Sun, Mar 09, 2003 - Page 19 News List

An inside look at the new generation of Chinese leaders

Although dense and in some cases inaccurate, `China's New Rulers' is the best available English-language reference on the nation's incoming rulers


China's New Rules: The Secret Files
By Andrew Nathan and Bruce Gilley
150 pages
New York Review of Books

In a matter of weeks, China's new party leadership will formally take over the reins of power and attempt to keep the world's most populous country on a course of continued economic growth, stability and accumulation of prestige in international affairs. It should be a matter of global concern then that we know so little about the nine men who've been assigned this monumental task. Who are these men? What are their backgrounds? What are their attitudes toward national security? Are they near-psychopathic demagogues of the Mao type? Or rather pragmatists in the style of Deng Xiaoping?

Andrew Nathan and Bruce Gilley's new book China's New Rulers: The Secret Files is perhaps the only widely available resource to fill the knowledge gap about China's incoming leadership. But casual readers should be cautioned that this is a reference book on contemporary Chinese politics that is at points impossibly dense and is throughout quite boring. What doesn't help this book is that its subjects -- China's nine top-dog technocrats -- can't hold a candle to Mao, Deng or even Jiang Zemin in terms of struggling tooth and nail to reach the pinnacle of power. They were all groomed over the past two decades, having been placed on the high-speed track to success within the Communist Party by powerful, elder patrons in need of loyal and capable underlings. That is how, without having accomplished anything of note except for remaining uncontroversial, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will become president of China.

China's New Rulers is a translation complemented by the two co-authors' extensive additions and comments of a Chinese book titled "Disidai" (第四代), meaning Fourth Generation, which was written by a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insider using confidential reports assessing the new lineup of leaders. According to Nathan and Gilley, there is little doubt as to the authenticity of the Chinese author's sources. This should be good news for most of the leaders around the world, with the possible exception of Taiwan, because the bios of the Fourth Generation point to a regime that is moderate in its approach to foreign affairs, inwardly focused if perhaps excessively so and experienced as managers as opposed to being unpredictable adventurers.

But reading this book now, one should keep in mind that it was written before the 16th Party Congress in November when the final decisions on the new regime were finalized and the book's confident predictions -- written in a tone of predestination -- were in some cases incorrect. The book, for example, assumes there would be seven members on the Standing Committee, which is the highest communist party body, whereas the actual number revealed at the party congress was nine. There is also a fair amount of blatant cheerleading for Li Ruihuan (李瑞環), one of the more liberal members of the party with dissenting views on such issues as the Tiananmen Square massacre and freedom of the press. Nathan and Gilley predicted that Li would assume the second-highest rank in the party, whereas in reality he is not even part of the final team.

These glaring blunders are understandable, even forgivable, considering the secretive nature of transfers of power in China, but they should nonetheless serve to caution against predicting the future in a country with a closed political system such as China's.

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