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Joseph Fewsmith

Biography: 

Joseph Fewsmith is Professor of International Relations and Political Science as well as Director of the East Asia Interdisciplinary Studies Program at Boston University. He is the author of four books: China Since Tiananmen: The Politics of Transition (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Elite Politics in Contemporary China (M.E. Sharpe, 2001), The Dilemmas of Reform in China: Political Conflict and Economic Debate (M.E. Sharpe, 1994), and Party, State, and Local Elites in Republican China: Merchant Organizations and Politics in Shanghai, 1980-1930 (University of Hawaii Press, 1985). His articles have appeared in such journals as Asian Survey, Comparative Studies in Society and History, The China Journal, The China Quarterly, Current History, The Journal of Contemporary China, and Modern China. He is also a research associate of the John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies at Harvard University.

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The 19th Party Congress: Ringing in Xi Jinping’s New Age

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The 19th Party Congress and the First Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee that immediately followed the congress endorsed sweeping changes in China’s leadership, including the makeup of the Politburo and its standing committee.

Political Reform

China’s Political Ecology and the Fight against Corruption

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Thursday, March 19, 2015

Since the 18th Party Congress convened in November 2012, China has undertaken a wide-ranging campaign against corruption.

Political Reform

Mao’s Shadow

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, March 14, 2014

Nearly four decades after his death, Mao Zedong remains a controversial figure in Chinese Communist Party history, raising as he does questions of legitimacy. Over the past year the issue of how the Mao years should be evaluated in comparison to the reform years has been raised and discussed by Xi Jinping and others. This discussion apparently responds to divergent opinions in the party and seems to reflect Xi Jinping’s determination to define China’s ideology and its limits.

Political Reform

Debating Constitutional Government

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, October 7, 2013

Rather than pull public opinion together, Xi Jinping’s call for realizing the “China Dream” seems to have revealed the depth of cleavage among China’s intellectuals. The newspaper Southern Weekend set off a drama when it responded by writing a New Year’s editorial calling the China Dream the dream of constitutional government, only to have provincial propaganda authorities rewrite it beyond recognition before publication. Subsequently, Xi Jinping authorized a sharp attack on “Western values,” including constitutionalism. This internal talk, written into the now infamous “Document No. 9,” prompted several publications to run articles against constitutionalism, provoking liberal intellectuals to defend the idea. This deep divide suggests there is increasingly little middle ground left among China’s intellectuals, while the backing of different views by different officials reflects a politicization of seemingly intellectual debates. These debates are ultimately about the legitimacy of the government and thus reflect fragility in the political system.

Political Reform

Xi Jinping’s Fast Start

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Thursday, June 6, 2013

To paraphrase Hobbes’ characterization of life, one may say that the politics preceding the 18th Party Congress were long, nasty and brutish. The irony of this process is that in the end the political calculus worked out well for new party leader and president, Xi Jinping. As far as one can tell from the outside, he neither presides over a deeply divided Standing Committee nor faces an incumbent head of the Central Military Commission (CMC), as Hu Jintao was forced to do a decade ago. Moreover, as a princeling whose revolutionary heritage is unquestioned, Xi has approached his job with a confidence unseen in his two predecessors, especially early in their terms.

Political Reform

The 18th Party Congress: Testing the Limits of Institutionalization

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, January 14, 2013

The recent 18th Party Congress, convened only after a year of extremely contentious politics, surprised by generating a leadership group that appeared lopsided in favor of supporters of former general secretary Jiang Zemin (江泽民), thereby raising questions about “politics by elders” (老人政治) and the limits of acceptable intervention. Ironically the apparent bias in favor of Jiang’s network may give new general secretary Xi Jinping (习近平) a relatively free hand in the next few years. Nevertheless, by generating the oldest Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) in years, the congress set up a situation in which five of the seven members of the PBSC will have to retire in only five years and many contentious issues will have to be readdressed relatively soon. Sorting out succession politics issues appears to be getting more difficult over time, but such a judgment will have to wait at least another five years.

Political Reform

De Tocqueville in Beijing

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, October 1, 2012

Even as public attention has been focused on the ouster of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and the trial of his wife, Gu Kailai, as well as the upcoming 18th Party Congress, there has been a quiet but interesting discussion going on in Beijing about Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic work, Ancien Regime and the French Revolution, first published in 1856. Although seemingly far from the concerns of the day, the interest in the work in fact captures widespread concern in intellectual circles about the Chinese polity and where it might go from here.

Political Reform

Bo Xilai and Reform: What Will Be the Impact of His Removal?

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, August 6, 2012

The unexpected flight of Chongqing’s Public Security head to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February started an unexpected sequence of events that led to the removal of Bo Xilai, the princeling head of the Chongqing party committee, and the subsequent decision to investigate him. Depending on the outcome of that party investigation, Bo could then be subject to civil proceedings (as is almost always the case). These events have disrupted what appeared to be the smooth transition planned for the 18th Party Congress later this fall. There has been much commentary on these events, and different observers look at the significance and impact of the Bo Xilai case on Chinese politics. Looking at Bo’s unique place in the Chinese political system and at the actions taken and commentary issued by the government in Beijing, this article concludes that Beijing is taking steps to narrow the case against Bo as much as possible, presenting it as a case of violating party discipline and the law. Although this makes sense in the short run, there may be ramifications of the case that will reverberate for a long time.

Political Reform

Guangdong Leads Calls to Break up “Vested Interests” and Revive Reform

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, April 30, 2012

In September a protest in a Guangdong village threatened to embarrass the province and its party secretary, Wang Yang, who is a candidate for membership on the powerful Politburo Standing Committee when the 18th Party Congress meets later this year. Not only did Wang Yang intervene decisively to defuse tensions, but he also used a plenary session of the provincial party committee to launch an attack on “vested interests” and to call for reviving reform. Guangdong’s outspokenness was quickly echoed in the pages of People’s Daily, scholarly reports, and liberal opinion. The long-term implications are not yet clear, but the revival of reform rhetoric suggests a contentious year of politics as the country heads into the 18th Party Congress.

Political Reform

“Social Management” as a Way of Coping With Heightened Social Tensions

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, January 6, 2012

Over the last year there has been an increasing emphasis on “social management” as a way of managing increasing social tensions in Chinese society. Indeed, the effort the CCP is putting into publicizing this concept underscores high-level concerns. Although these concerns cannot be attributed to the Arab spring or other global events, such social movements certainly make the CCP leadership more wary about the ways in which external political changes might stimulate domestic incidents, especially given the growing role of social media. Although this emphasis on social management should not be seen as the government giving up on the modest efforts at political reform it has been undertaking in recent years, it does suggest that the government sees other measures as more important in the short run.

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