The Chinese Communist Party in Reform

Article excerpt

The Chinese Communist Party in Reform, edited by Kj eld Erik Brodsgaard and Zheng Yongnian. London: Routledge, 2006. ? + 268 pp. £70.00/US$125.00 (hardcover).

There is a tendency among many observers of the Chinese political scene in the media, but also in academia, to forget that the People's Republic is ruled by a Communist Party. Discourse on the rule of law and inclusion of human rights and property rights in the constitution seem to have made them forget the special nature of the regime. Thus, a book which directly confronts the role of the Chinese Communist Party is more than welcome.

In their various chapters, the authors show that during the process of reform, the Party has undergone considerable changes in its composition, its attributes and its role. What has appeared to most political scientist as a rigid organization unable to respond to the challenges of modernity has shown an impressive ability to evolve.

The book details this evolution in various fields. Using a sociological approach which includes comparisons with the USSR and Eastern Europe, Andrew Wälder explains the survival of the party by changes in the Party hierarchy, economic expansion and the slow privatization of state assets; with a profusion of figures he demonstrates that "in the post-Mao era, the political standards have declined and the educational standards have increased" (p. 25). He also shows that, despite the deep economic change, "village cadres have remained a relatively cohesive and stable elite, have not left their posts for private business at high rate" (p. 26). This might be one of the causes both of the relative stability of the regime and of the usan nong" (peasants, agriculture, countryside) problems which worry so much the Central leadership. In a challenging analysis, Wälder argues that the 60 million Party members are not the leading class, but represent the social base of the regime (p. 27). He concludes that the trajectory of change during the past 20 years makes an evolutionary path for the regime possible. "This could gradually evolve into a multi-party system with relatively heated political competition (as in South Korea), but much more likely is an evolution into a stable system dominated by a single party (as in Japan or Singapore)" (p. 31).

Whereas Andrew Wälder concentrates on the evolution of the Party, John Burns details its relation to the State. The nomenklatura system that he analyzed decades ago continues to exist, but with results that he does not consider very impressive. Although it is undeniable that performance has become an important selection criterion (p. 39), nepotism and favoritism ("political loyalty") still play a very important role. For Burns, "widespread corruption in China is evidence that relatively large numbers of leaders selected through the nomenklatura system have failed to perform well" (p. 40). Even though he concedes that institutional restraints on China's leaders "have been stronger than ever during the past few years" (p. 53), he stresses the "striking continuities in the organization of the Party", and insists on the fact that "the party continues to exercise monopoly power in society and vigorously suppresses challenges to its authority" (p. 52)

So, if we follow Burns, the apparent change often conceals a striking continuity, and in fact, Zou Keyuan shows that, despite the official discourse on the "rule of Law", China is far from having an independent judiciary: the Political-Legal Committee of the CCP "is a very powerful organization", which "usually gives instructions to the relevant courts on how to handle cases" (p. …