Reform without Liberalization

China's National People's Congress and the Politics of Institutional Change

Reform without Liberalization

Since its founding in 1954, the National People's Congress of China (NPC) has followed a difficult course of development, a course which has been characterized by periods of limited progress intermingled with periods of stagnation and regression. Political campaigns from the Anti-Rightist Movement (1957-1958) to the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) frustrated the establishment of any consistent policy concerning the appropriate role of the legislature within the one-party, Maoist regime. Mao's death in 1976, however, ushered in a new era of political reform which has included the strengthening of the NPC. In this first detailed study of the NPC, Kevin O'Brien examines how the NPC has changed from its founding under Mao through the regime of Deng Xiaoping. He describes the various functions it has served, from the management of intra-elite relations; to the incorporation, and co-optation, of criticisms of regime policies into regime debates; to legislation and supervision of government agencies. The author concludes that although the NPC has not moved toward liberalization, meaning movement toward political autonomy and direct representation of citizen interests, increased legislative involvement in lawmaking, oversight and regime support indicates that the NPC is developing an expanded, more powerful role in the political system.


"Kevin O'Brien's book is the first full analysis of the structure and functioning of China's 'Parliament'--the National People's Congress." Christopher Howe, Times Higher Education Supplement

"...a perceptive and suggestive book....If democracy is ever to come to China, people can look back to this book as the first to tell what changes had to come to produce a real legislature." Lucian Pye, China Quarterly

"...a most thorough and comprehensive examination of mainland China's National People's Congress. As such, his work fills a void in the study of Chinese politics, and I suspect that it will stand as the definitive study of China's NPC for many years to come. Moreover, this book's appeal will not be limited only to those who study China. It should prove useful both to students of comparative politics and to those who study legislative behavior. In sum, O'Brien has completed a significant work which is worthy of considerable attention." Dennis Hickey, Social Science Quarterly

"Reform without Liberalization is a fine book that offers more information on an important institution than has ever before been available. It is based on solid research, makes sound judgments on important questions and advances our understanding of Chinese politics." Barrett McCormick, Journal of Asian Studies

"This volume constitutes a valuable, thoroughly researched, and pioneering study of the NPC....provides the most carefully documented, thorough, and reliable study currently available to scholars and significantly enhances our understanding of the NPC's role in the Chinese polity since its establishment in 1954." William Badour, Pacific Affairs

"The book is thoroughly researched, with valuable footnotes and bibliography--more evidence of the vitality, self-confidence and funding of Chinese studies in the United States." International Affairs

"...fills an inportant gap in the field of Chinese political science...[T]he importance of the book is unquestioned. It contains a wealth of information and an excellent overview of the structure and the functioning of the NPC." China Information

"In fact, this is the best account on the subject by far. It should be recommended to all who are interested in contemporary Chinese politics." Young-tsu Wong, The Historian

"O'Brien has written a fine work on a subject that is sure to receive much more attention in the future." The Journal of Politics

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