In This Review

The Era of Jiang Zemin
The Era of Jiang Zemin
By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
400 pp, Prentice Hall, 1999

Jiang Zemin has not commanded great respect in the West -- succeeding two larger-than-life leaders, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, is no easy assignment. But Willy Wo-Lap Lam, the doyen of China-watchers, has drawn on inside information and a deep understanding of Chinese politics to paint a surprisingly respectful picture of Jiang. Building on his pieces for Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Lam offers a detailed account of politics at the pinnacle of power in post-Deng China. He depicts Jiang as a master political fixer and manipulator, something of a showman, but also a leader deficient in "the vision thing." With its old ideology discredited, the once all-powerful Communist Party is losing its coherence and discipline while economic problems are becoming ever more ominous. Nevertheless, Jiang's political skills are in fact quite impressive. He has shattered the Beijing gang's hold on central power and consistently maneuvered Prime Minister Zhu Rongji into taking on impossible tasks. Lacking a grand vision beyond stability and muddling through, however, Jiang will find it difficult to advance China through political manipulation alone.