Where the Party Rules: The Rank and File of China's Communist State

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018

In most non-democratic countries, today governing 44 percent of the world population, the power of the regime rests upon a ruling party. Contrasting with conventional notions that authoritarian regime parties serve to contain elite conflict and manipulate electoral-legislative processes, this book presents the case of China and shows that rank-and-file members of the Communist Party allow the state to penetrate local communities. Subnational comparative analysis demonstrates that in “red areas” with high party saturation, the state is most effectively enforcing policy and collecting taxes. Because party membership patterns are extremely enduring, they must be explained by events prior to the Communist takeover in 1949. Frontlines during the anti-colonial Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) continue to shape China’s political map even today. Newly available evidence from the Great Leap Forward (1958–1961) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) shows how a strong local party basis sustained the regime in times of existential crisis.

"We know what makes democracy work, but we didn't know what makes autocracy work, until now" James A. Robinson, University of Chicago


“This path-breaking book succeeds in uncovering and tracing sources of Chinese state strength that have so far been widely underrated and under-researched. Striking qualitative and quantitative findings point to the varied and shifting geography of the CCP’s power base through time. Koss shows how the Communist Party’s grassroots branches have provided the Chinese state with an extra capacity for political mobilization and policy implementation that other political systems lack.” Sebastian Heilmann, Founding President of the Mercator Institute for China Studies


“Daniel Koss, diplomat turned scholar, has done an amazing amount of field work to try to understand how the post-1949 Chinese authoritarian regime functions differently in different localities. He combines intensive interviewing with quantitative data and searches through archives. By examining variations between counties on issues like birth control, he sheds light on how the Party rules.” Ezra Vogel, Harvard University


Where the Party Rules is a work of remarkable scope, imagination, and intellectual energy. Koss traces temporal and spatial variation in Chinese Communist Party’s penetration of society from its origins in the anti-Japanese War through subsequent decades and into the present. Tied to an explicit set of theoretical propositions, the analysis sheds surprising light on a range of essential political outcomes. The book sets a new standard for scholarship on the most essential of Chinese political institutions.” Andrew G. Walder, Stanford University