The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor

This is an excellent book to learn a bit more how the Chinese communist party controls China. It was a bit eerie reading this book, which was published in 2010, when they were talking about Xi Jingping before he was Chairman (aka president). As such, the book is a bit dated but lays a good groundwork to help people understand a bit more about the structure of command/control and the politics that happen behind closed doors.

Every chapter is broken down into big themes such as how the party deals with its history (Tombstone: The Party and History), the party’s relationship with the military (Why We Fight: The Party and the Gun), and the CCP and its relationship to capitalism (Deng Perfects Socialism: The Party and Capitalism). These themes make it sound drier than the book actually is. For me this is a popular history book that could be read on the beach. The author puts together an interesting narrative of interesting times in the history of the CCP and offers his insight as to the importance of these events.

This book is very well known and as such a bit overrated. As a person who has read many books about the politics and history of Taiwan and China, I sort of knew most of what was in the book. I think this book would be most useful for people who don’t have a great background in Chinese and Taiwanese history. It’s also a nice easy read with some amusing anecdotes about the CCP for veterans such as myself.


The Chinese Communist Party’s enduring grip on power is based on a simple formula straight out of the Leninist Playbook. … control of personnel, propaganda, and the People’s Liberation Army.

The CCP looks flashy but is still a Leninist party at its core. There is only so much control it can give up without worrying about losing control of the whole country.

“The party is like God. He is everywhere. You just can’t see him.”

  • University Professor in Beijing

If you play by the Party’s rules, which means eschewing competitive politics, then you and your family can get on with your lives and maybe get rich.

This is falling apart right now. The CCP has difficult times ahead. Right now, there is a housing crisis with people withholding mortgage payments for houses that haven’t been completed yet. As housing is 29% of China’s GDP, any slowdown in housing sales will be felt in its economy.

On PLA culture:

“It is difficult to have an NCO system in a culture which does not like to delegate authority. In China, where so much is vested in face, you maintain your authority not just by being in charge but by appearing to be in charge.”

Nailed it! This is true in other offices in China and Taiwan as well. Management in Asia is filled with managers that are good actors. They look like they are working hard while everybody below them struggles to actually get the work done without making their boss lose face.

“The Party has always seen Taiwan as the final part of the jigsaw puzzle,” said Andrew Yang, in Taipei. “There is no way to persuade them to let Taiwan go.”

Sadly, they still are using Taiwan as a way to stir up nationalism in China to keep their citizens from looking too closely at the guilded cage the CCP has constructed for them.

The Chinese saying, “The mountains are high, and the Emperor is far away”, is often quoted to describe how local officials become more independent the further they are from Beijing.

Love these sort of 成語 chéngyǔ. Chengyu are 4 character idiomatic expressions of well-known stories. For a Western person, these would be expressions like “crossing the Rubicon” or “reaping what you sow”.

In 2003, the Chinese government tried to conceal the impact of a deadly virus, known as SARS, which had incubated in southern China, before spreading to large cities like Hong Kong and Beijing. It wasn’t until a Beijing military surgeon, who was also a senior party member, faxed the foreign media the correct numbers of people struck down by the virus in Beijing that Hu Jintao’s government owned up to the scale of the problem and took drastic measures to quarantine it.

Replace SARS with COVID19 and Hu Jintao with Xi Jingping and basically the same thing happened in 2019 with COVID19. Remember, China is not trustworthy. Everything they say is a lie and this has been proven time and time again.

…authorities were burnt badly by the SARS crisis in 2003, when government secrecy was responsible for the spread of the virus in the region. They started working on a new system of managing public opinion, taking the Blair government’s handling of popular opinion during the mad-cow disease crisis in 2000-2001 as a model.

Seems they still haven’t learned. 2022 now and the government still trying to appear strong and trying to look like they are in control with their disastrous ‘Dynamic Zero COVID’ strategy.

“…a nation that dares not face up to history will have no future. The Party has to put down its burdens in order to march forward”.

I hope they march right off a cliff but this is very true. China is still nursing a victims cross form the opium wars. It has serious self-esteem issues.

Is this a review of this book or ranting about China? Well, it’s hard to separate the two because I live in Taiwan which is under constant threat of invasion from China.

“What is there new to say about Mao?” said a prominent US Sinologist when I prodded him on the issue. But that is precisely the point. The victims of Mao’s political campaigns put him firmly among the big three slaughterers of the twentieth century, along with Stalin and Hitler. By drawing a veil over Mao, the Party has effectively shut down all political debate. “The Mao issue is the dark heart of everything that is contemporary China,” said Geremie Barme(accent up), of the Australian National University. “The whole project [of modern China] is based on a series of lies, not just about Mao, but the collective leadership he has come to represent. It has profound ramifications - it means that China can’t grow up. It is a society that has forbidden itself from being able to grapple not only with the legacy of Mao, but with civil change.”

China is all built up on the lie of Mao as a ‘great leader’. If that falls, the whole myth of China dies.

An official once told me: “People need to fear the government in China, otherwise the country will fall apart.” The way the state targets even lawyers like Li and his clients is evidence that behind the Party’s boisterous, boasting exterior lies a regime with a profound appreciation of its limited legitimacy and fragile mandate.

A book that is an easy read and a good foundational text for those with zero knowledge of the modern Chinese state.

Rating: ★★★★

Book #63 in my 2022 Reading Challenge

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