In his review of Kerry Brown’s The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China for Times Higher Education, Jonathan Mirsky claims rather wonderfully that the book is so important it will be ‘inevitably smuggled into the country and on to its irreverent and now nearly impossible-to-police internet.’
China’s political system might have its roots in peasant rebellion but it is now firmly under the control of a power-conscious Beijing elite, almost half of whose members are related directly to former senior Party leaders. It is in The New Emperors that this Chinese system – headed by Xi Jinping – is properly explored.
Brown discloses something about his own background that is both relevant and surprising. When he began to work for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he attended a course on working for ministers that focused not only on the ministers and their senior colleagues and advisers, but also on ‘the members of their families, their friends from the past, their relatives’ trying to get access to their time and attention. But, he emphasises, while ‘ministers of the British government system have power…it is minuscule compared to that of a Politburo member in contemporary China’.
Brown argues that, in contrast, China’s leaders operate in much denser networks of connections; a group about the size of a ‘small village’, they work together, constantly meet, ‘do whatever socializing they can together and also tend to have sex together…through networks of lovers and intimate physical friendships’. Even their spoken language differs from the demotic of ordinary people. Four of the seven new members of the all-male Standing Committee are ‘princelings’ – glossed as ‘a cohesive group of current leaders who have family links going back to early generations of elite figures’ in post-revolutionary China – although Brown contends that too much can be made of this. More important is where candidates served as they rose through the Party’s hierarchy, what universities they attended, which posts they held, whom they had to please, and how their fathers survived the Maoist decades.
Visit Times Higher Education to read the review in full.