Roderick Macfarquhar is Leroy B. Williams Research Professor of History and Political Science at Harvard. His latest publication as editor and contributor is The Politics of China: Sixty Years of the People’s Republic of China.
 (August 2015)

China: The Superpower of Mr. Xi

President Xi Jinping, Central Discipline Inspection Committee Secretary Wang Qishan, and Premier Li Keqiang, Tiananamen Square, Beijing, September 2014
In the almost one-hundred-year existence of the Chinese Communist Party, its current general secretary, Xi Jinping, is only the second leader clearly chosen by his peers. The first was Mao Zedong. Both men beat out the competition, and thus secured a legitimacy their predecessors lacked. Why was Xi chosen?

Paddling to Peking

Zhuang Zedong playing at the twenty-sixth World Table Tennis Championships, in which he won the men’s singles title, Beijing, 1961
For Richard Nixon’s foreign policy, 1971 was the best of years and the worst of years. He revealed his opening to China, but he connived at genocide in East Pakistan. Fortunately for him, the world marveled at the one, but was largely ignorant of the other. The two events were …

The ‘Breaking of an Honorable Career’

John Paton Davies Jr., circa 1943, when he was a State Department official based in China
In the 1950s, the late John King Fairbank, the dean of modern China studies at Harvard, used to tell us graduate students a joke about the allegation that a group of red-leaning foreign service officers and academics—the four Johns—had “lost” China: John Paton Davies, John Stewart Service, John Carter Vincent, …

Who Was Mao Zedong?

Dong Xiwen: The Founding Ceremony of the Nation (1951), showing Mao proclaiming the birth of the People’s Republic of China from the Imperial Palace Gate at Tiananmen Square, 1949
In Kashgar’s largest bazaar a few years ago, I spotted a pencil holder sporting an iconic Cultural Revolution image: Mao Zedong and Marshal Lin Biao smiling together. But Mao’s personally chosen heir apparent had been a nonperson since 1971, when he allegedly godfathered an abortive plot to kill the Chairman …

The Worst Man-Made Catastrophe, Ever

Chen Yanning: Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside, 1972. This painting, from Asia Society’s recent exhibition ‘Art and China’s Revolution,’ shows Mao’s visit to the outskirts of Guangzhou during the first year of the Great Leap Forward, the initiative that propelled China into a famine resulting in millions of deaths.
When the first waves of Chinese graduate students arrived on American campuses in the early 1980s, they were excited at entering an unfettered learning environment. After the recent ravages of the Cultural Revolution, political science students had few inhibitions about studying what had gone wrong in China as they were …

The Pride of Empire

Piers Brendon has written a splendid popular history of the British Empire, illustrating yet again the continuing nostalgia for and ambivalence about the glory days of the United Kingdom, when it ruled a quarter of the globe: fifty-eight countries, four hundred million people, fourteen million square miles.[^1] One way to …

Mission to Mao

“This was the week that changed the world” was Richard Nixon’s summing up at the end of his trip to China in February 1972.[^1] The hyperbole was justified, for this visit to China by an American president was a turning point in the cold war. Hitherto, the Soviet Union and …

India: The Imprint of Empire

In 1947, on the eve of Indian independence, my parents arranged for me to fly from Britain for what promised to be our last family holiday in the subcontinent. As a British member of the Indian Civil Service, my father expected to leave with the departing Raj.[^1] My mother and …

Demolition Man

Deng Xiaoping was eulogized by his colleagues as the “chief architect” of China’s reform program and its opening to the outside world.[^1] This was misleading. Deng was no master builder. Unlike his patron, Mao Zedong, and fortunately for his countrymen, he had no utopian blueprints for the future, except perhaps …

Deng’s Last Campaign

China had its own form of grueling political campaign this year, which ended when the Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party (CCP) took place in October. There, too, the issue was “change” and the main concern the economy. But in China the economy has been in good shape: it was …

John King Fairbank (1907–1991)

John Fairbank, who died on September 14 at the age of eighty-four, read virtually all serious Western works on China. Reviewing them, principally for The New York Review in the last several years, was for him one way of keeping abreast of China scholarship. He never got into the habit …

The Anatomy of Collapse

The collapse of communism in the motherland of the revolution is a devastating political and psychological blow to the gerontocratic leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). But while the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) seems on the verge of extinction, the CCP has survived the challenge to its existence and has regrouped.

The End of the Chinese Revolution

When Deng Xiaoping suppressed the Beijing Spring last month, he thought he was putting down a new Cultural Revolution. Pirated notes from a Party meeting in late April quoted him as telling his colleagues: This is not an ordinary student movement. It is turmoil…. What they are doing now is …

Passing the Baton in Beijing

Succession has become an omnipresent problem not only in China but throughout Asia. Long-lasting regimes under aging rulers are entering their twilight zone in North Korea, Burma, and Indonesia, and face a period of weakness and uncertainty, for the moment of succession is the midnight of the state; in Taiwan, …

The End of the Long March

In Peking last September, China’s supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, pensioned off the surviving generals of the Long March. Fifty years after their epic exploit, these old soldiers finally agreed to fade away. Deng must hope that the legend has now been laid to rest, and that China can enter a …