Chinese Studies The Chinese Communist Party Since 1949
by
Kjeld Erik Brødsgaard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0057

Introduction

During the 1950s and 1960s, the study of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was an important part of Western scholarship on Econtemporary China. However, after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, studies of the CCP decreased in numbers. Instead, the focus of the field shifted to studies of the state and structural and bureaucratic aspects of the Chinese polity. This focus included important works on decision-making structures in relation to, for example, hydropower management and foreign policy and gave rise to new concepts such as “fragmented authoritarianism.” In the wake of the Tiananmen debacle, many scholars declared the CCP had lost its legitimacy and was bound to wither away. It was only in the early 2000s that scholars began to realize that the CCP not only remained a crucial actor, but also that it had actually undergone a process of revitalization and renewal. Since the book Bringing the Party Back In, edited by Kjeld Erik Brødsgaard and Zheng Yongnian, was published in 2004 (Brødsgaard and Zheng 2004, cited under General Overviews), a number of important studies on the role of the CCP have appeared. They cover themes such as Party ideology, Party organization, and Party reform, as well as issues such as cadre management, which includes nomenklatura (a list of leading positions about whom decisions of appointment are made by the Party, as described in Nomenklatura); recruitment; and training. Even though the general consensus is that the CCP is the key factor in maintaining the Chinese power structure and making the political system work, there is disagreement as to the Party’s future. Some scholars are optimistic concerning the Party’s continued ability to adapt to the internal and external pressures generated by modernization and economic development, whereas others argue that the CCP is bound to constitute an obstacle to democratization and political reform and therefore will atrophy and eventually lose its monopoly of power. The author gratefully acknowledges the suggestions and comments of Huang Yanjie and Nis Grunberg.

General Overviews

Lewis 1963 is the major early work on the CCP. Similar to other works from the 1960s and 1970s, it is very much based on Hong Kong sources, as access to do archival work and interviewing in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was severely limited in those decades. Other early works contributing to the study of the CCP includes Scalapino 1972 (cited under Party Organization). In the last decade, the CCP has again become a focus of study, resulting in a number of monographs and edited volumes such as Wang and Zheng 2003, Brødsgaard and Zheng 2004, and Shambaugh 2008. The general consensus is that the Party has undergone a process of renewal and revitalization and has strengthened its grip over Chinese state and society. The new wave of studies of the CCP benefits from access to Chinese research environments and libraries and relies less on Hong Kong sources. Li 2011 is an example of the official Chinese view on how the CCP operates and should be understood. McGregor 2012 draws on years of reporting from China for the Financial Times.

  • Brødsgaard, Kjeld Erik, and Zheng Yongnian, eds. Bringing the Party Back In: How China Is Governed. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first post-1989 major Western language work to stress the necessity of bringing the Party back into the study of Chinese politics. Argues that the CCP has been able to avoid the predicted breakdown of its rule and instead has managed to revitalize itself by reaching out to new social forces and strengthening its organizational machine at central and local levels.

  • Lewis, John. Leadership in Communist China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963.

    E-mail Citation »

    An early authoritative study focusing on the leadership doctrine by which the CCP elite dominates China, including Communist philosophy and theory as elaborated by Mao and other Chinese leaders. It also carries chapters on the organization and structure of the CCP and on Party leadership in rural areas. The bibliography includes a useful discussion of the research sources on Chinese Communist leadership.

  • Li Junru 李君如, ed. Ni liaojie Zhongguo gongchandang ma? (你了解中国共产党 吗?). Beijing: Waiwen Chubanshe, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    Introduction by a former vice president of the Central Party School to the workings and thoughts of the CCP, with focus on Party members, ideology, the operating mechanism of the Party (including cadre selection), Party-state relations, and China’s so-called peaceful rise (including foreign relations).

  • McGregor, Richard. The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 2012.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 2010, this book, drawing on several years of reporting from China for the Financial Times, investigates the close links between the Party and the state, between Party and business, and between the Party and the army. It describes Party management of personnel through mechanisms such as secret files, the nomenklatura, and special privileges for high-ranking Party cadres.

  • Shambaugh, David. China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaption. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    Provides a detailed overview of the Chinese discourse on the causes and implications of the breakdown of the Soviet bloc and argues that the CCP has learned the negative lessons of other failed Communist Party states and been able to reform and rebuild itself institutionally during the 1990s and 2000s—thereby maintaining its political legitimacy and power.

  • Wang Gungwu, and Zheng Yongnian, eds. Damage Control: The Chinese Communist Party in the Jiang Zemin Era. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    The best available collection of papers on various aspects of CCP rule during the era of Jiang Zemin (b. 1926), when ideological and organizational “damage control” was required in the wake of the Tiananmen debacle in 1989.

  • Zheng, Shiping. Party vs. State in Post-1949 China: The Institutional Dilemma. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511571626E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the tension between the CCP and the Chinese state institutions. Argues that it is analytically imperative to distinguish the Party from the state and maintains that the Party has been a major obstacle to state building in China.

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