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  • Gun Barrel Politics: Party-Army Relations in Mao's China
  • Stephen R. MacKinnon
Fang Zhu . Gun Barrel Politics: Party-Army Relations in Mao's China. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 199X8. x, 274 pp. Hardcover $70.00, ISBN 0-8133-3456-X.

In this study, Fang Zhu offers a new paradigm for understanding civil-military relations in Chinese politics during the Mao era. The author strongly hints that his approach remains useful for the analysis of contemporary politics as well. In brief, he argues that in the past other scholars have overemphasized the divide between the civilian and military spheres as well as the issue of professionalization during the Mao period. He sees the civil-military relationship in terms of adualism or a symbiotic power-sharing relationship between Party and Army. With an understanding of the concept of dualism, factional power politics becomes the key to Mao-era politics—carrying much more explanatory weight than ideological or structure-based analysis. This book is a reworking of the author's Columbia University dissertation and is thus firmly in the Nathan/Pye tradition of factional analysis. In its single-minded focus on factional power struggles, the analysis is also reminiscent of traditional studies by Chinese scholars of twentieth-century politics running back to Li Chien-nung.

This is not to say that the main arguments of Gun Barrel Politics are not clothed in the latest comparative-politics language. The dualist paradigm is introduced at the outset with a string of tight definitions. The efficacy of the paradigm and factional-politics model is then demonstrated through a careful review of six chapter-length case studies. These include the Gao Gang incident of 1953, the Peng Dehuai purge of 1958-1959, the launching of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, PLA resistance to radical power seizures in 1967, the Lin Biao incident of 1971, and the military coup that toppled the Gang of Four in 1976.

The writing is always clear and the book well organized. In his arguments, the author fluidly connects the case studies, and his recounting of these famous political crises is remarkably balanced. We see regional commanders both succeeding and failing to shape political outcomes. In three cases—1953, 1958, and 1971—military commanders in the field failed to unite and thus were outmaneuvered in factional politics. But in 1966, 1967, and 1976 the military came together well and prevailed, exercising decisive influence on Mao and the course of events.

Throughout, the spotlight is on Mao. In each case we see how Mao personally intervened to play balance-of-power politics. He emerges from Fang Zhu's analysis as a master tactician in factional struggles who was always mindful of the interests of central and regional commanders and the danger of pushing them too far. At times, as in 1966 and again in 1967, Mao switched position in order to woo or accommodate a united military leadership. [End Page 572]

The analysis in this book is unusual because by focusing on the dualism of Party-Army relations, Fang Zhu highlights Mao's use of military intimidation (including the movement of troops) as a central element in PRC politics. To document his arguments, the author draws upon a wide variety of sources, ranging from well-known secondary works to recent documentary collections and memoirs coming out of the PRC and Taiwan. He also makes use of a unique interview with Lin Biao's daughter, Lin Doudou. The result is a refreshing reexamination of the otherwise tired subject of Mao-era power politics.

Indeed, the analysis here of the six crises is so coherent and the argument so seemingly airtight that they raise questions. Policy and personal motivational factors are by and large screened out. For example: "In general, it is virtually impossible to ascertain the motivation of any human behavior, especially that of politicians who often have too high a stake to tell the truth" (p. 229).

Thus Fang Zhu admires Mao as a Machiavellian power broker and downplays the ideologue or crude demagogue. Mao used the threat of military force in the 1950s and again in 1966 to intimidate colleagues into initiating the Cultural Revolution. Given the author's argument...


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pp. 572-573
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