China in Political Transition


MacFarquhar, Roderick. 2002. “China in Political Transition.” Keynote Speech for EAI's 5th Anniversary Celebration. Singapore. Copy at
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I feel honored to have been asked by my old friend Wang Gungwu to give a keynote speech in such distinguished company at this anniversary conference. Gungwu is one of the great scholars of the contemporary China field. I remember a remark made by my old Harvard teacher Yang Liansheng at a China Quarterly conference on history which I ran in 1964. (My goodness that was a long time ago!) Yang told Gungwu that his Chinese colleagues greatly admired his ability to use with equal facility the tools of both Western and Chinese historiography.

The subject I have chosen is "China in Political Transition," and I shall focus on succession politics. As everyone here today knows, China is at this very moment in the run–up to a most important political transition, succession at the very top of the Communist Party. How that succession process evolves will tell us a lot about the degree of institutionalisation that has taken place in the Chinese political system since the Cultural Revolution. It will also provide some insight into whether the new generation of leaders will be able to cooperate or whether they will continue to consider politics as a zero sum game.


Working Paper 100. East Asian Institute, 2002.

Last updated on 03/25/2015