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China’s Political System: Modernization and Tradition 5th edition

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368 PAGES, ISBN 0321355105, PAPERBACK

Reviewed by Arthur Barbeau


We are indeed fortunate that, with the appearance of the fifth edition of China’s Political System, June Dreyer brings her long-term examination forward to 2005. Her broad perspective on politics examines its connections with just about every aspect of Chinese culture from industrialization to the arts.

While I would not recommend China’s Political System for any but the most advanced secondary classes with sophisticated students, it is more than adequate for even an introductory course on China at the undergraduate level. While superior to those works on “politics” that are collections of documents accompanied by brief editorial comments, Dreyer’s treatment of history, focusing as it does on politics, would need to be supplemented by other sources.

Dreyer is careful to point out that, in dealing with a society not yet completely open, one must often speculate or make assumptions. When she does so, she is willing to admit it and give us her best opinion. Perhaps her best chapters are those on politics itself and the many changes that have taken place since the establishment of the PRC in 1949. Outstanding, too, are those chapters dealing with the political implications for education, the economy, and quality of life issues.

That is not to say there is no room for improvement. As a “social scientist,” Dreyer seems far too concerned with finding the most appropriate paradigm to explain modern China. So many of these are introduced in the first chapter that average students may be turned off before getting to the real substance of her work. She returns to these occasionally and in the conclusion. Yet, she is forced to admit that while each paradigm seems to explain some features, none is entirely satisfactory.

Additionally, I feel that more is needed on the relationship of politics to gender and the position of women in China. Sometimes, too, Dreyer is too cautious in her assessments. To introduce the Red Guard by saying that they “generally made a nuisance of themselves” would seem grossly inadequate. Still, such minor complaints should not detract from an otherwise important work.