*CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping*

by on July 23, 2016 at 4:14 am in Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Law, Political Science | Permalink

That is the new and excellent book by Kerry Brown.  Almost all books on China are either bad or mediocre, but this one is the best book I ever have read on the exercise of power in contemporary China.  Every page is good, here is a short excerpt:

More important than a cabinet in the Western system of government, yet ostensibly separate from day-to-day decision making, the Politburo owns the crucial function of dispensing ideological, spiritual and political leadership.  This description means it covers nothing and everything.  It has the broadest framework within which to operate, which means it can wander into every area of administrative and governmental life in the country.  But like the ideal city described in Plato’s Republic, in a strange way China is really run on the model of philosopher kings.

Definitely recommended, one of my favorite non-fiction books of the year so far.  I can readily imagine re-reading it.

1 Ray Lopez July 23, 2016 at 4:32 am

Pass. “But like the ideal city described in Plato’s Republic, in a strange way China is really run on the model of philosopher kings.” – first, Plato’s Republic is fascist/authoritarian. consistent with today’s top-down China model of governance. Second “in a strange way” is a strange phrase to describe “Oriental despotism”, a term of art, which is precisely a model of “philosopher kings”. Is the author ignorant of history?

2 Thiago Ribeiro July 23, 2016 at 4:58 am

Maybe you should read Plato in a Straussian way as Plato intended to be read according to Strauss.

3 Josh July 24, 2016 at 2:06 am

Leo Strauss?

4 dearieme July 23, 2016 at 4:46 am

“the Western system of government”: singular? Should we take it that he means the US system of government?

5 Adrian Ratnapala July 23, 2016 at 4:55 am

When I hear “cabinet” used like that, I think immediately think Westminster, hence Austrlia, NZ, Candada and kinda-sorta the UK. But the term is also used in the US in a similar way, and I expect the word originates in French.

6 Steve Sailer July 23, 2016 at 6:34 am

In January 1981, the outgoing Carter Administration threw out the excellent federal civil service exam, which was pioneered by the Chinese 1400 years before, on the grounds that surely the incoming Reagan Administration could come up with an exam on which blacks and Hispanics scored as high as whites and Asians:


7 rayward July 23, 2016 at 7:59 am

Cities in China have two mayors, the political mayor and the executive mayor, the latter nominally in charge of industry and commerce but actually collaborating with industry and commerce, while the former collaborates with the latter in a kind of partnership designed to take government and industry on a common path. Is it efficient? It certainly seems to be, but I’d ask what is the alternative? In America government collaborates with business in a formal, and legal soft corruption, and in an informal, and illegal hard corruption, neither of which seems to work very well.

8 Mark Thorson July 23, 2016 at 11:21 am

That sounds like a brilliant system! Formal offices for antagonists between these poles! It also sounds like the kind of thing we could try experimentally on a local scale in this country. I suppose that in China the political mayor is appointed by the Party. How do they select the executive mayor?

San Francisco would be the ideal place to try this. Obviously, the city council would select the political mayor, because that’s the closest thing they have to a Communist Party. I suppose the executive mayor would be elected by the people, which gives an opportunity for business to make large campaign donations. It would be a win-win for everybody!

9 Troll me July 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm

It does strike me as though local government is much more involved in economic development in China than in a lot of places. But there are still lots of local-level development-type (especially labour supply-related) things that aren’t common in China but which have a decent constituency in many other places.

10 Bill Graney July 23, 2016 at 8:17 am

“In a strange way China is really run on the model of philosopher king,” although many of the victims of Tibetan repression, African exploitation, and rule without law might dispense with literary nicety and view the Politburo as simply a band of ruthless thugs in costume.

11 Adrian Ratnapala July 23, 2016 at 9:42 am

But since Plato’s republic is pretty openly a racist thugs-state too. In what way are you disagreeing with the main post?

12 derek July 23, 2016 at 9:42 am

What is the street term for these ‘philosopher kings’ in China? I understand there is a common epithet that roughly translates into ‘corrupt functionary’.

13 Tom Warner July 23, 2016 at 11:36 am

Except that “philosopher” attributes have nothing to do with how one gets onto the politburo. It’s more like the ancient civil servant class has taken over and established an oligarchy of its most powerful senior members, who in turn appoint term-limited emperors.

14 Paul July 23, 2016 at 4:29 pm

She quotes my favorite sinologist, Pierre Ryckmans, in the preface! That does it. I’ll buy the book.

15 dearieme July 24, 2016 at 10:04 am

Are sinologists today any better than Sovietologists were decades ago?

For those of you too young to know, they were overwhelmingly odious lickspittles of the Communists.

16 JUAN BAUTISTA PIÑOL ORTEGA July 25, 2016 at 8:19 am

Only they are not philosophers.

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