Sorting through a flood of memoirs and histories published in China in recent years, Guo has assembled the most detailed picture yet of China’s vast multiagency domestic security apparatus, neglecting only the increasingly important Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which handles corruption investigations against senior figures in the Chinese Communist Party. The system’s overlapping, competing, and evolving bureaucracies collect intelligence throughout society, use force to control errant citizens and officials, ferret out spies and dissidents, guard (and surveil) members of the central leadership, and spy on one another. Throughout the party’s history, control over these agencies has been a sought-after prize during high-level power struggles. Because the system comprises a mix of party, state, and military organs with complex vertical and horizontal lines of command, it has never been able to pull together to attempt a coup against the civilian leadership. But functioning without oversight from courts, legislatures, or media, the entrenched security system has managed to maintain control over a turbulent and changing society, blocking the transition to the rule of law, which more and more Chinese regard as necessary.
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