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China’s Political System

China's Political System

The Chinese government is one of the most important actors in international affairs today. China’s global economic and diplomatic presence is challenging the earlier dominance by the Western powers. To thoroughly understand how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has grown in power requires a careful analysis of its political system. What contribution has the political system and government activity made in respect to China’s economic transformation? What consequences will the economic modernisation and world-economic integration have on the political system? Is the political system able to adapt to changing economic, technological, and international conditions? Which potentials and risks will shape the mid-term development of the political system?

The objective of this book is to offer a differentiated understanding of the conditions, potentials and risks of the political development in China. It is based on a comprehensive of analysis of Chinese resources and gives readers the most current analysis of international China research.

"China's political system" published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers is available on Amazon.

The German version of the book is available in bookshops or online at:

AmazonThaliaBücher.deWeltbild, Springer

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A Close Look at a Rising Global Power

China’s rise to become a top-ranking global economic power still causes astonishment in the Western world to this day – and occasionally unsettles observers as well. How could a country governed by a communist party and suffering from abject poverty in so many regions undergo so much modernisation within a few decades that it has now become a serious rival in the eyes of the democratic market economies of the West?

Not only does China have much more self-confidence now when it comes to trade and commerce, but it displays it clearly in international politics as well: the government in Beijing has been playing a more active role in diplomacy than ever before in the face of major crises like the civil war in Syria and the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme. At the same time, it does not wish to get drawn into any international organisations it regards as being dominated by the West; rather than doing that, China prefers to pursue its own strategic interests whenever it wants to establish new forms of cooperation with European and African nations regarding the Silk Road Initiative or make a point about its territorial claims in the South China Sea by building artificial islands there.

Analysing China from various angles helps us understand it better

How exactly was it possible for China to transform itself from an isolated empire to such a dynamic, self-confident world power? Sebastian Heilmann and numerous other authors from MERICS (The Mercator Institute for China Studies) examine how China’s circles of leaders and its institutions work nowadays. They analyse how future-proof a single-party state is that is based on Marxist-Leninist principles and whether China’s political and economic system is possibly even capable of being a model of government for other nations in the twenty-first century.

The authors have combined their findings from research using a wealth of information in Chinese and the very latest in academic research work on China, compressing this knowledge into a volume spanning 500-odd pages.

One of their intentions was to disprove any sweeping judgements about China: it is not the case that its economic and political planning based on directions from above is fundamentally ineffective and obsolete, nor is the relationship between the state and its citizens based on the notion of suppressor versus the suppressed. On the contrary, social security benefits, the promise of security and the call for a sense of national pride in China effectively act as the ‘glue’ that holds the state and society together in present-day China.

Case studies on the environment, finance and social security: how Chinese politics works in practice

The authors also show that terms like ‘hard-liner’ and other such clichés frequently used when Western journalists refer to Chinese politicians are not very helpful, particularly at a time when leading figures like the incumbent premier and party leader, Xi Jinping, are pursuing a policy favourable to the Chinese economy, but also want to focus more power on a small number of people in the political leadership.

One chapter in the book has been completely redesigned to provide a picture of China from various angles. A number of case studies are now provided in order to examine how Chinese politics intends to overcome the issue of drastic environmental pollution and how it responded to the global financial crisis, the devastating earthquake in Sichuan and the challenges posed by social media. The analyses show there is no simple recipe for success; even in China, politics does not work in terms of a straightforward command hierarchy, as many people in the West assume – a wide variety of players at various levels are actually involved, ranging from provincial authorities and companies to dissatisfied citizens, all of whom can have an influence on processes. Unlike Western nations, which are governed by rule of law and have established clear-cut legislative procedures to regulate matters, Chinese politics always involves a degree of experimentation. Sometimes, things are tried out at a regional level that later get implemented on a national one by passing a new law. 

Is China’s political system a model for the future?

The scenarios that the director of MERICS draws up in the final chapter of the book regarding China’s future political development are sure to lead to lively discussion among its readers. Will a one-party state that has been centralised further under Xi’s leadership still be flexible enough to keep its economy competitive? What would happen if the Chinese Communist Party broke down? Heilmann defines various risks that might jeopardise its rule, including an economic slump, corruption, local interests, high levels of debt incurred by local governments and growing social inequality. 

He does not expect China to disintegrate the way the Soviet Union did any more than he expects it to become more of a democracy in the foreseeable future.

Heilmann is only optimistic about one point: China's ‘agile and ambitious population’ will be ‘able to develop considerable entrepreneurial dynamics even in unstable conditions’, he forecasts.

This broad portrayal of research is structured in such a way that the book can also be used as a reference work. Its core theses are summarised in a series of tables to give the reader quick access to information presented in a compact style. In addition to this, the authors at MERICS regularly provide updated information on the subjects each chapter covers. These supplementary details – which are all in English, although the book was originally written in German – are particularly helpful to social scientists who focus on Chinese affairs and wish to keep up with the latest research.

Editor and principal author

  • Stiftung Mercator
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