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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech 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.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
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 Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
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 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 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.

VOA Blogs