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4 Books on the Chinese Communist Party

There was a big birthday celebration in China earlier this month. July 1 marked the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. There were only 57 members at that time, but today Party members number more than 85 million.

Along the way it managed to form an army that defeated the Nationalists in a civil war to take power and to extend its control to every nook and cranny of the country, both geographically and ideologically.

Because the Party’s tentacles are everywhere, it is important for those working in China to have at least a basic knowledge of how it functions and what role it plays in society. Here are some books to help you get started:

China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation, by David Shambaugh (2009)

Amazon description:

In this timely study, David Shambaugh assesses the strengths and weaknesses, durability, adaptability, and potential longevity of China's Communist Party (CCP). He argues that although the CCP has been in a protracted state of atrophy, it has undertaken a number of adaptive measures aimed at reinventing itself and strengthening its rule. Shambaugh's investigation draws on a unique set of inner-Party documents and interviews, and he finds that China's Communist Party is resilient and will continue to retain its grip on power.


The Party: The Secret World of China’s Rulers, by Richard MacGregor (2010)

Amazon description:

The Party is Financial Times reporter Richard McGregor’s eye-opening investigation into China’s Communist Party, and the integral role it has played in the country’s rise as a global superpower and rival to the United States. Many books have examined China’s economic rise, human rights record, turbulent history, and relations with the U.S.; none until now, however, have tackled the issue central to understanding all of these issues: how the ruling communist government works.


China’s New Rulers: The Secret Files, by Andrew J. Nathan (2002)

Amazon description:

China's New Rulers is an extraordinary account of a high-level political drama that has largely taken place in secret. It portrays many key figures in the Party, government, and military, and provides new information on Jiang Zemin's thirteen years in office. Most importantly, it contains the first insights into matters of great importance to the West: who will lead China, what changes they may bring to their country, and how they may act as international partners and competitors.


The China Reader: Rising Power (6th edition), by David Shambaugh (2016)

Amazon description:

The rise of China is the most significant development in world affairs in this generation. No nation in history has risen as quickly or modernized as rapidly as has China over the four decades. This sixth edition of The China Reader chronicles the diverse aspects of this transition since the late-1990s. It is comprehensive in scope and draws upon both primary Chinese sources and secondary Western analyses written by the world's leading experts on contemporary China. Perfectly suited as both a textbook for students as well as for specialists and the public alike, the volume covers the full range of China's internal and external developments.

Finally, if you don’t feel up to tackling an entire book, then I recommend the excellent resource, “CFR Backgrounders: The Chinese Communist Party,” posted on the Council of Foreign Relations website. It is a collection of articles and essays.

Image credit: By PyzhouSelf-photographed, GFDL, 
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul …View Full Bio

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