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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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Political Reform

Taizhou Area Explores Ways to Improve Local Governance

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Saturday, July 30, 2005

Standing apart from the many recent reports of rural instability is an account of a different nature: It singles out a township in a region of Zhejiang Province known nationally for its flourishing market-based prosperity, where innovative reforms have been implemented to enhance popular participation in political decisions. Although these reforms are intended to strengthen the rule of the Chinese Communist Party in local affairs and not as a step toward democratic transition, they do suggest that the growth of "social capital" at the local level is bringing about greater public roles in policymaking, improving local governance, and perhaps even changing, albeit to a limited degree, the way the party operates at the local level.

Political Reform

China under Hu Jintao

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Saturday, April 30, 2005

Contrary to hopes expressed by both Chinese intellectuals and foreign observers that the new Hu Jintao administration would be more open to political change and to freer expression of ideas, Hu's government has backed away from some of the tolerance that existed (though insufficiently) under Jiang Zemin. While Jiang Zemin did not shy away from criticizing presumed Western efforts to "divide" and "Westernize" China, the Hu administration has actively backed a campaign to criticize "neoliberalism" and has cracked down on the expression of liberal opinion. For the moment at least, Hu seems determined to address the problems facing China by strengthening the Chinese Communist Party rather than adjusting the relationship between the party and society through greater openness.

Political Reform

CCP Launches Campaign to Maintain the Advanced Nature of Party Members

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Chinese Communist Party has launched a campaign to "maintain the advanced nature of Chinese Communist Party members." Although it may seem anachronistic to carry out an old-style rectification campaign in the early 21st century, the campaign is just one part of a much broader effort to strengthen the "governing capacity" of the party—the primary theme of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee in September 2004. Party members are cynical about campaigns such as the one just begun, but campaigns nevertheless can give the party center new information about lower-level party cadres and provide a basis for reshuffling careers.

Political Reform

Pressures for Expanding Local-Level Democracy

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has faced numerous pressures in recent years to reform its governing practices, particularly at the local level where these practices directly affect the lives of citizens. Despite years of campaigning against it, corruption continues to get worse at local levels, where abuse of power by officials has inflamed relations with the citizenry, and where there seems to be a palpable need to enhance the legitimacy of local officials. Village-level elections were introduced in China in the late 1980s to respond to these needs, but they also created new problems. Local party secretaries clashed regularly with village heads, and township cadres resented newly assertive village leaders. Moreover, the electoral process stalled as efforts to promote it at the township level met resistance. In recent months, however, there have been new and expanded experiments with local democracy that enhance the importance of local people's congresses, open up the electoral process, and use elections for the selection of local cadres. Importantly, these experiments are not limited to the village level, but are taking place at the township and sometimes county levels. These innovations may not augur looming democratization, but they do reflect a response to increased pressures to cope with the problems of local governance.

Political Reform

Promoting the Scientific Development Concept

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, July 30, 2004

For the past nine months, party General Secretary Hu Jintao and other leaders have been promoting a new economic approach that they call the "scientific development concept." This approach aims to correct what they describe as an overemphasis in recent years on increasing gross domestic product (GDP), which encourages the generation of false figures and dubious construction projects while neglecting the social welfare of those left behind in the hinterland. Advertised as a "people-centered" approach to development, the scientific development concept has been extended to leadership practices in general, including the recruitment of talent and the administration of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Leaders associated with former party General Secretary Jiang Zemin, such as Secretariat head Zeng Qinghong, have endorsed the scientific development concept, but Zeng in particular has appeared to demur at some of its central notions. At a minimum, this divergence underscores the difficulty of defining "social development" as opposed to "mere" economic development; at a maximum, it suggests continuing tensions within the leadership.

Political Reform

Continuing Pressures on Social Order

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, April 30, 2004

The recently published edition of the Blue Book of Chinese Society, an annual survey of social problems and attitudes published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), gives ample evidence that social problems continue to worsen even as the new government focuses more attention on the plight of those left behind in China's struggle for economic growth and modernization. There are positive signs as well. Overall, incomes are up (according to official statistics); the middle class, depending on how one defines it, is growing; and most people continue to expect incomes to grow. Moreover, the government is increasing the resources it expends on social welfare. Nevertheless, a host of problems challenges China's new leadership, including income inequality, labor disturbances, rural disorder, and corruption. But the most difficult issue remains jobs. China's booming economy just does not create enough jobs relative to overall growth or the needs of the society. Thus, social order appears to be a long-term political problem for China.

Political Reform

The Third Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, January 30, 2004

The recent Third Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee suggests that despite obvious signs of tension within the leadership over the past year, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Hu Jintao has begun to put his distinct stamp on policy. A long "Decision" on the goals of further economic reform—the only document emerging the plenum to be made public—indicates a greater concern with balanced growth and the social dimensions of economic development than did the political report adopted at the 16th Party Congress in fall 2002. Although the plenum did not take up the issue of political reform explicitly, it adopted a new party procedure that called for the Politburo to report on its work to the whole Central Committee, a step advertised as a step toward "inner-party democracy." Recent articles in party journals indicate that discussions continue on political reform, albeit of a limited sort, and that there are likely to be significant developments in this area in the future.

Political Reform

Studying the Three Represents

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Starting in June, Chinese media have been promoting a new campaign to study the "three represents," Jiang Zemin's ideological formulation that was enshrined in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constitution at the 16th Party Congress in fall 2002. Following Hu Jintao's efforts to emphasize a more populist approach to governance, including his "people's war" against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in April and May, the new campaign has raised new questions about the relationship between Hu and Jiang. Review of the evidence reveals that this campaign has long been in the works and thus should not—in and of itself—be taken as evidence of a reassertion of Jiang's political clout, but there are nevertheless significant differences between the two leaders and their approaches to governance and ideology. Although the evidence suggests that Hu Jintao has been trying to inject new themes and approaches to governance, he remains willing to acknowledge the role of Jiang as elder statesman and refrains from challenging him directly. Thus, political differences are more likely to be played out in personnel decisions and policy priorities over the coming months than in the sort of political competition that is likely to lead to instability.

Political Reform

China's Response to SARS

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Wednesday, July 30, 2003

A month after severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) moved from a medical crisis—albeit one unacknowledged as such by the Chinese authorities—to a political crisis, it has become apparent that the disease will have a significant impact on China's political system, though one that is likely to be long-term rather than immediate. Although some have argued that SARS will be "China's Chernobyl," leading to far-reaching political change and perhaps democratization, others have maintained that the political system will simply absorb the impact and not change. Both judgments appear wide of the mark. Much more likely is that SARS will set off a variety of forces which the government will try to control, but which are going to be increasingly difficult to contain. It is still too early to draw strong conclusions about the impact of the SARS crisis, but some tentative conjectures about both elite politics and the longer-range implications can be hazarded.

Political Reform

China's Domestic Agenda: Social Pressures and Public Opinion

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

In the months since he has taken over as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Hu Jintao has focused on domestic issues. Indeed, recent interviews in China suggest that some foreign policy specialists are concerned that Hu's domestic interests will distract him from important foreign policy issues. In any event, a recently published survey of social trends in China outlines the depth of the problems facing the Chinese government. These are not short-term or easily handled problems; they are rooted in the demography of China and in the long-term separation between urban and rural areas. Public opinion surveys suggest that China's most vulnerable do indeed feel worried about the future. Nevertheless, the same surveys show that a sizable majority of Chinese is cautiously optimistic about the future. Such assessments of the future appear to give the government a window of opportunity for addressing the social pressures it faces.

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