In This Review

Rethinking Chinese Politics
Rethinking Chinese Politics
By Joseph Fewsmith
Cambridge University Press, 2021, 231 pp

Fewsmith offers a spirited rebuttal of the conventional view that China’s post-Mao regime has avoided power struggles and maintained control by creating institutionalized rules for policymaking, policy implementation, and leadership succession. He deploys a deep knowledge of elite political networks and party organizational dynamics to reconstruct what must have happened behind the scenes as the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and his successors maneuvered to consolidate and exercise power, sometimes following rules but just as often twisting, replacing, or violating them. The stately façade of Chinese politics conceals the “personalization of power, factionalism, . . . [the] arbitrary abuse of power, corruption, and . . . [a] lack of discipline.” Fierce rivalries and wily maneuvers have left some leaders weakened and have concentrated too much power in the hands of President Xi Jinping. Fewsmith implies that a system saddled with this much “corrosion and dysfunction” will sooner or later decay, but he does not forecast when or how.