Departures Podcast with Victor Shih, author of ‘Coalitions of the Weak’

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As China approaches the 20th Party Congress to be held at the end of the year, President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping is aggressively promoting his government’s superhuman achievements and infallible contributions to the glory of the state, making his case for an inevitable third term, and perhaps, leadership for life.

But the problem with long-running leaders of authoritarian systems is that after a while, the people they surround themselves with are no longer the most trusted, the most competent, and the most influential – instead a pattern emerges that the leader prefers to be surrounded by weak, marginal officials who pose no threat to their leadership. This is the core argument of a fascinating book by Victor Shih of the University of California San Diego called,Coalitions of the Weak: Elite Politics in China from Mao’s Stratagem to the Rise of Xi.”

In his conversation with Robert Amsterdam, Shih shares fresh insights and fascinating details of the late Mao period based on a deep investigation of archival documents and data, showing how the most well networked officials were pushed aside in favor of politically tainted and incapable functionaries, leading to two generations of weak central leadership – a vacuum which provided the opening for the rise of Xi.