The People's Republic of China is one of five remaining countries in the world ruled by a communist party: the Chinese Communist Party or CCP, which has ruled China since 1949. For the early days of the CCP, it's worth reading Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow, the American journalist who joined Mao and his revolutionaries before they took power and presents a firsthand but rose-tinted view of their early days in the caves of Yan'an. A more recent book investigating how the CCP operates in the modern era—when an authoritarian, Marxist-Leninist political structure goes hand-in-hand with a market economy—is The Party, by Richard McGregor, an Australian journalist. He is also the author of a short overview of the era of the current CCP leader: Xi Jinping: The Backlash part of the Penguin Specials series, books "short enough to be read in a single sitting." In spite of the fanfare surrounding Xi Jinping's appointment to a third term as the CCP's General Secretary—and the apparent lack of opposition to this break with reform-era tradition—there are many in China's elite who are furious about it.
No account of Chinese politics is complete without a look at the regions on the country's edges that are part of the PRC, but crave autonomy and have risen in rebellion in recent years—as they often do when Beijing tries to exert greater control and resorts to repression. In addition to the books recommended in the interviews on Tibet and Hong Kong below, recent books relevant to the politics of China include two books on Xinjiang: Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang and In the Camps. Both were recommended by historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom.
The late China specialist and UCLA professor Richard Baum said that he sometimes felt genuine admiration for China’s technocratic leaders. Other days, he shook his head at their obsessive intransigence and China’s endemic political insecurity
Activist Harry Wu spent 19 years in Mao’s labour camps and devoted years to uncovering what goes on in China’s ‘laogai’ or ‘reform-through-labour’ camps. He picks five books showing China’s darker side.
Around the world people have followed the standoff in Hong Kong with apprehension, as local protestors have taken on the might of China’s powerful Communist Party. Here Ben Bland, author of Generation HK and Director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, talks us through books to better understand what’s been going on these past few years and what’s at stake for Hong Kong’s citizens and activists.
Mao’s Last Revolution
by Michael Schoenhals & Roderick MacFarquhar
Maoism at the Grassroots
edited by Jeremy Brown and Matthew D. Johnson
Red Star over China
by Edgar Snow
The Bullet and the Ballot Box: The Story of Nepal's Maoist Revolution
by Aditya Adhikari
A Critical Introduction to Mao
by Timothy Creek
While researching Maoism, China expert Julia Lovell battled against two incorrect assumptions: “firstly that Maoism is a story of China; and secondly that Maoism is a story of the past.” Here she recommends five books for coming to grips with the global, still-relevant impact of Maoism.
In contrast to Eastern Europe, the 1989 protests in China did not lead to the overthrow of the Communist Party. But if China’s leaders chose the right course on June 4th, 1989, why are they still frightened to come to terms with it? Sinologist and historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom picks the best books to understand events at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and around China on that hot summer night.
The ‘Great Fire Wall of China’. How has the Chinese Communist Party managed to survive the internet? Economist correspondent Gady Epstein chooses books on the world’s most successful case of authoritarian control of the internet.
Countries do have to come to terms with their own history, and it’s unhealthy that China has not yet come to terms with the Cultural Revolution, argues the West’s leading scholar of the period, Roderick MacFarquhar. He chooses the best five books on the Cultural Revolution.
Victor Shih’s selection highlights rising inequality, economic irregularity and political heavy-handedness at the heart of modern China. As its economy blazes on, uncertain times may be looming
To fully understand unrest in China today you have to go back to the 1930s and the circumstances which led to the Chinese Communist Party taking power, says Harvard political scientist Elizabeth Perry. She recommends the best books on popular protest in China.
Discussions about Tibet are often reduced to arguments about China’s right to run it. The Tibetologist says this obscures a much more subtle debate about what it means to be Tibetan in modern Tibetan society.
It’s hard to understand what’s going on in the Xinjiang region of China and the nationalism of the Uyghurs who live there without reading some history. Here Professor Michael Dillon, a historian at King’s College London, suggests books to read on the Uyghurs, focusing in particular on scholars and diplomats whose work gives insight into the period before the Chinese Communist takeover in 1949.