This book was one of the first to look closely at how Chinese Communism really worked, rather than guessing based on readings of Mao's works and Party propaganda. Barnett interviewed at great length emigres who had just come from China to Hong Kong to form a picture of how the bureaucracy worked in a central ministry and at three different levels of local government. Despite the small number of interviews conducted, most of Barnett's findings have held up quite well over time. Many of the party and government structures he described still exist, even in the New New China.
There is no central argument to the book, the goal was simply to describe and understand how China really worked. As such, the book probably is best treated as a reference work.