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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

The 16th Party Congress: Implications for Understanding Chinese Politics

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

Jiang Zemin emerged from the recent 16th Party Congress and First Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee with a sweeping victory. Not only were his "three represents" written into the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) charter, but his allies also emerged in critical positions on the Politburo and its Standing Committee. Jiang himself will continue to hold the chairmanship of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC). In terms of understanding Chinese politics, however, does this mean that personnel can be manipulated at will, without reference to institutions? Not entirely, for institutions are taking on greater force in Chinese politics, but Jiang has proven a master of working--and dominating--the institutions. Looking closely at the results of the recent CCP congress makes Jiang's victory at the 15th Party Congress in 1997 all the more important. Although it is too early to predict what will ultimately ensue at the highest reaches of Chinese politics, Jiang's domination of personnel decisions makes it very difficult for Hu Jintao, relying primarily on the institutional power of the office of general secretary, to consolidate power in his person.

Political Reform

Social Issues Move to Center Stage

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Wednesday, October 30, 2002

For the past two decades, economic reform—or, more precisely, economic growth—has been at the center of China's thinking about politics. Party conservatives hoped to avoid social and political cleavages by constraining economic reform. Party reformers hoped to outrun and defuse social and economic challenges by developing the economy rapidly. Today, there is no escaping that reform has created winners and losers. That conclusion is forcing social issues to the center of political consciousness. Some believe that it is already too late to address these issues effectively, while others see them as forcing a process of political reform. For the moment, the political leadership is giving few indications of specific intentions regarding political reform. But it is nevertheless setting a tone and framework that provides space for such issues to be addressed. Although the Sixteenth Party Congress will be important for many reasons, it seems likely that whatever leadership arrangements are made, the pace of political reform will increase. Whether it will increase sufficiently is more difficult to assess.

Political Reform

The 16th Party Congress: A Preview

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Wednesday, October 30, 2002

The 16th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will convene November 8, 2002. It and the First Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee that will immediately follow the congress will overhaul China's top leadership, including the Central Committee, the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee, the secretariat, and the CCP's Central Military Commission. The congress will also revise the CCP's party charter—to what extent and in what way will be watched closely—and issue a political report, which will review the party's achievements and amend its ideology. Although much anticipated, this party congress is unlikely to provide a sharp turning point in party policy. The influence of Jiang Zemin and/or his close supporters will persist. The political transition many are hoping for is likely to be drawn out, perhaps extending to the 17th Party Congress in 2007.

Political Reform

Rethinking the Role of the CCP: Explicating Jiang Zemin's Party Anniversary Speech

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Tuesday, April 30, 2002

After Jiang Zemin delivered his groundbreaking speech on the communist party's anniversary last summer, there was much speculation about the strength of his political position and controversy over the meaning of the speech itself. Close examination of authoritative commentary, however, suggests that the speech has received strong support within the party and represents far more than the general secretary's personal views. Moreover, articles by party theoreticians based at the Central Party School indicate that Jiang's speech was intended to convey a program of wide-ranging political reform, albeit not one of democratization. This program of political reform is intended to meet the domestic and international challenges facing the party and to make the exercise of power in China better institutionalized and more stable.

Political Reform

Is Political Reform Ahead?—Beijing Confronts Problems Facing Society—and the CCP

by Joseph Fewsmithvia China Leadership Monitor
Wednesday, January 30, 2002

On July 1, Jiang Zemin, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), called for admitting private entrepreneurs into the party. Although this decision in some ways brought party policy into line with reality, it was an important announcement not only because it reversed a formal party decision made in the wake of the Tiananmen crackdown but also because it opened the door to a wide range of possible political changes. Jiang's announcement may be only the tip of the iceberg. Recent publications have suggested that, in the run-up to the Sixteenth Party Congress (scheduled for fall 2002), party leaders are thinking systematically about the changes it needs to make to cope with the very rapid socioeconomic changes in Chinese society. Although the clear goal is to keep the CCP in power, it is evident that party leaders at the highest levels understand that they can only stay in power by changing. Political change is not without danger. "Leftists" in the party have excoriated Jiang's announcement, and there is widespread resentment over inequalities that have opened up in recent years in Chinese society. If the party is widely seen as speaking only for the well to do—a perception that is already widespread—popular discontent is likely to continue to spread.

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