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UPDATED: January 7, 2015
A Worthwhile Read: Xi's The Governance of China
By Jon Taylor

The Governance of China is a compilation of Chinese President Xi Jinping's speeches, answers to questions, conversations, and instructions from the time he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November of 2012 until June of 2014. While some might pan the book either because it is a relatively long anthology or simply because it is by China's president, it would be unwise to either ignore or deride The Governance of China for one important reason: It offers insight into Xi's thinking about the Chinese Dream, how China works, what it intends to do in the coming years, and how it will get it there under his leadership and that of the CPC.

The issue of governance

The choice of using the title The Governance of China is telling. One of the major problems threatening the aspirations of China is the issue of good, effective governance. The concept has concrete consequences: China's new leadership is not only confronting problems arising from it, but responding with calls to improve government, enhance transparency, and monitor the actions of both the Party and the government more effectively. Without a transformation in governance, the ability of the CPC to engage in deepening reform, oversee a rapidly urbanizing nation, manage a consumption-based development model, and simultaneously emphasize a greater place for China in the world, will be quite difficult, if not ultimately impossible. Xi's book speaks to this vigorous aspiration.

As I began reading The Governance of China, both the title and focus of Xi's book immediately called to mind the work of two important Chinese scholars who have often considered the question of governance: Deng Zhenglai and Yu Keping. Deng Zhenglai (1956-2013), Dean of Fudan University's Institute for Advanced Study in Social Sciences and a political science professor, observed before his passing that the concept of governance had become a key issue of study among the Communist Party of China, the State Council, and academics. In particular, Deng noted that China faced a unique series of dynamics and factors that impact governance in both theory and practice for the nation, and that this set of uniquely Chinese characteristics would drive efforts to both reform and improve governance.

Yu Keping, Deputy Director of the Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Director of the Center for Chinese Government Innovations at Beijing University, known for his scholarly influence both inside and outside China because of his books Democracy is a Good Thing and Democracy and the Rule of Law in China, has observed that good governance in China plays a pivotal role in maintaining political legitimacy. Specifically, he suggests that the concept of good governance, the role of political actors, and civil society itself, have been transformed through a Chinese context.

Why begin a book review about Xi Jinping's book by citing these two Chinese scholars? Because Xi's book, while a compilation of various works, utilizes the concept of governance to provide a clear indication of the path that he wishes to set China upon. Readers both inside and outside China would be wise to remember that when reading this book.

Governance and China

Xi's book is divided into eighteen thematic areas, containing 79 speeches, informal talks, addresses, answers to questions from the news media, approvals and congratulatory letters by and from Xi, ranging from socialism with Chinese Characteristics to the Chinese Dream to deepening reform to economic development to foreign relations to China's place in the world to battling corruption to the CPC's leadership. One should probably not engage in too much sinology by overanalyzing the length of each article or number of articles within each section of the book. Rather, it might be best to evaluate the book by its thematic areas and what is emphasized. That would also include the pictures of Xi interspersed throughout the book, ranging from his youth to the present.

That said, those China watchers looking to glean some meaning from the topics addressed, the number of articles included, and the length of each section, should note that the section on the Chinese Dream is the largest in terms of numbers of articles, while the section devoted to All-around and Deeper-level Reform is the longest. Additionally, those looking for meaning in what is emphasized should not be surprised that the Chinese Dream, reform, the Communist Party of China, the Chinese People, reform and opening-up, and economic growth are the most-mentioned words or phrases in the book.

Given Xi's emphasis on reform, Deng Xiaoping and Deng Xiaoping Theory are both referred to often. Xi's penchant for providing historical and cultural references in his pursuit of reform is underscored with references ranging from The Book of Songs to Sima Qian's Records of the Historian to Huan Kuan's On Salt and Iron to the Emperor Kangxi to Gong Zizhen to Confucius to Laozi to Mencius to Zhuangzi to Xunzi to the May 4th Movement to Victor Hugo to WeChat. Moreover, it might come as a surprise to some scholars and pundits that Mao Zedong, Mao Zedong Thought, Marxism, and socialism with Chinese Characteristics are regularly mentioned throughout the book. 

Final thoughts

China faces numerous challenges in the years ahead. Xi's book addresses China's core needs and the strategies to meet those challenges. Throughout the book, some common themes recur: The Chinese Dream of National Rejuvenation, continuous reform to encourage economic development, the fulfillment of Deng Xiaoping's call for a moderately prosperous society by 2020, the improvement of the lives of Chinese citizens through urbanization and agricultural reform, promotion of the modernization of the state and its governing capacity, the need to tackle and root out corruption, improve the environment, maintain social stability, encourage peaceful development, and pursue a new model of major-country relations.

Some, such as Nathan Gardels, have observed that The Governance of China is "an anti-memoir, or a memoir in reverse." I would concur with Gardels by noting that The Governance of China is an important compilation of Chinese President Xi Jinping's current thinking about China, how he believes it should work, what it should do in the coming years, what place it should have in the world, and how it will get it there under his leadership and that of the CPC. While it is admittedly a long read, it is a worthwhile read for those interested in the thoughts of the person currently leading China and managing China's rise to prominence on the world stage.

The author is chair and professor ofdepartment of political science, University of St. Thomas, U.S.

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