In This Review

Chinese Politics in the Xi Jinping Era: Reassessing Collective Leadership
Chinese Politics in the Xi Jinping Era: Reassessing Collective Leadership
By Cheng Li
528 pp, Brookings Institution Press, 2016

Li has produced one of the most in-depth studies of Chinese politics in recent years. Combining a comprehensive database of information about Chinese elites with exhaustive qualitative research, he maps the groups of officials who helped President Xi Jinping rise to power and whose careers have prospered under Xi. He identifies two main factions that tend to compete for influence: a “populist” coalition whose leaders mostly emerged from the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party’s Youth League and an “elitist” coalition dominated by the children of high-ranking officials from earlier eras and their allies in the business and entrepreneurial class. This is a helpful framework, but it does not always persuasively explain recent developments in Chinese politics or lead to convincing forecasts of the future. For example, the elitist coalition leaders Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong helped pave Xi’s path to power, but since then, Xi has hardly repaid their kindness: he vilified and purged Jiang’s protégé General Xu Caihou and Xu’s followers, which suggests that Xi was more interested in dominating the military than in cooperating with Jiang. Li also argues that if Xi were to establish a dictatorship without sharing power, he would risk “robust resistance” from parts of the populist coalition. But Xi has placed trusted followers in key positions, which has presumably increased the costs and risks of defying him. Despite these problems with Li’s analysis, his book stands as a definitive study of Xi’s reign to date.