To see a note from the editor, click here.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Review: 'Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China', edited by J.W. Lewis

As mentioned in the first book review on this site, Sino-Gist review activities are focused on looking at some of the best books on the history of 20th century China published since 1960.  Today, 'Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China', edited by J.W. Lewis:

Published in 1970 as a project of SOAS' Contemporary China Institute (CCI), 'Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China' is an anthology of papers presented at a CCI conference in 1968.  The list of contributors contains names who were (and still are) some of the biggest names in modern Chinese studies- it includes (amongst others) John Wilson Lewis, Benjamin Schwartz, Stuart Schram, Merle Goldman and John Gittings.  The essays in the volume are concerned with power-related themes from across the spectrum of Chinese Communist history in the 20th century, with Stuart Schram's 'The Party in Chinese Communist Ideology' and Donald Klein's 'The State Council and the Cultural Revolution' representing particularly notable offerings.  As Wilson's introduction makes clear, not all of the contributors are of the same mind when it comes to issues like the motives and implications of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR)- a fact which makes for thought-provoking and wide-ranging reading.

The date of the book's release is significant- in 1970, China was had witnessed 3 years of chaos and social/political confusion in the form of the GPCR.  Access to reliable information on the political machinations of the movement was incredibly limited, and western Sinologists had to do the best they could with eye-witness testimonies, state media reports and the observations of foreigners who had been caught up in the turmoil.  It is this fact that makes the essays worth attention.  As nearly every writer dealing with the politics of the Cultural Revolution stress, their comments and arguments are in many instances speculative or based on a limited profile of the period they're covering.  Those writing on issues of Party history before 1966 are also faced with the challenge of trying to get to the truth of the CCP's past affairs amidst the constant alterations to history made as various senior Party figures were exposed as 'revisionist' or dangerous elements.  To take Donald Klein's work on the State Council as an example, he attempts to chart the fortunes of its members from the beginning of the Cultural Revolution onwards.  This analysis is based on known personnel changes and evidence like the last time individuals were seen in public performing the duties of their office.  Fact combines with speculation to create an absorbing picture of Chinese political change- an account only made better by the element of mystery involved.

Of course, newer books on the subjects covered in the volume will have the benefit the huge amount of source material now available to Western Sinologists.  However, as an example of a field reacting to events as they happen, 'Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China' deserves to be up there with the best.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Make a comment...

Contact Us

To contact Sino-Gist, please email