Though Chinese politics is forever a mystery to Westerners, one can make out its outlines. Supreme power lies in the six-man Standing Committee of the Politburo. The Politburo of 25 men is where politics shifts and simmers; below it is the 210-member Central Committee, where younger people, engineers, technicians, provincial party leaders voice the growing pressures from below. Outside them all is the army — wary, suspicious, slowly being subordinated by the Standing Committee to the government.

All decisions come to final judgment in the six-man Standing Committee, a band of old wartime veterans dominated by Deng Xiaoping. He does not hold...

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