News / Asia

Q&A with David Lampton: The Dramatic Evolution of Chinese Leaders

Chinese top leaders attends the third plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Monday, March 10, 2014.
Chinese top leaders attends the third plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Monday, March 10, 2014.
More than 5,000 Chinese national lawmakers and political advisors have concluded annual meetings in Beijing to discuss policies and develop proposals to help advance the world's second-largest economy. The main theme focused on deepening political reforms.
 
Who are all these leaders and how do they approach governing in China? David Lampton, Professor of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told VOA’s Jim Stevenson more about Chinese leaders based on over 550 personal interviews which inspired his new book, Following the Leader.
 

LAMPTON: China has got a very elaborate bureaucracy – a party bureaucracy, a state bureaucracy and of course a military bureaucracy. That is not to mention the leaders of provinces. You have got 31 provinces and those provinces are as big as countries in many cases. And then China has got 2,000 plus counties. And counties are actually rather large areas, too.
 
When I in the book talk about leaders, I don’t mean just the standing politburo, the party elite or the Central Committee, I also mean university presidents, county magistrates, and provincial governors and party secretaries, and increasingly CEOs and global companies and even NGO leaders.
 
What is reasonably called a leader today, I think, is a much broader and maybe more interesting and certainly more diverse younger group than what constituted leaders when I began going to China in 1976.
 
STEVENSON: Does the political system in China try to select or groom its leaders to be a certain type? How much individuality do they really allow as the chosen few have risen to the top?
 
LAMPTON: I guess it is testimony to the power of the individual spirit. China has a very rigorous promotion system that certainly by the time people move up they have lots of experience with lots of dimensions with lower levels. They go through a standard operating procedure.
 
And so on one level you would say the system is designed to create a certain uniformity of policy perspective and actual bureaucratic behavior. But what is equally impressive to me is still when you meet these people they are radically different personalities as you could probably find in a range of politicians and other leaders in other societies.
 
But like in every other society, sometimes the top doesn’t know what it wants. Even though there are tremendous pressures for conformity, I think China’s leaders at the top see themselves as somewhat weak in dealing with subordinates that are continually going their own way.
 
STEVENSON: How has that dynamic changed in terms of the influence of all of these leaders influencing the person at the top, and the top person influencing those under him?
 
LAMPTON: Broadly speaking, Chinese society has become more complicated. The Chinese bureaucracies have become more fragmented, complex and divided. People at the bottom of the system have information and resources and organizations that they run that give them the capacity to more effectively resist upper levels if that is what they choose to do.
 
While China’s leaders are still, by any fair stretch at the top, very powerful and can certainly exercise their power in ways that are either perceived as fair or not fair, nonetheless I think Chinese leaders now have to negotiate with each other to a much greater extent, and they have to negotiate with society. This has been a dramatic change in the political system. So the future question really it seems for me is how we bring a more complex society into a harmonious and effective relationship with what you might call older political institutions.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs