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Reviews 79 Jean-Pierre Cabestan. Le systèmepolitique de la Chinepopulaire. Collection Thémis Science Politique. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1994. 505 pp. Paperback Fr 188, isbn 213-046458-0. Collection Que sais-je? (Concise edition), isbn 213-046516-1. The virulent ideological debate that has prevailed among French intellectuals over the true nature of Communist China during the Maoist period may finally have subsided, ifwe are to believe a seasoned observer of modern China .' The debate that culminated during the Cultural Revolution may have revealed more about the French character than Chinese politics. Compounding the negative effects of a divisive intellectual debate on the emergence ofa healthy French sinology are factors such as poor research funding, a small market for French books, and the overwhelming presence ofAmerican scholarship. In this context, the publication ofJean-Pierre Cabestan's Le systèmepolitique de la Chinepopulaire stands out as a significant advance toward a more scientific (understand, less ideological) study of Chinese politics in France. Cabestan is not an isolated case to be sure. French sinology seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts with contributions from scholars who rose to prominence in the 1980s. The likes ofMichel Bonnin and Jean-Louis Rocca now publish authoritative monographic studies where earlier scholars tended to write more general works ofhistory. To the best ofthis reviewer's knowledge, Cabestan's book is the first work in French to survey Chinese politics in the post-Mao era so thoroughly. It will be appreciated by university students and professors alike as a reference to the world ofpolitics in China. A concise, pocket-size edition, "Que sais-je?" has been issued by the publisher for the benefit ofreaders interested in an informative but nontechnical introduction to the political system of contemporary China. The contribution ofLe systèmepolitique de la Chinepopulaireis threefold: it introduces the main concepts that have been used to explain China; it provides a detailed description of China's political institutions and decision-making process, as well as identifying factors that may affect the future direction of the political system; and finally, it supplies an excellent bibliography of the recent (mostly American) literature on the study ofChina. This will be ofparticular benefit to French readers. The book opens with a presentation ofthe different approaches that have been used to explain the functioning of the political system, from the official self-© 1997 by University interpretations to the indigenous dissentingviews aswell asWestern conceptions. oj awai ? ressCabestan introduces thembrieflyand debates theirvalue to an understanding of China. He ends by highlighting the constraints under which any conceptual framework must develop: the specificity ofChinese culture, China as a developing 8o China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 country, and the lack of distinction between politics and public administration in China. The author then reviews the political history ofChina, beginning briefly with the imperial period. He devotes most ofhis attention to the post-1949 period, whose communist legacy, he believes, will likely survive notwithstanding any direction the political system may take in the future. His description ofevents is not original , and in some cases, such as the Cultural Revolution, it will likely be seen as too unidimensional. Not trying to tie that phenomenon into any larger process of social change, his coverage ofthe events suggests that it was merely a power struggle. Thus Lucían Pye's earlier assessment—that Western scholarship should receive high marks for identifying immediate causes of the Cultural Revolution but low ones on fundamental causes—should still stand as far as this book is concerned.2 Cabestan's presentation of China's political system is divided into four parts: the Communist Party, the State, the People's Liberation Army, and state power and society. The order in which he approaches each part is indicative ofthe power each has in relation to the whole. At the top is the Communist Party. The state is a mere "façade" (front) for the Party. The state does not operate on its own but rather under the full control ofthe Party (p. 275). This control is exercised through the Party's organizational culture (democratic centralism, collective leadership, the nomenklatura and Party cells that shadow state institutions). The part...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 79-81
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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