Following the Leader by David Lampton University of California Press 3.5 stars David Bartram China's modern political elite may look very different than it did during the days of Deng Xiaoping, but it remains frustratingly opaque to those observers without a window on the corridors of power. So Dr David Lampton's attempt to pull back the curtain on the individuals behind the post-Mao Zedong transformation is welcome. Based on 558 interviews with Chinese officials spanning almost four decades, Following the Leader: Ruling China, From Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping sets out to humanise figures usually only remembered for their political contribution. Over a long China career at John Hopkins University, Lampton has enjoyed access not only to presidents but also to a host of senior-level officials. The interviews form the basis of an analysis on the changing nature of leadership on the mainland. China, Lampton argues, has moved away from charismatic leaders in the mould of Mao or Deng and towards bureaucrats who favour governance by committee. It's a transition perfectly represented by the downfall of former Politburo member Bo Xilai, a leader of the old school outmanoeuvred by President Xi Jinping and his allies. Lampton's interviews yield some fascinating anecdotes, not least the story of Bo simultaneously hosting two banquets for foreign investors while mayor of Dalian in the 1990s. He spent the evening frantically rushing between the two, trying to impress American and then Japanese business delegations. The interviews with political heavyweights provide some interesting insights. Former president Jiang Zemin talks about his leadership handover to Hu Jintao, and his determination not to repeat the mistakes of Mao and Deng during their handovers. But perhaps of more interest are the interviews with lower-level officials. One district party secretary from Shanghai captures the essence of the political shift: "[Before] we didn't care about people's views," he says. "Now we listen." Elsewhere there is a brief encounter with two members of the Gang of Four and an account of sitting in on an interview with former premier Zhou Enlai, who expresses "frighteningly vacuous views". There's former Shanghai mayor Xu Kuangdi, who "went into raptures over Mozart". And there's former premier Wen Jiabao, who is asked by a US congressman about the sacking of a Peking University professor and is incredulous the American is concerned about such a small problem while Wen has "1.3 billion people on my mind". Such anecdotes go some way towards showing the changing mindset of China's leadership. Lampton does cover a lot of ground - everything from military spending to the rising middle class - but ties it all together well by keeping a tight focus on the political elite. If there's one criticism, it's that Lampton might sometimes be better off giving his interviewees a little more room to tell their own story. Still, this is a fascinating look at how China's leadership defines politics on the mainland.