Book Talk: Factional-Ideological Conflicts in Chinese Politics To the Left or to the Right?

429 Muirhead Tower
Tuesday 21 November 2023 (13:00-14:30)

Convenor: Dr Kailing Xie

With speaker Dr Olivia Cheung (Research Fellow, SOAS China Institute)

Despite the importance of Chinese elite politics to understanding how the Chinese Communist Party works, it has long been one of the least well-understood subjects in the study of China. 

In theory, the Chinese Communist Party is organised on the basis of ‘democratic centralism’, the Leninist principle that subjugates ‘democracy’, or the freedom of party members, to ‘centralism’, or the demand for unity and discipline. However, the reality was that from the late Mao Zedong period until Xi Jinping disciplined the Party aggressively, party elites repeatedly flouted democratic centralism by expressing, in public, visions of socialism and political reform at odds with the party line. At various points in time, party elites used Dazhai, Anhui, Nanjie, Shekou, Shenzhen, Guangdong, and Chongqing as their local bases to mobilize support for their revisionist viewpoints and to push for policy changes accordingly. Their practice, which Dr Olivia Cheung calls ‘factional model-making’, certainly violates party discipline. However, it was tacitly tolerated by the party leadership. 

Discussing her new book, Factional-ideological Conflicts in Chinese Politics: To the Left or to the Right?, Dr Olivia Cheung argues that factional model-making plays a unique and important role in reinforcing collective leadership at the upper party echelons. It also ensures the deliberation of opposite viewpoints in the policy process. Furthermore, it provides candid and credible political information otherwise short in supply. Xi’s mutation of factional model-making to party model-making, as seen in Zhejiang, has reinvigorated democratic centralism, possibly at the cost of longer-term regime resilience. 

The e-book version of the book is freely downloadable from Amsterdam University Press and the hardcover version of the book can also be ordered via the Amsterdam University Press website.


Dr Olivia Cheung (DPhil, Oxon) is Research Fellow of the China Institute at SOAS University of London. She is the author of Factional-ideological Conflicts in Chinese Politics: To the Left or to the Right? (Amsterdam University Press, 2023) and The Political Thought of Xi Jinping (with Steve Tsang) (Oxford University Press, 2024). 

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