07 November 2010

Book: The Chinese Communist Party as Organizational Emperor

Zheng Yongnian, "The Chinese Communist Party as Organizational Emperor: Culture, reproduction and transformation" (Routledge, December 2009):


Publisher's description: "The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the largest and one of the most powerful, political organizations in the world today, which has played a crucial role in initiating most of the major reforms of the past three decades in China. China's rapid rise has enabled the CCP to extend its influence throughout the globe, but the West remains uncertain whether the CCP will survive China's ongoing socio-economic transformation and become a democratic country [sic]. With rapid socio-economic transformation, the CCP has itself experienced drastic changes. Zheng Yongnian argues that whilst the concept of political party in China was imported, the CCP is a Chinese cultural product: it is an entirely different breed of political party from those in the West – an organizational emperor, wielding its power in a similar way to Chinese emperors of the past. Using social and political theory, this book examines the CCP's transformation in the reform era, and how it is now struggling to maintain the continuing domination of its imperial power. The author argues that the CCP has managed these changes as a proactive player throughout, and that the nature of the CCP implies that as long as the party is transforming itself in accordance to socio-economic changes, the structure of party dominion over the state and society will not be allowed to change."

Review: "Throughout his book, Zheng makes the case that the CCP's approach to power is contingent on historical continuity and draws from practices implemented back when the country was ruled by emperors. Though this argument could be exploited to make a case against democratization, it nevertheless makes a valid contribution to our understanding of the party's resistance to Western-style democracy and the ostensible lack of widespread calls for such democracy among ordinary Chinese. [...] Ironically, as Zheng points out, historical continuity, i.e., the reproduction of the organizational emperorship, is also the main driver behind the CCP's need to adapt and embrace Marxism's nemeses, such as capitalism and democratic elements, as Chinese history is rife with examples of rigid systems being overthrown by a counter-hegemonic force. As such, to avoid a similar fate, the CCP has no choice but to open up, which in turn empowers other social classes that must be kept in check lest they overturn the system. 'As long as the CCP is able to reproduce itself as an organizational emperor,' Zheng concludes, 'it is unlikely that China will develop into a Western style of democracy.'" (J. Michael Cole, "Taipei Times")

Zheng Yongnian is Professor and Director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.

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