In This Review

The Logic and Limits of Political Reform in China
The Logic and Limits of Political Reform in China
By Joseph Fewsmith
Cambridge University Press, 2013, 229 pp

In recent years, grass-roots political reforms in China have drawn much hopeful attention in the West. Some townships have held elections for government leaders, a number of cities have opened their budgets to public scrutiny, and in the prosperous city of Wenzhou, the government has allowed associations of private businesses to advise it on policy. But Fewsmith’s careful analyses of roughly a dozen such experiments show that none was democratic in the Western sense. Although varying in form, they have all involved local elites, but not the general public; they have delegated influence over only a narrow range of decisions; and they have avoided mobilization around real conflicts of interest. Some reforms were designed to help the Communist Party recover a measure of prestige in the aftermath of corruption scandals; others, to promote the careers of the officials who sponsored them. Power over local affairs has remained vested in bureaucracies at higher levels, and the party’s secretive Organization Department has retained control over officials’ careers. As innovative officials moved on to new jobs, their efforts were revealed as nothing more than displays of “authoritarian consultation.”