History of Modern China)

“This is a marvellous and finely written study of how China is really run, and how its strange but successful system of Leninist capitalism really works. It should be read by anyone doing business with or just trying to understand China.” (Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist)

“Illuminating and richly-textured. . . . The Party will be invaluable for anyone trying to make sense of China’s future plans and choices. It has certainly enriched my own understanding of the country.” (James Fallows, National Correspondent for The Atlantic)

“Richard McGregor is one of the best foreign journalists who have ever reported from China. The Party is a fine contribution for those who want to know about the rising power they will face in the decades ahead.” (Ezra Vogel, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University)

“An engrossing read. . . . McGregor’s is a vivid narrative, sprinkled with humour and insightful analysis, of how the party has imprinted itself on almost every aspect of life in China, and how it has maintained its stranglehold on power.” (The South China Morning Post)

“An illuminating and important new book. . . . A lively and penetrating account of a party that, since its founding in Shanghai as a clandestine organization in 1921, has clung to secrecy as an inviolable principle.” (The Washington Post)

“An extraordinary book . . . with details never published before. . . . McGregor has done a terrific job of parting the curtains. . . . This book has come out at the right moment.” (The Sunday Times (London))

“Masterful. . . . McGregor’s book is proof that for all of its secretive tendencies, the Party and its power can be usefully analyzed. . . . An accessible introduction to the Party’s power in today’s China.” (Ian Johnson, The New York Review of Books)

“Fascinating. . . . Illuminating. . . . Mr. McGregor guides readers through recent events in China, teasing out what each tells us about the Party’s role. . . . Reading this primer will help foreigners better navigate the hidden political shoals of the Chinese business world.” (The Wall Street Journal)

From the Back Cover

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 in the West. The most remarkable part of this transformation, however, has been left largely untold—the central role of the Chinese Communist Party.

As an organization alone, the Party is a phenomenon of unique scale and power. Its membership surpasses seventy-three million, and it does more than just rule a country. The Party not only has a grip on every aspect of government, from the largest, richest cities to the smallest far-flung villages in Tibet and Xinjiang, it also has a hold on all official religions, the media, and the military. The Party presides over large, wealthy state-owned businesses, and it exercises control over the selection of senior executives of all government companies, many of which are in the top tier of the Fortune 500 list.

In The Party, Richard McGregor delves deeply into China's inner sanctum for the first time, showing how the Communist Party controls the government, courts, media, and military, and how it keeps all corruption accusations against its members in-house. The Party's decisions have a global impact, yet the CPC remains a deeply secretive body, hostile to the law, unaccountable to anyone or anything other than its own internal tribunals. It is the world's only geopolitical rival of the United States, and is steadfastly poised to think the worst of the West.

In this provocative and illuminating account, Richard McGregor offers a captivating portrait of China's Communist Party, its grip on power and control over China, and its future.


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By David Wineberg TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Page after page, The Party reveals the ugly, unvarnished details about how the Communist Party of China stays in power, It has nothing to do with ideology, nothing to do with communism. It's just all about power. Checks and balances are a horrifying prospect. All power must be concentrated. This is institutionalized Mafia. Things might look dismal in the US Congress. But there is simply no such thing as an honest Chinese government official. There can't be, by the rules. Online kibitzers argued to let the Beijing Olympics Manager go free because he "only" scammed $1 million out of it. He was as close to an honest politician as they could imagine. Or just not good at it.

Incredibly, despite the constant bleating to root out corruption, the simple truth is corruption is a designed-in feature and function of the Party, and it simply would cease to be without it. "Corruption makes our political system more stable," explains a government official on p168. Central government cabinet ministers are paid less than $1400 a month. Do you need to know more?

Fighting the system is useless. Corruption investigations must be approved by the next higher level, so they will only take place if 1) there is no way it could tarnish that next higher level, and/or 2) if someone wants to "get" an up and comer below him. So by the rules, you will never see a corruption investigation at the Politburo level. They are "made", in Mafia terms: It's all laid out very neatly in one sentence very early on (p.24):

"Judges must remain loyal - in order - to The Party, the state, the masses and, finally, to the law."

This in a report from The People's Supreme Court in 2009. So good luck you shareholders and property owners.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Not-So-Secret World July 12 2012
Format:Hardcover
There is no point in describing what The Party is about; the topic is obvious. The only thing really required is to comment on whether it is good or not, and, as it happens, it is quite good. McGregor did plenty of research and his interviews with officials help enliven the text. The book is not, unlike a few China books of late, toadying or sensationalistic. Mr. McGregor is a journalist and his investigative skills, analysis, and objectivity really shine. The Party would be good for China-book completists or newbies. China hands, however, might not find a whole lot they did not already know. In any event, the volume represents another piece in the puzzle. There are so many good China books out there, and this is yet another one. Recommended.

Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  87 reviews
123 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, informative look at the organism that controls one quarter of the world's population June 13 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Through a series of anecdotes and interviews, largely drawn from his eight years in China as correspondent for 'The Financial Times', Richard McGregor illustrates 'the Party', a remarkable social organization which subordinates 1.3 billion people.

It is a journalist's treatment rather than academic, so instead of explicitly offering analysis, Richard McGregor lets his interviews and stories largely speak for themselves. This provides a range of interesting characters, quotes and anecdotes. However, a side-effect is that many remarkable insights are either buried innocuously in the text or left to the reader's inference. The story is no less fascinating for it.

The picture that emerges is of a creative, adaptable, self-aware and resilient social network. Made up of 75 million party members, one in twelve adult Chinese, this self-perpetuating elite has no legal form beyond a mention in the preamble to China's constitution. The party exists outside the regular state apparatus and operates like a controller chip grafted into China's governing structures through party cells throughout government, the military, public companies and even private firms.

Grounded in its near ubiquitous presence in the state, military, public and private spheres, the Party maintains its grip via a number of interconnected and synergistic processes. Its personnel system allows any individual to be replaced, transferred or expelled at the will of the organism. Party control of the military provides ultimate coercive sanction. The Party's discipline system places members above the law even as it strengthens Party control of the behaviour of its members. The propaganda department uses sophisticated story telling to sculpt the narrative around events to conform to the Party's best interests.

Few join the party for ideological reasons. Rather, achieving party status is to gain membership into an elite club which, provided you stay within its unwritten bounds and contribute to the goals of the organism, gives a member a form of immunity from the law and other powers and abilities not available to the average citizen. In the corruption that is endemic in the system, everyone is guilty of something serious - from taking bribes, to tax evasion to sexual impropriety to failing to get proper permits. Members that stray out of bounds need not be punished for the real fault, but instead for one of the many more routine transgressions that hang over the heads of almost all party members. Were one not able to normally get away with routine transgressions, there would be little benefit to party membership. Yet simply knowing that straying too far will result in being punished for something entirely different is enough to self-censor unwanted behaviours, in particular the unwritten ones.

Self-reflexive and analytic, the party is alert to the internal and external dangers it faces and has proven able to respond to challenge with remarkable agility, creativity and effectiveness.

Though the book is very much about the Party at present, in 2010, glimpses of party history serve to illustrate the nature of the organism and its ability to adapt and reinvent itself.

For example, Richard McGregor declares a historic milestone the Party's peaceful and administrative transfer of power in 2002 to a new top grouping of apparatchiks. For the first time in over 2000 years of Chinese history, China was no longer ruled by a single individual seen as a sort of a god. Instead, the apex of China became a committee atop an organism which permeates into the whole society, with the next shifting of interchangable personalities at the top scheduled for 2012.

In 1992, only ten years prior to the 2002 milestone, again demonstrating forward looking pragmatic realism, the party transformed itself on entrepreneurs - the most extreme enemies of communism - not just by allowing them to join the party, but by actively recruiting them. Binding China's rapidly emerging entrepreneurial elites to the party provided benefits to both sides, allowing entrepreneurs more freedom from the stultifying strictures of dysfunctional state bureaucracy while reinforcing and renewing Party control on an element of Chinese society that may have come to threaten the Party's very existence.

Prior to that, the shock of Tiananmen square and the fall of the former Soviet Bloc caused a wave of realistic threat assessment and self-reflection within the Party. This lead to further creative and pragmatic changes, though not in the ways that analysts in the west might have guessed or hoped for.

Given the importance of the Party in China and the growing importance of China in the world, it behooves us to better understand it. Richard McGregor's fascinating and informative book is recommended reading for those interested in understanding not just the Party, but the modern China within which it operates.
83 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the Party Aug. 21 2010
By M. G. Zink - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I spent the last four years living in China, serving as the president of a Chinese bank. That role took me to 44 cities all across China, where I met hundreds of government officials and Party members. I worked daily with the General Secretary of the bank's Party Committee. During my time in China I read every major book by any foreigner who had lived and worked in China. Richard's book, The Party, is the most insightful book I have encountered. If you wish to understand how China is run today and you only have time to read one book, then read this one.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The reality underneath the facade April 22 2011
By jbd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book will change your understanding of China. McGregor's main theme is that China is coming to look more and more like Western societies on the surface, with similar market and other institutions--but as he shows repeatedly, under the surface the country still runs on Soviet hardware. He tells his story with panache.

Most fascinating and original is how he describes the continuing control the party still has over the commanding heights of the economy, particularly over publicly traded companies. The book is brimming with fascinating anecdotes to back up its claims. I particularly enjoyed the story of how the Party decided to simply switch the management teams of two publicly traded companies that were competing against each other in the same industry, practically overnight; it's as if you awoke one morning to find that the top management of Ford and GM had simply switched places with each other. Dorothy, this isn't Kansas.

The highest praise for a book on current affairs is that it will change the way you think, and what you understand when you read the newspaper. This book accomplishes both.

I'm baffled as to how anyone could give it fewer than five stars. Yes, it doesn't tell a seemless story, but that's not the nature of the material. A fun and penetrating read.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting stories but not particularly cohesive Jan. 4 2011
By Robert - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book. I learned a lot about China and a lot about the impact of the Communist party since it took power in 1949 (?). But I was ultimately unsatisfied for 2 reasons:

One, it felt more like a collection of interesting stories and less like a coherent book. The stories of particular episodes in China did not seem to follow any time line or any other organizational structure. I struggled to understand how the stories related to each other or whatever connections were implied. The stories seemed to jump between periods in China that didn't make any sense to me. That said, each episode was interesting and educational.

Two, I kept expecting for the author to explain to the reader why China is thriving. He provides a wealth of details about how corrupt the system is from the highest levels in Beijing to the lowest levels in each town/province/whatever. He details how "the party" influences almost every economic decision that gets made. He makes various statements about how this or that leader opened up China to market reforms and private property rights but in the same breath details how government at every level influences decisions. I walked away from this book still scratching my head as to how China has grown in the past 30-ish years. I'm still trying to figure that out.

Read this book for interesting insights into China over the past 60 years. But don't expect to have any better understanding of the big picture.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the best book to understand China's political/government system Aug. 14 2010
By J. Wu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As an expat Chinese in the US, this is the best written book to understand the political and government system. Many of the headlines in the west media miss the point about china, and this book can explains why. Even for the Chinese, the book sheds deep insight and help understand the confused political/government system. It helps to explain many of the symptom hard to understand by the west.

Lastly, this is a great book as the author sticks to the norm and standard of journalist. It is written with a observant, analytic, and fact-finding way, rather than putting judgment or promoting a school of belief. From the "Afterword" section, you can tell he is not a fan of "system", but he lives in the country with his family for 9 years and had put a fair observation to the country.

If you really care about China, or want to understand it beyond the headlines, this is a must read.
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