Elizabeth J. Perry
The best works of social science, if we reflect on their origins, can usually be traced to some deeply felt engagement on the part of the author. But if outstanding scholarship is rarely disinterested, seldom can an author claim as interesting a perspective on the subject matter as Jin Qiu in her study of the Lin Biao affair. The daughter of one of the (alleged) principals in the mysterious incident, the author writes with a personal commitment--derived from an insider's position--that is virtually unique among Western analysts of contemporary Chinese politics.
The core argument of Jin Qiu's book, which highlights the significance of family pressures on elite decision making in China, assumes added credibility by virtue of the author's own experiences as a member of an elite Chinese family. But this account is not simply--or even primarily-- a personal narrative. It is, rather, the outcome of meticulous research conducted in a wealth of firsthand sources, including published and unpublished memoirs, party and government documents, and interviews with numerous participants. Jin Qiu's own background permits access to a variety of otherwise unavailable materials. Importantly, however, she complements this insider status with an outsider's standards of evidence and explanation. Dr. Jin's conclusions are shaped by insights from Western social science, drawn especially from the field of political psychology. Holding a U.S. doctoral degree, she combines personal engagement and insider information with advanced training in Western methodology and theory. The result is not only a new interpretation of the Lin Biao affair, but a fresh approach to elite-level Chinese politics in general.
For those accustomed to thinking of elite decision making as the product of highly rational individual calculations, Dr. Jin's account will come as something of a shock. Here we encounter few well-considered choices based on clearheaded calculations of the connection between means and ends.