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. The city can and does sell your building out from under you without warning. The state can and does swap CEOs at will among "competing" firms.
After I read Hungry Ghosts many years ago, I thought that nothing could ever shock me about China again. Hungry Ghosts is an excellent book detailing for the first tine, the Mao-engineered famine that killed or ruined nearly 60 MILLION Chinese - and was covered up! The Party tells the gripping story of how this will always be possible in China. It's must reading if you hope to understand.
Although the book is extremely well documented, and written from personal interviews, sometimes the language is a bit awkward and clumsy. And I got annoyed when, for the the fourth time, the author cited Exxon-Mobil as Exxon-Mobile, as if it were a telecoms firm instead of the oil giant. Once is a typo, but four times? So it's not perfect, but it's as haunting as anything yet.
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