Kerry Brown / Politics / Reviews

The New Emperors in the Observer

The New EmperorsIn the Observer, Kerry Brown’s The New Emperors has been described by Isabel Hilton as an ‘essential read’. Reviewed alongside Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition, Isabel Hilton – editor of chinadialogue.net – explains that: ‘For a better understanding of China’s elite politics – how power is won and exercised – Kerry Brown’s The New Emperors is a rare example of informed, forensic inquiry.’

Hilton asserts how there is a common obstruction when writing about China’s leaders and its government:

…a combination of obsessive secrecy and misleading symbolic politics masks the relationships, processes and personalities at the heart of China’s governing machine. When the leadership changes, commentators tend to inspect their sparse tealeaves, conjuring responses to questions routinely asked in democratic politics: who are the new leaders? What do they think? What do they plan to do? Are they any different from those they displace?

With this ‘absence of evidence’, many books on China tend to make ‘many misleading claims’ and pronounce ‘theories of factional relationships built on fragile foundations.’

Overcoming these obstructions because of his time spent as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Beijing, Kerry Brown’s The New Emperors is able to illuminate China’s vicious power struggle without speculation and:

…offers a sober and well-informed antidote to the overdose of repeated non-truths and half-truths that often pass for analysis of Chinese politics. [Brown] methodically maps what is known about the seven member of the current Politburo Standing Committee, and seeks to understand how they – and not any number of contending candidates – emerged as the supreme power holders in a country of 1.4bn. Along the way we learn of the staggering fortunes, colourful mistresses and family traumas that populate China’s power map. Brown unpicks the mind-numbing complexity of China’s power game, riven as it is by competing interests, regional and factional loyalties, and the pursuit of the pharaonic wealth that is the prize for the few who make it.

Visit the Guardian to read Isobel Hilton’s review in full. ■

In what can seem a universe  within itself, Kerry Brown selects five essential reads on modern China
Read the Financial Times review of The New Emperors
Read Times Higher Education‘s review of The New Emperors
Follow Kerry Brown on Twitter @BKerryChina.
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