In This Review

Ideology and Organization in Communist China
Ideology and Organization in Communist China
By Franz Schurmann
University of California Press, 1966, 642 pp.
Asian Power and Politics: The Cultural Dimensions of Authority
Asian Power and Politics: The Cultural Dimensions of Authority
By Lucien W. Pye with Mary W. Pye
Harvard University Press, 1985, 414 pp.
Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts
Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts
By James C. Scott
Yale University Press, 1990, 251 pp.

For our centennial issue, our reviewers each selected a set of books essential to understanding the past century and another set essential for imagining the century ahead.


In 1966, Schurmann’s masterwork hit students of China with the force of revelation, laying bare for the first time the inner workings of the new communist state that had recently been created there. Now students and scholars could begin to analyze the Chinese Communist Party–led regime on its own terms, instead of as a pathological deviation from what was then considered the normal path of modernization. Particularly influential was Schurmann’s insight into the CCP’s use of ideology, not merely as a broad worldview but as an elaborate communication tool for coordinating a dispersed network of cadres across a vast landscape, as the central leadership tried—with limited success—to calibrate the rates of social change and revolutionary violence. The system Schurmann described was about to be blown up by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Yet it came back strong after Mao and has become even more powerful today under Chinese President Xi Jinping. However vacuous Xi’s ideological pronouncements sound to outsiders, for party members they are meaningful directives to be internalized and strictly implemented.

Lucian Pye, who reviewed books on Asia and the Pacific for the Recent Books section of Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2008, was a leading proponent of political culture theory. He applied his scholarship to the entire sweep of Asia, from Pakistan to Japan, in a book co-authored with his wife, Mary. Unlike contemporary political scientists who use random samples, surveys, and regression analyses to measure the impact of cultural variables on political behavior, Pye used the older methods of historical synthesis, field observation, and interviews. He painted with the kind of broad—and often Freudian—brush that is out of fashion today, arguing, for example, that “the nurturing responsiveness of the mother must be the source of the ubiquitous phenomenon of narcissism in Indian culture” and that Asian societies exhibit “the common denominator of idealizing benevolent, paternalistic leadership, and of legitimizing dependency.” But he knew Asia intimately and got many things right, including how deference to authority and fear of disorder have helped build support for authoritarian and semiauthoritarian regimes.

Scott is a leading Southeast Asia specialist who has produced numerous keen observations about peasants’ moral convictions, how states operate, the functions of political corruption, and the politics of the Asian highland regions. One of his lesser-known but most fascinating books, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, ranges through history and geography, memoirs and fiction, psychology and politics to show that subordinates may bow to domination but never accept it. What looks like acceptance is often only resignation, and resignation is temporary. The oppressed—“slaves, serfs, peasants, and untouchables”—have found ways to express their dissatisfaction, even if only by showing exaggerated deference. When at some point someone makes the “hidden transcript” of resentment public, “an epidemic of political courage” may occur. Both tacit and open resistance to all kinds of domination have marked Asia’s history, generating a persistent counterforce to authoritarianism.

The region’s next century will be troubled by three trends with roots in the past that are now too far along to reverse. The first will be population decline in the advanced economies and many of the emerging market economies, apart from India. The driving forces are urbanization, education, and female participation in the labor force, supercharged in China’s case by the ill-advised one-child policy that was enforced from 1980 to 2015. Some of Goodhart and Pradhan’s predictions are uncontroversial: where populations shrink and grow older, health and pension costs will rise, burdening government budgets and slowing economic growth; some jobs will move to India and Africa where populations are still young. Other predictions are more speculative: the end of the “sweet spot” that China created in the 1980s and after, as it poured cheap labor into the world economy and thereby kept the prices of consumer goods from rising, will have major ramifications around the world. As this sweet spot ends, cross-border trade and investment flows will diminish, rising labor costs will push up global interest rates and inflation, and when workers earn more, income inequality will decline within and across countries.

The second trend is shrinking water supplies. Growing populations, rising living standards, and wastefulness in agriculture and industry have generated a shortage throughout the region (which Chellaney defines as including much of the Middle East). Falling water tables threaten health and prosperity in cities from Beijing to Jakarta to Quetta. Overuse of Indus River waters by the Pakistani province of Punjab is driving separatist movements in the neighboring provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh. Chinese hydropower dams on the Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers threaten the livelihoods of farmers and fisherfolk in other countries downriver. Climate change is worsening the situation by melting the Tibetan glaciers, which feed 11 rivers that support agricultural regions and coastal delta cities such as Bangkok, Dhaka, Kolkata, and Shanghai. The only way to avoid intensifying conflicts over water, Chellaney argues, is to adopt a cooperative, rules-based approach to water management—a hard sell even for provinces within a country, and all the more so for sovereign states.

The third trend will be more frequent clashes among countries over the legitimacy of different economic models. Johnson coined the term “developmental state” to describe how bureaucrats in post–World War II Japan used both direct and indirect control of capital, foreign exchange, imports, labor conditions, land, taxes, and even corporate strategy to shape both the behavior of specific enterprises and the overall structure of the economy. Bureaucrats before and just after the war had improvised economic control techniques as they responded to a series of financial and supply crises. Starting in the mid-1950s, they built what Johnson called “the best example of a state-guided market system” that was available as he was writing in the early 1980s, when Japan was the number two economy in the world and a perceived threat to the preeminence of the United States. Johnson’s penetrating institutional analysis—full of sideswipes against cultural explanations—stimulated generations of research into the variations among capitalist systems, in Asia and beyond. Past is prologue: Asian countries will continue to use state-driven economic models, eliciting cries of unfair competition from the “regulatory states” of the West and fostering debates over which kind of system works best.