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  • Cited by 4
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
May 2022
Print publication year:
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Book description

For the first time since Mao, a Chinese leader may serve a life-time tenure. Xi Jinping may well replicate Mao's successful strategy to maintain power. If so, what are the institutional and policy implications for China? Victor C. Shih investigates how leaders of one-party autocracies seek to dominate the elite and achieve true dictatorship, governing without fear of internal challenge or resistance to major policy changes. Through an in-depth look of late-Mao politics informed by thousands of historical documents and data analysis, Coalitions of the Weak uncovers Mao's strategy of replacing seasoned, densely networked senior officials with either politically tainted or inexperienced officials. The book further documents how a decentralized version of this strategy led to two generations of weak leadership in the Chinese Communist Party, creating the conditions for Xi's rapid consolidation of power after 2012.


‘At a time when scholarship and public opinion alike stress the seamless strength of the Chinese Communist state, Victor Shih paints a more complex picture in which insecure leaders from Mao to Xi assemble Coalitions of the Weak to perpetuate their personal rule. Based on a wealth of primary sources, Shih's fascinating analysis reveals an inherent tradeoff between autocratic power and policy success that points to a fundamental vulnerability at the heart of China's political system.'

Elizabeth J. Perry - Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government, Harvard University

‘Shih's focus on Coalitions of the Weak offers a novel explanation for Mao's continued dominance during the last decade of his life. As important, it illuminates Xi Jinping's rise to power, the steps he has taken to strengthen his position, and the tension this creates between prolonging his personal leadership and fostering institutions that might ensure the future stability of the regime he heads.'

Avery Goldstein - David M. Knott Professor of Global Politics and International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

‘Why did Mao as he aged surround himself with mediocrities and novices, while sidelining his old revolutionary colleagues? How did he survive at the top of a brutal power structure even as his health and cognition failed? Victor Shih suggests these questions are related. In a penetrating account of Chinese politics based on decades of careful research, he shows how in the looking-glass world of dictatorship weakness becomes strength and past disgrace serves to guarantee current obedience.'

Daniel Treisman - Professor of Political Science, UCLA and co-author of Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century

‘Combining deep country expertise, a unique data set, and insights from the political science academy, Prof. Shih pries open the black box of China’s elite politics and shines a bright light inside. Coalitions of the Weak should be essential reading for anyone grappling with the implications of China’s rapid rise.’

Tom Orlik - Chief Economist, Bloomberg, author of China: The Bubble That Never Pops

… a monumental book for specialists that raises important questions and advances a novel frame for the analysis of Chinese politics.'

David M. Lampton Source: China Quarterly

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