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Understanding China\'s secret world

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29 September 2010 12:36

I'm reading Richard McGregor's The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers, and based on the first half of the book, I couldn't recommend it more highly.

One feature I really like is McGregor's regular use of parallels to make the unfamiliar seem familiar. This sort of thing might come off as condescending to China experts reading the book. But for me, a passage like the following (p.72), about the organisation department within the Communist Party, is a huge help. The reach and influence of this bureaucracy was a complete revelation to me, but it wouldn't have had half the impact if the story had not been so well told:

The department is accurately, if blandly, described as the human resources arm of the Party, but this does not do justice to its extraordinary brief and the way it is empowered to penetrate every state body, and even some nominally private ones, throughout the country. The best way to get a sense of the department's job is to conjure up an imaginary parallel body in Washington. A similar department in the US would oversee the appointment of the entire US cabinet, state governors and their deputies, the mayors of major cities, the heads of all federal regulatory agencies, the chief executives of GE, Exxon-Mobile, Wal-Mart and about fifty of the remaining largest US companies, the justices on the Supreme court, the editors of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, the bosses of the TV networks and cable stations, the presidents of Yale and Harvard and other big universities, and the head of think-tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation. Not only that, the vetting process would take place behind closed doors, and the appointments announced without any accompanying explanation...

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