Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Man of the Party

CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping 

CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping

"Looking into the eyes of Xi Jinping, you look into the eyes of the Party itself -- the personification of its ambition and spirit, its most faithful and truest servant, and someone like Pope Francis, who, for all his outward exemplification of influence, persuasion and force, would almost certainly object to the claim that he is pursuing his own interests and indulging the narcissism of power."

CEO, China is a unique book with its combination of biography, history, and contemporary political analysis of The People's Republic of China. The main thrust, as indicated by the title, is the story of Xi Jinping and his rise to power and a position in which he was just reaffirmed for another five years.

I found the background about the source of power in modern China and the structure of the Chinese Communist Party provided useful insights into a mysterious country. The book also  provides information about Xi's path to power while discussing his ideological justifications for his rule. The politics of the party and Xi's position could be compared with the politics of the Roman Catholic Church in its monolithic state and hold on power in China.

The author comments on page 120 that "Yu Zhengsheng is the ultimate modern Chinese man without qualities..." suggesting that Chinese governance might share a nebulousness with Robert Musil's literary description of the Austrian Empire at the twilight of the nineteenth century. I found that while I learned much about modern China and Xi Jinping I also was left with many questions unanswered - challenged by the differences between their culture and ours. What is clear is that the Chinese economy has grown immensely over recent decades and is on a trajectory to overtake the United States.

There are interesting aspects of Xi, like his celebrity wife, who is unusual for someone in his position. It is noted that "..she unleashes the political capital that can be gained from having a glamorous celebrity wife..." (pp 109-110). It is not clear how or whether this broadens his appeal as a leader. More important to his position are his leadership of campaigns to root out corruption (particularly useful in eliminating political opponents) and his overseeing an authoritarian control over the Internet and social media that is described as "Web lynching", a phenomenon not unheard of in the United States.

While China, with a population of 1.3 billion people, appears to be a juggernaut there are issues that may be insuperable. On page 176 it is noted that "The party, Xi has said many times, must keep close to the people." This may be possible only with the advent of technological change that requires control and may just as likely be turned against the party. Xi's political program seems to mimic that of left-wing politicians in Western countries (eg. USA) with an emphasis on reforming state-owned enterprises and taxing the rich, some of whom have been milking said enterprises.

This is a book with a wealth of information, but in spite of that it leaves the reader with more questions than answers. There is power in the Chinese Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping that seems to be in control; however there is the shadow of both Mao's brutal reign and the failed example of Soviet Communism that is ever present in the background. There are also continuing international tensions with India and other border states. Kerry Brown has provided a good primer on the state of Xi Jinping, China, and issues that will determine their future.


Brian Joseph said...

This sounds like it is very much worth the read. China is so important. I guess that it goes without saying that it is, and will continue to impact the world in a very important way. With all that, the general public, even those who follow international events, rarely hear about its government.

The parallel with The Austrian Empire seems odd but interesting.

Stephen said...

In my reading this year I've seen a common claim that Jinping has essentially recreated an imperial state around himself, not unlike Mao's. It sounds like this book would support that claim?

James said...

I found it a worthwhile read for someone who had little knowledge of China's politics. It was accessible while providing a wealth of detail. It did, however, leave this reader with many questions and a desire to learn more about this massive and mysterious country.

James said...

What has been happening is a consolidation of power within the Chinese Communist Party. While this did not start with Xi Jinping's ascension to the joint titles of Chairman and General Secretary in 2012, the process has accelerated under Xi's leadership. However, the author notes in his introduction that Xi "has significant power, but that these powers might not be as dramatic as many think". (p 8) It is clear that many believe his power to rival that achieved by Mao, but the book provides evidence that this is a complicated issue that remains to be resolved by Xi's continued leadership.