In 1976, China was emerging from the Cultural Revolution, an era characterized by isolationism and internal weakness, when Mao Zedong's death complicated the situation, leading to a period of political instability and a resurgence of radicalism. There was deep division between Party members as the struggle erupted between those who wanted to continue the ideas of the Great Helmsman, and those who wanted to follow the forces of economic modernization. Twenty years later, China's fate is now inextricably intertwined with that of the world, but the problem of succession that existed almost two decades ago has reemerged. Similar to the events in 1976 which surrounded Mao's death, there is currently much controversy surrounding the future of China after the death of Deng Xiaoping. Rumors concerning the health of the New Helmsman are rampant as his inevitable death looms near. The implications of Deng's death, and its effect on China's uncertain future, are the topic of much debate.
Amid this massive profusion speculation emerges China After Deng Xiaoping, written by Willy Wo-Lap Lam. Lam, the China editor for the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong correspondent for the BBC, makes excellent use of the vast array of sources at his disposal. He utilizes contacts in China as well as in Hong Kong, including members of the Chinese Communist Party, state and provincial governments. The result is an exhaustive tome detailing the present situation in China, paying great attention to the individuals who comprise the present elite. Lam's work is extremely timely, focusing entirely on developments after the Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989. For the casual observer as well as the China expert, Lam provides an extensive overview of the factors that will shape and affect the post-Deng leadership.
The main emphasis of the book is on the existing factions and internal power struggles occurring within the present elite, as Lam goes into painstaking detail on the inner workings of the Communist government to uncover the intricate factionalism below the external appearance of unity. Lam also stresses the increasing importance of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Chinese civilian life, and goes into specifics to demonstrate the infighting that is occurring within the military as well. While his knowledge and sources are immense, his argument tends to lack a focus; he is often side tracked by the details of factionalism, and strays from substantiated facts to conjecture by getting caught up in rumors. Lam loses sight of the larger picture in his goal to present the details. He is optimistic in his forecasts for China's re but, consistent with the trend among China scholars, offers very little in the way of concrete predictions.
Lam organizes his analysis into six areas: the legacy and contributions of Deng Xiaoping; economic reform and the shift toward capitalism; residual influences of the "Maoist restoration"; the role of the People's Liberation Army, political reform and the future of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); and problems of succession in the post-Deng leadership with an assessment of the key players involved.
In his examination of Deng's controversial legacy, Lam explains the shift that occurred by 1992, when a personality cult began to be constructed around-Deng. Previously, Deng hid deferred all ideas and innovations to Mao, but Lam argues that, as was exemplified by Mao, the "image of an all-knowing, almost supernatural leader was perceived by the CCP's...