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Mao’s Invisible Hand

Mao’s Invisible Hand

The Political Foundations of Adaptive Governance in China

Edited by Sebastian Heilmann and Elizabeth J. Perry

ISBN 9780674060630

Publication date: 05/01/2011

Observers have been predicting the demise of China’s political system since Mao Zedong’s death over thirty years ago. The Chinese Communist state, however, seems to have become increasingly adept at responding to challenges ranging from leadership succession and popular unrest to administrative reorganization, legal institutionalization, and global economic integration. What political techniques and procedures have Chinese policymakers employed to manage the unsettling impact of the fastest sustained economic expansion in world history?

As the authors of these essays demonstrate, China’s political system allows for more diverse and flexible input than would be predicted from its formal structures. Many contemporary methods of governance have their roots in techniques of policy generation and implementation dating to the revolution and early PRC—techniques that emphasize continual experimentation. China’s long revolution had given rise to this guerrilla-style decisionmaking as a way of dealing creatively with pervasive uncertainty. Thus, even in a post-revolutionary PRC, the invisible hand of Chairman Mao—tamed, tweaked, and transformed—plays an important role in China’s adaptive governance.


  • Mao’s Invisible Hand is one of those books that make one feel good about scholarship. It describes inner workings of Chinese Communist society about which few nonexperts know anything—it may even surprise the experts—and it will interest anyone professionally interested in China. Its central purpose is to explain how China has escaped the disintegration of other Communist states.

    —Jonathan Mirsky, New York Review of Books


  • Sebastian Heilmann is Professor of Comparative Government and the Political Economy of China at the University of Trier.
  • Elizabeth J. Perry is Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government at Harvard University and Director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute.

Book Details

  • 336 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center