Few if any issues affect the future of China—and hence all the nations that interact with China—more than the nature of its ruling party and government. In this timely study, David Shambaugh argues that although China's Communist Party (CCP) has been languishing in a protracted state of atrophy, it has also recently embarked on a process of fierce critical introspection, adaptation, and reinvention. By way of assessing its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as its willingness to learn from other communist countries, the party’s aim is to insure its own survival and future dominance in China.

Shambaugh’s investigation is animated by these questions: How has the Chinese Communist Party survived in power when so many other communist parties have fallen? What lessons has the CCP learned from the collapse of these other communist party states and other ruling party systems (surviving communist states, single-party authoritarian states, multiparty systems, and social democratic systems)? How has the CCP analyzed its own condition and how has this analysis been fused with the study of other systems? How have these lessons been applied in China since 1989? Will the CCP endure as the ruling party in China? Drawing on a unique set of inner-Party documents and interviews, Shambaugh finds that China’s Communist Party is resilient and will continue to retain its grip on power.

David Shambaugh is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the China Policy Program at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. He was a fellow at the Wilson Center in 2002–3.

A Chinese-language edition of Shambaugh’s book was published in 2011 by the Central Compilation and Translation Press, Beijing.


1. Introduction: The Chinese Communist Party after Communism

2. The Western Discourse on Communist Party-States

3. The Western Discourse on the Chinese Communist Party-State

4. The Chinese Discourse on Communist Party-States

5. The Chinese Discourse on Noncommunist Party-States

6. Rebuilding the Party: The Ideological Dimension

7. Rebuilding the Party: The Organizational Dimension

8. Staying Alive: Can the Chinese Communist Party Survive?


“The book is a must for those who are interested in how and why the Party has been able to cope with its biggest crisis after the Cultural Revolution.”—Kjeld Erik Brødsgaard, The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies

“Shambaugh’s book is a very fitting one to turn to just now.... Shambaugh provides one of the best accounts yet of the post-1989 reinvention of the Chinese Communist Party.” —Huffington Post

“Sobering but illuminating. . . . Exciting to read.”—New York Review of Books

“Fascinating study.”—Anthony Saich, Political Science Quarterly

“A valuable addition to the debate on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the prospect of political change and societal stability in China.... A page turner, well researched and informative.”—Journal of Asian Studies

“Shambaugh shows how the Chinese Communist Party...improved its ability to control the rate of change in China and stay in power. Its moves toward internal democracy, he argues, are intended to avoid the fate of the Soviet Communist Party.”—Foreign Affairs

“Why has the Chinese Communist Party kept its grip on power while the former communist states of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have collapsed? And where is China heading? In these pages, David Shambaugh provides a much-needed intellectual framework for thinking about China’s recent past and future.”—J. Stapleton Roy, former US Ambassador to China, Indonesia, and Singapore

“To understand Chinese politics, one has to understand the complex and manifold role of the Chinese Communist Party. Shambaugh’s book provides this much-needed knowledge and insight.”—Zbigniew Brzezinski, Center for Strategic and International Studies

“This book‘s coverage of comparative communism is a tour de force, breaking exciting new ground in explaining the important debates over the Soviet Union. Its analysis of the ideological and organizational rebuilding of the Party sets the standard for future writings on Chinese politics.”—Gilbert Rozman, Princeton University

“David Shambaugh’s innovative investigation of how China understood the fall of European communism contributes an important new dimension to our understanding of the Chinese regime’s own trajectory. This book reveals how well the Chinese learned their lessons, as demonstrated by the regime’s carefully targeted adaptations and its consequent survival.”—Andrew J. Nathan, Columbia University