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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs