In This Review

China's New Rulers: The Secret Files
China's New Rulers: The Secret Files
By Andrew J. Nathan and Bruce Gilley
New York Review of Books, 2002, 237 pp

Nathan has become the mail drop for secret documents out of China; first it was the Tiananmen Papers and now it is a manuscript, Disidai (The fourth generation) written by Zong Hairen, a pseudonym. That manuscript purports to contain secret files on the next (or fourth) generation of Beijing's leaders as well as reports on the secret deliberations over succession held last summer by the current leaders. Nathan and Gilley, basing their work on Zong's longer manuscript, describe a remarkably smooth transition process, which contradicts last summer's rumors in Beijing of infighting among old leaders grudgingly giving up power. When the new Standing Committee of the Politburo was announced in November, Zong's report proved accurate for all but one appointment. Yet China's New Rulers has more enduring value because of its vivid picture of the party's procedures in selecting new leaders who also turn out to display outstanding qualities. The book portrays the party as a tightly knit establishment in which younger cadres rise like cream to the top on the basis of a combination of merit and luck in their patronage ties. The dossiers also record the candidates' judgments, opinions, and their private lives. This elite is confident that there will be a smooth transition to an impressive fourth generation of leaders boasting technocratic skills, a keen appreciation of China's problems, and a realistic understanding of what needs to be done, including some political reforms. The new leaders are quoted as expressing political thoughts and policy options that verge on democratic. The picture we are left with seems a bit too good to be true.