In This Review

Informal Politics in East Asia
Informal Politics in East Asia
Edited by Lowell Dittmer, Haruhiro Fukui, and Peter N.S. Lee
Cambridge University Press, 2000, 330 pp.

This scholarly examination of the political role of personal relationships and informal networks in Asia provides an authoritative framework for a subject that has largely been left to gossip and insiders' talk. As the authors make clear, it is impossible to appreciate the full political dynamic in China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam without accounting for the importance of such relationships. Separate chapters address the psychological and cultural foundations of informal groupings and the attendant issues of loyalty, sincerity, and trust; factions in the Chinese Communist Party; and the interactions between formal structures and informal politics that produce political change in China. The authors agree that the state-centered approach to politics-which has dominated European political thought and stresses the separation of state and society-does not necessarily apply to Asia, where society-based relations powerfully affect political life. Even under the strict discipline of communism, for example, Chinese guanxi (connections) often provided the bases for factional politics. In all the countries examined by the authors, informal networks have had both positive and negative effects, providing the framework for quick communication and action but also opening the door to corruption.