Reframing china policy:is communist party rule sustainable in china?


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009

JESSICA T. MATHEWS: Ladies and gentlemen – oh, that’s a very obedient
audience. (Laughter.) Before I start, may I ask everybody to turn off their cell phones?
And, hoping that this is not an unconstitutional request, the sound people tell us that their
system is so delicate that would you please also turn off the vibrate because it picks it up.
My name is Jessica Mathews. I’m president of the Carnegie Endowment, and it is
a great privilege and honor to be here today. For years, and indeed for decades,
American policy towards China and American views of China had tended to pendulumswing
between extremes of antagonism and embrace. It’s been difficult, I think as
everybody in this room knows, to find and to maintain a steady policy consensus, often
with very costly consequences.
The stakes of getting it right have never been higher than they are today, and
that’s why we are here. China’s recent meteoric rise means that its economy could
eclipse that of the United States by the middle of this century, leading to a reordering of
the global trade and investment system and a redistribution of global power. Equally
momentous would be a Chinese reversal or even a collapse, entailing the prospect of
significant geopolitical instability with serious implications for U.S. security.
Today’s debate, put on by the China program of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace inaugurates a series of such events, which we’ve entitled “Reframing
China Policy,” in which we will bring to Capitol Hill and to Washington policy circles
and to policy circles beyond this city the best expert thinking on the key issues related to
China’s rise. The debates will touch on politics – domestic politics, as we are doing
today – on economics, on security, on regional stability issues and on global issues.
So many discussions of China-related issues are dominated in this country by
sharp rhetoric, by bias, by untested assumptions of one kind or another, and our goal is to
have a series of discussions that eliminate all of those in favor of critical analysis,
rigorous debate, and deliberation.
The question for our first debate is “Is the Chinese Communist Party Rule
Sustainable,” and the debaters are two of the world’s leading experts in this field:
Professors Andrew Nathan of Columbia University and Roderick MacFarquhar of
Harvard University.
Mr. Nathan is the Class of 1919 Professor and former chair of the Department of
Political Science at Columbia. He currently serves as co-chair of the Human Rights in
China Board and has published numerous books on Chinese politics and security,
including China’s Transition, and several others, which are on the table over there.
Mr. MacFarquhar is the Leroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political
Science at Harvard. He was the founding editor of the China Quarterly, the leading
journal on China and the Western world. He has written the final two volumes of the
“Cambridge History of China,” and has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson
International Center here in Washington, as well as many other states outside Cambridge.
Professor Nathan will argue that the Communist Party will be able to sustain
itself, and Professor MacFarquhar will take the opposite view.
In additional to our debaters, we are pleased and very proud to have such a
distinguished with many chiefs of staff from both the House and the Senate, and a range
of policy experts here today.
Before turning over this podium to our moderator, I want to thank Congressman
Jim Leach, chairman of the Asia Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs, and his
staff, for arranging for us to hold this debate in this beautiful site, and to Jim Billington,
Librarian of Congress, for his support.
I also want to recognize and thank the GE Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation
for their very important financial support of this series, without which we couldn’t do it.
And now let me introduce to you Minxin Pei, the chairman of the – the director of
the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment, who is going to moderate today’s debate.
MINXIN PEI: Thank you, Jessica. I have suddenly been promoted to be
chairman. (Laughter.) That’s good news.
I want to say a few words about today’s format. Each speaker will start with a 10-
mintue presentation of his main arguments. Then they will have a five-minute rebuttal
each. Then we will open for questions. It is very important that you write your questions
on the index cards that are placed on your seat. And please do so before the end of the
rebuttal and pass them to the podium and then we will select from these questions and ask
our speakers to address them. We will have roughly 30 to 35 minutes for questions. At
the end of the question session, we will allow each speaker to make a five-minute
concluding summary.
I also want to alert you that tonight at the Carnegie Endowment, starting at 6:00,
we’re going to have a book event celebrating Professor MacFarquhar’s latest work on the
Cultural Revolution: Mao’s Last Revolution, and all of you are welcome to that event.
And the proceedings for this debate and the series of debates will be made
available on Carnegie’s website, so please go there if you want to get access to the
Now let Professor Andy Nathan start the debate
ANDREW NATHAN: I’d like to thank the Carnegie Endowment and thank
Jessica Mathews and Pei Minxin for arranging this. I’m of course a long-time admirer of
Rod MacFarquhar, as everybody in the field is. It’s not common for us professor types to
actually debate, so you will probably be disappointed at the low level of blood on the
floor – (laughter) – but we will try to disagree.
Now, it’s always – we always expect China to do the unexpected. China has
often surprised us with sudden changes, but it seems to me that the surprise in China over
the past 30 or so years has actually been what I call the resilience of the regime, not its
unchanging character but its ability to change in order to keep power in the face of
serious challenges.
So, for example, after Mao died, as Rod details in his new book, the country was
in very bad shape and Deng was concerned that the people would no longer accept
Chinese Communist Party rule – the Party could be overthrown – so he undertook the
reform and opening strategy, which somehow kept the Chinese Communist Party in
power through changes in its policies and in many of its internal practices and in statesociety
Then there was Tiananmen in 1989 when the Party faced broad social
conflagration, not only student demonstrations in Beijing, but demonstrations in over 300
cities around the country, not only by students but by urban residents. This was
permitted to happen by a Party split. There were many issues in the society – corruption
and so forth – but the Party somehow – again, with Deng – pulled it off and continued to
The Party has also survived globalization. Many analysts, from Talcott Parsons,
the famous Harvard sociologist back in the 1950s up to Tom Friedman of the New York
Times, have predicted that authoritarian regimes can’t survive what used to be called
modernization and what has now become globalization, for a variety of reasons. But
China has – the regime has also adapted to these. We’ve seen in China the rise of a
middle class, but that middle class has not demanded democracy but has been co-opted
by the Party and has prospered in alliance with the Party.
We’ve seen the rise of the Internet. Everybody said the regime cannot control the
Internet and other diverse information sources that have flooded into China – the
diversity of the Chinese media themselves and Hong Kong television and so forth – but it
has. It has invested enough manpower and has developed enough technology to prevent
the Internet from overthrowing it. The Internet is a seething hotbed of activity but the
regime is able to patrol it and to cut off the parts of it – the things that happen on the
Internet that could cumulate into a movement to overthrow the regime. Even cell phones,
instant messaging, the Party has been able thus far to adapt and create methods to prevent
that from being used to coordinate a movement against it.
And, third, in globalization, the Party has somehow resisted soft power, the
apparent triumph of democracy and human rights, and has instead put forward a different
idea, which is appealing to, apparently, many of the Chinese people, which is we can
provide economic growth, we can tell the Americans and the Japanese no, we can prevent
Taiwan from going independent, get the Olympics, be a great power on the world scene
and develop our own model of government without having to adopt our model from the
West. This appeals to nationalism, it appeals to the Chinese sense of being a great
civilization that has its own way of doing things.
What are the key instruments that the Party has developed to maintain stability,
particularly in recent years, because we’re more concerned with the present than we are
with the deep past, or at least that’s my focus in my presentation. So under – for
example, under Hu Jintao, what have we seen as the Party continues to adapt in a moving
game to keep itself empowered through adaptation?
Well, number one, we’ve seen policy changes. The regime is as aware as we are
of problem in the society and it studies them, it has technocrats, it has intelligence, it
gathers information, and it makes policy decisions, not all of which are good and not all
of which get fully implemented, but it has taken a lot of bold and relevant policy
decisions. It opened up on AIDS; it has been attacking corruption, as you know; it has
abolished agricultural fees and taxes; it has addressed a lot of the problems that worry the
people. There are always new problems cropping. It’s building a social welfare system.
New problems crop up and no policy change is ever enough, but the regime does move.
It has developed a number of safety valves for the very large masses of
dissatisfied elements in the society to have an alternative other than trying to overthrow
the regime. There is the court system, which doesn’t work too well but it nonetheless
attracts a lot of lawsuits because people would – it’s safer to do that. There is the letters
and visits system; there is administrative litigation; there are letters to the newspaper.
There are a variety of alternatives that people have and which many people use.
A third thing that it’s done is – something I’ve already covered – is to have
successes in the foreign policy area, and that wins it a lot of credit with the people. I’ve
lost count – I think it’s a fourth or a fifth thing--is to keep the economy going so it lifts
more and more people out of poverty and has hundreds of millions of people who feel
that their interests lie with the regime.
The two most important things that the regime does, I think – because my view is
that you have to look top-down. I mean, a regime of this kind is overthrown when it
gives up. So we want to look, first of all, at the regime’s willpower. And two key
instruments that the regime uses to stay in power are repression – it’s very repressive and
successful; it’s selective but tough and it doesn’t want to send any signals of softness, and
people get the message; and finally, unity within the elite.
The elite did split in 1989 but they seemed to have learned a lesson, both from
that and from the Eastern European and Soviet examples, that it’s dangerous to split.
And thus far Hu Jintao has enjoyed a stable and peaceful succession to power even
though he wasn’t Jiang’s guy but he was chosen by Deng Xiaoping. And he has
apparently consolidated power. And interestingly, according to Joe Kahn in the New
York Times a couple of days ago, with the help of Zeng Qinghong, and that’s something
that Bruce Gilley and I actually forecasted in our book on the table, China’s New Rulers,
that leaders are pragmatic about power and Zeng Qinghong is pragmatic about power and
he’s very important. He had come up under Jiang Zemin and now he’s helping Hu Jintao
to consolidate his power. As long as the elite holds together and continues to engineer
stable successions, it will be very difficult to overthrow them.
Now, it’s true that all the problems that everybody points to are there: corruption,
the disadvantaged groups, the land seizures, the un-working public health system, the
non-performing loans in the Chinese banking system. There are many, many problems.
And I not only acknowledge but I proactively assert that the resilience I’m describing, the
stability of the regime that I’m describing, is vulnerable, potentially, to what poli-sci
people call power deflation. In other words, if the regime should be overtaken by a crisis
that it can’t manage and appear to be weak, you would see this crumble much faster than
you see it crumbling in a place like the United States where we have similar problems but
power doesn’t crumble so fast because our power is more normatively than coercively
But if you ask about scenarios that would cause that to happen, the regime to be
caught unaware and to become divided, there aren’t that many realistic ones visible on
the horizon. A war in the Taiwan Strait that they lose could cause that unraveling, but
that war doesn’t seem to be coming. A war in North Korea that led to an unmanageable
flood of refugees could lead to that kind of a scenario, but that war I hope is not coming
also. A public health crisis that got out of control could lead to that kind of unraveling,
but I don’t see the signs of that either. Much less do I see the signs of an opposition
movement that could come in as an alternative leader or a democratic faction within the
Party itself that would want to promote a democratization scenario.
Finally – because the signs are being waved at me, and this is Washington, D.C. –
I think that U.S. policy should be based on the assumption that this regime will still be
there. Now, of course many of our policies are based on that assumption, but what’s not
based on that assumption is the rhetoric that says that through engagement we will
change China. I think that rhetoric is misleading. It risks losing American public
And in the little paper that I’ve written, which Carnegie will post, I elaborate the
implications of what I’ve just said for the importance of human rights in American China
policy. Of course it occupies a certain role, but I think it could be more since the regime
is going to continue to be there. We need to try to work hard to improve its law-abiding
Thank you.
MR. PEI: Now Rod.
RODERICK MACFARQUHAR: Let me add my thanks to Andy’s to the
Carnegie Endowment, to Jessica Mathews, and to Pei Minxin and their staff for putting
this on in this tremendous building. I know when I was a member of the House of
Commons I don’t recall having a room like this to relax in. (Laughter.)
I’m told by Minxin – I just asked him – if any of you have read the papers, and he
said, no, of course not; we didn’t distribute them because otherwise they wouldn’t have
come. (Laughter.) So what you won’t know is there is an enormous amount of overlap
in the papers. I mean, virtually nothing that Andy has said would I disagree with. In fact,
I say many of the same things.
And what’s more, when you read the papers – if you read the papers after you’ve
heard us – you will see that we have both adopted something I’m told is quite common in
Washington; that is covering our backsides. You see, Andy says that this regime is
resilient according to its present trajectory. Well, the trajectory can change at any
moment. And I say, that the regime is fragile but I draw a comparison with the San
Andreas fault in California, which is supposed to put California down the tubes if it ever
blows. So I can say that the regime is fragile but I don’t say when it’s going to happen
except that for the sake of this argument I do say that it will be in years not decades. So
what you might say is that Andy is “Mr. glass half full” and I'm “Mr. glass half empty”
because we do agree on many things.
Let me sketch – what I do say in my paper – some of the historical reasons why
the regime today is fragile. Historically the Chinese regime, under Mao and to some
extent under Deng, but diminished, but certainly under Mao, was powerful because of a
number of factors, which are now greatly weakened. First and foremost, there was Mao
himself, and after Mao there was Deng. These are leaders whose authority was enormous
– Deng not as big as Mao’s but still enormous authority – and they were able to take their
colleagues with them, whether they liked it or not in some cases in Chairman Mao’s time,
and that was very important for the stability of the leadership.
Andy makes the point in his presentation that the leadership is more stable now,
but in fact, in the 30 years from ’45 to ’66, when the Cultural Revolution started, the
Chinese leadership was very stable. It was only in the Cultural Revolution that it began
to show signs of instability. And the absence of the leader, the charismatic leader, to be
able to enforce policies in times of crisis, whether it’s the Cultural Revolution, whether
it’s Tiananmen, that is a very important lack in the present system. Hu Jintao is clearly a
very canny, bureaucratic infighter. Charismatic he is not.
Second factor, and that is the Party. Now, I imagine that if 100 members of
Congress were frog-marched down Pennsylvania Avenue with dunces caps on their heads
and then taken to the local stadium and denounced and perhaps tortured, that you might
begin to wonder whether Congress is all that good an institution. And that’s what
happened in the Cultural Revolution to the Party. The Party was trashed by Mao and
people were tortured. Some died; some were killed. And in my view, the Party lost
enormous legitimacy as a result of those events and has never recovered it. Andy is right
to say that they use repression, that they use all sorts of other methods to try and maintain
their position, but they have never recovered and never will recover that position of
A third factor – very important: Under Mao there was Marxism, Leninism and
Mao Zedong thought. It was the glue that held the Party, the leader and the society
together. It explained the past, it told you about the present, and it predicted the future.
Enormously powerful. That’s gone. It’s supposed to one of the four cardinal principles
to be respected, but no one actually consults their ideological textbooks when they decide
on policy. And without that glue, successive Chinese leaders have been trying to find
some way of re-legitimizing themselves, their Party with the people. We’ve had
socialism with Chinese characteristics, we’ve had the four represents, we’ve now got the
harmonious society. None of these things had the power that Marxism, Leninism, and
Mao Zedong thought had to unite people.
And fourthly, the most powerful thing of all, in some respects, was the People’s
Liberation Army, which, in effect, took over power during the Cultural Revolution and
which undoubtedly saved the regime in 1989. Armies don’t like to fire on their own
citizens as they did in ’89 and as they did during the Cultural Revolution, and I doubt
very much without a Mao as a leader, without a Deng as a leader that the army will again
be prepared to pull the politicians’ chestnuts out of the fire for them.
So those four factors are no longer as powerful as they were before. And I think
that the other point about this is that the leadership has not solved the problems that it
faces within itself. Andy has said, in a very interesting article that he wrote and also
alludes to this in his paper, that they solved the succession problem, and he lists this as
point number one for the reason for resilience and stability. They’ve not solved the
succession problem. Succession is absolutely crucial. It’s the midnight of the state when
power passes from experienced hands to less-experienced hands. In the old days it used
to be done very quickly for safety reasons – the king is dead; long live the king. Now it’s
done at enormous lengths, as the United States knows only too well. But the idea is that
you get better security even if you don’t get speed.
But in China, they do it by nomination, and as Andy just said a minute ago, Deng
Xiaoping nominated Hu Jintao. Jiang Zemin reportedly was resentful that he was not
able to nominate his successor. Who is going to nominate Hu Jintao’s successor? Is
anyone going to agree within the leadership that Hu Jintao should nominate his own
successor? I find that difficult to believe. Deng Xiaoping, towards the end, when Jiang
Zemin was chosen, actually had to compromise. Even he had to compromise. I doubt if
Hu Jintao, albeit that he is trying to solidify his power by his current maneuvers, is going
to have that kind of authority when it comes for him to retire, which normally one would
expect to be in 2012. So that succession issue, which Andy rightly emphasizes as
absolutely crucial to stability, has not been solved in China.
Comment [D1]: Is this right?
And the second issue that he thinks has been resolved – and Andy is a longtime
expert on this subject – is factionalism He thinks they now control factionalism, it’s now
under control so they won’t tear each other apart because, as he rightly says again, if the
Party doesn’t hang together, it will hang separately. But what are we seeing in that story
that Joe Kahn is just reporting, which Andy referred to? That is about corruption
officially, and of course there’s corruption in Shanghai; there’s corruption everywhere in
China. Everyone knows that. But it’s not about corruption; it’s about political
maneuvering. It’s the attempt by the center, by Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao presumably, to
try to ensure that their writ) runs in a powerful city, the most powerful city outside the
capital of China. And it’s also to make sure that the remnants of Jiang Zemin’s faction,
which Zeng Qinghong has deserted, as Andy rightly says, that the remnants of his faction
are not going to challenge Hu Jintao in the run-up to next year’s Party Congress.
So those two aspects, I think, of stability, which Andy has emphasized, do not yet
exist in China. And this doesn’t mean to say that they can’t solve all sorts of problems,
because they do. This is a serious country with a serious government. But as he also
said, the unexpected happens, or as someone in this town once said, stuff happens. And it
does happen in China. The Cultural Revolution was something no one expected. That
was manmade. Tiananmen was not expected.
In January 1989, someone who came from China, a very respected Chinese
former Party senior journalist, said that he was told by a friend, who was a professor at
Peking University, that the students were interested in only two things: Mahjong and
TOEFL to get to American graduate schools. Four months later that was proved totally
wrong. SARS was unexpected. The Falun Gong turning up on the steps of the
Zhongnanhai, the center of government, 10,000 strong – totally unexpected. Fortunately
for the public security they were peacefully inclined. Otherwise it would have been very
So the unexpected, as Andy said, does happen, and my feeling is that all the
factors that we both lay out – and he actually lays out in greater detail than I do in his
presentation paper – all those factors that contribute to instability-- we do not know, and
more importantly, the Chinese leaders do not know, where the famous Maoist “single
spark” will light and spread nationwide. Maybe it won’t. Maybe he’s right.
I’m given one minute, but I don’t need one minute. Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. PEI: Andy will have five minutes to respond to Rod’s remarks.
MR. NATHAN: Thank you. This is fun, right? So I didn’t know tofu could get
you through America grad school, but it’s TOEFL – test of English as a foreign language.
Okay, now I think there is actually more of a difference between Rod and me than
he thinks. He says in his paper that, quote, the system will break down in years not
decades. He uses the word “collapse;” he uses the word “fracture fatally.” My question
then is how? I have several disagreements with that. How can we envision that
happening? I mean, as he said, stuff happens, but can we actually envision with our
analytical brain how this thing is going to happen or just say Martians will land and
something unexpected will happen? And it seems to me there are two things that under
the current circumstances I just do not envision.
One is the spark starting the prairie fire. That’s a very key point between Rod and
me, that some peasant uprising, some event, some shooting, something will cause a
nationwide conflagration. It’s precisely this that the whole repression system is geared to
prevent. And if we look closely at it through the eyes of the organization Human Rights
in China, for example, unfortunately that system is extremely effective at preventing it. I
don’t have time to go into all the whys and wherefores, but you can look on the CECC
website, for example – the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. They’re
good at that; they know how to do it. And it wouldn’t be the PLA next time – or it isn’t
now. It’s the People’s Armed Police, a large specialized force.
The other thing you would have to have for the system to fracture fatally is this
leadership crisis. I don’t think I actually said they had solved the succession problem in
the sense in which Rod indicated, as if for all time. I don’t think that’s true. But I will
say that compared to the struggles of the Mao years that Rod alludes to, the system is
extremely different. They now cultivate leaders like Hu Jintao – in fact, all the current
members of the Politburo – through a 20-or-more-year course – professional career
course that they go around through the Party and are looked at. The retired leaders retire
on time after the end of their term of office, and/or at a certain age, after they’ve reached
the age of 70. The elders no longer intervene, the military is no longer involved, and
decisions are made by the collective group.
Now, behind the scenes in the midnight hour, whether that collective group
engages in log rolling and various stratagems – I'm sure that they do, but many things are
importantly different. And they could split. But it seems to me what we see in the Zeng
Qinghong case is that they’re not splitting. That’s my first point. Oh, and finally, under
this first point I’d like to say that the main arguments Rod makes – the bankruptcy of the
ideology and so forth, what happened in the Cultural Revolution – are factors that have
been there for the past 30 years but they have not cause a split of the regime.
The second point I’d like to bring up, and last, is what would this look like, the
fracturing, the breakdown? And I think we can reason together. I don’t have an answer
to that but I just confess I have a hard time imagining a scenario that feels real to me by
which the masses would overthrow the Party. The masses are not unified; they’re very
divided. They’re shut up in their villages; they’re shut up in their communities. The
broad middle class of hundreds of millions doesn’t want to see the peasant and other
unfortunates overthrowing the Party. And they don’t have means of communication to
coordinate. Whenever anybody tries to set those up, as did Falun Gong, that organization
gets completely wiped out.
It’s hard for me to envision a scenario by which the leadership would split with a
faction that wanted to overthrow Communist Party rule. If there was a split in the
leadership it would be to seize the reins of the existing regime, the existing system and be
in charge of it but not to change the system, which is the argument here. And it’s hard –
in Minxin’s book he has another scenario. His scenarios are rather short, you know,
which frustrated me when I reviewed the book, but he says the Party might be – the
system may devolve into a series of local systems where different experiments would be
tried. I can’t see either the Party as an organization, or the military as an organization
allowing that to happen, partly because of the damage it would do to China’s security
MR. MACFARQUHAR: Well, I still don’t disagree with much of what Andy
just said. (Laughter.)
MR. NATHAN: I’m trying to – (off mike).
MR. MACFARQUHAR: I know you’re trying. But I think that – he says, how
does one imagine it happening? Well, it’s very difficult, obviously, to imagine the future,
and that’s one of the security blankets which Andy has, that it’s much easier to project
the present into the future. But that’s the role that he accepted, so I’m not blaming him
for that. I come here not to bury him but to praise him.
How will it happen? Well, Andy himself cited the case of 1989 where it was not
just the students and their leaders – who we all know, many of whom are now in this
country – leading a protest against the Party. And it was people cheering them on –
ordinary people cheering them on, from the sidelines mainly but still cheering them on,
and from the streets . As he said, 300 cities – I hadn’t remembered that it was that many
cities, but 300 cities – that is nationwide. That is nationwide. And did we think it would
happen? If you’d said to a Peking University student, if you could interrupt his Mahjong
game, in April, say, 12th, 1989, three days before Hu Yaobang – before the general
secretary died--what would you do if Hu Yaobang dies tomorrow? Hu Yaobang?
Wasn’t he the general secretary? I mean, he suffered – he was kicked out, I know, but
why should we do anything if he dies? I mean, he had a good career. Isn’t that enough?
He’s an old man, so he has to die.
I don’t believe that any student in any university in China would have dreamt that
that that single spark could have been the one that ignited other sparks and led to this
nationwide demonstration of anger at inflation, but mostly at corruption. It wasn’t – no
one would try and suggest that it was, except for a few people, a nationwide effort to
establish Jeffersonian democracy in China, but it was anger at the Party. They knew
what they didn’t like--the way the Party ruled--and they knew by then, even people who
were not students, even people who had not been abroad, they knew by then because of
the opening up that there were other ways and better ways to be ruled. They didn’t know
how to get there, but when they had the chance, they protested.
So it is difficult, but we do have an example of how, out of the blue, for a reason
that no one could have predicted in advance – I certainly didn’t; I’m sure Andy didn’t;
none of us did, but more important, no Chinese leader did. Like the 1911 revolution –
which was the first Chinese revolution – took place as a result of a small fracas in Central
China, and suddenly the whole system fell to pieces because already the undermining had
taken place, the Confucian system had been thrust aside, and the regime was ready to be
So I don’t know anymore than Andy does how it may happen. I must say that
after the student affair, my thought was if there’s any more, it won’t be students again;
why would they go on the streets to be killed, to be sent away from their universities, to
lose their life chances? The most likely thing that will happen will be workers displaced
in the Northeast or other state-owned enterprises, some which Pei Minxin writes about in
his excellent new book – but that’s where the next clash will take – but as Andy rightly
says, what they do is they imprison the leaders and buy off, or try to buy off, the
followers. But I was wrong. The next surprise were the Falun Gong.
So it’s just not possible in a society which is out of control – they do not control
the society any longer. That’s one of the sort of unspoken elements of the social contract
after the Cultural Revolution: Don’t come to Tiananmen Square and denounce the
Communist Party or its leaders; stay in your home and do what you like. That’s the
unspoken social contract. But the problem with that social contract is that the Party
doesn’t any longer really know what people are thinking.
Now, Andy quotes – and I know Andy is big on this – quotes public opinion
surveys. And, I mean, it’s heresy in this area of town to decry polls. I know that.
Nevertheless, I have a feeling that not just Americans answer pollsters in the way they
think the pollster wants them to answer or the way which makes them look good rather
than necessarily giving their right opinion. And I think that’s the case much more in
China than it is here.
So I don’t think we really know what opinion is, but what we do know in the one
poll that I’ve seen recently, is the opposite of America: The citizens don’t like their local
congressman equivalent, but they do sort of think that the central government is okay.
And they don’t like the congressman equivalent because instead of bringing pork from
the capital to the locality, he brings in businessmen who take away their land and pollute
their rivers and make it generally unpleasant for them.
So I think that there is enormous – and I don’t think Andy underplays this at all;
he knows that this exists – there is enormous volatility in this society, and maybe that
volatility will be kept under wraps because of rapid economic growth, or we know it’s
not touched much of the interior yet, or maybe we kept it under wraps because they are
successfully repressive, but the Party is repressive because it knows that the society is
volatile; they know that the Party is corrupt; they know that people are angry about that,
and they don’t know when it’s going to go wrong.
And one of the things that is the problem for them is that the local officials have a
double duty. One is development and the other is keeping law and order – or keeping
order anyway. And in order to have development, they do all these things like selling
land to businessmen and having them erect factories which then pollute the
neighborhood. And of course it’s like policemen in Washington or New York or
Cambridge, Mass. They always say, you know, we try and keep order, but you liberals,
when you see how we do it, you complain. And that’s how I think a lot of the Chinese
local officials do it and the central government is in a bind. Do they want them to keep
order or not? Do they want them to develop or not?
I have to stop. Thanks.
MR. PEI: Let me ask this first question about a scenario of breakdown, because
from both of you it’s hard to pin down a specific scenario of reaching breakdown, but
there is one that I think many people are wondering about. That is, it’s conceivable that a
gradual process of democratization can accelerate and then create a momentum that the
regime cannot control. So the question for Andy is that do you believe the Communist
Party is resilient enough to manage a gradual process of democratic reform? And then on
the other side, the question for Rod is do you think that the current system is so fragile
that as soon as such a process is kicked off, it will mushroom into a massive anti-regime
MR. MACFARQUHAR: I think Andy and I are going to agree again.
MR. PEI: Okay. (Chuckles.)
MR. NATHAN: First of all, I don’t see the regime – I don’t see anybody in the
regime who’s advocating any significant process of democratization. The village
elections which they’ve done are to consolidate control – to get rid of unpopular village
leaders by letting the peasants vote. If they move it up, as Wen Jiabao has said – but this
has been a long, long time brewing – to the township level, that is only the lowest level of
the entire regime. And I haven’t heard of any important, powerful person in the regime
who wants – you hear about it from time to time, but I don’t believe it’s a serious goal to
bring competitive elections any further up the system than the township. And if they do,
they’ve got all the methodologies for controlling so-called competitive elections that
they’ve worked out in the case of the village.
Now, the Taiwan example is often mentioned in this connection. There you had
another kind of Leninist-style party that did undertake democratization in the expectation
that it would continue to win elections, and it won the first presidential election when Lee
Teng-Hui was reelected, but then it lost to the opposition. But mainland China I think is
not Taiwan. It’s not a client state of the United States; it’s not threatened by any outside
force; it doesn’t have the long history of the opposition movement that Taiwan had, and
the loss by the KMT was due to a split in the KMT rather than to the ability of the
opposition party, the DPP, to actually win a majority.
So my answer is –
MR. PEI: They are simply not going to do it.
MR. NATHAN: – is they won’t do it, but if they – any democratization that they
undertake will be under control, and the unexpected kind of things that got it out of
control in Taiwan are not that likely. I mean, unexpected things can happen; I agree with
Rod that they can happen.
MR. MACFARQUHAR: Democratization is unlikely for a very simple reason:
There are 70 million members of the Chinese Community Party, and counting. And they
did not join the Communist Party to lose power, privilege and the chance of corruption.
So there would be an enormous weight in favor of any leader who opposed a leader who
was offering the prospects of democratization.
And it’s absolutely true. Most middle-class Chinese, certainly the people I’ve
spoken to, are not particularly looking forward to democracy. As one very senior
academic put it, we were ruled for so many years, so many decades, by peasants. She
meant the Chinese Communist Party under Mao. Why would we want democracy and be
ruled by even more peasants? You know, the intellectuals have recovered the position
which they had in traditional times of being the governing elite, advising, indeed even
governing on behalf of China. And they don’t want to give that up. So I don’t think it’s
likely either.
The difference between Taiwan and the mainland is also that in fact, in the
Nationalist Party Constitution in their very weak ideology, they didn’t have a Leninist
ideology; they had a Leninist party. And you can’t have a real Leninist party without
ideology. But in their ideology, Sun Yat-senism, there was a commitment to democracy
– and democracy as we understand it, not controlled village elections like the Chinese
understand it.
Let me just elaborate what Andy said about the village elections. What they’re
trying to do is very Confucian. What they try and make sure is that there are two
candidates and both are okay. In other words, we know what democracy is about.
Democracy is about being allowed to vote for any scoundrel you want to see in power.
MR. NATHAN: We have two candidates and both are scoundrels.
MR. MACFARQUHAR: I don’t know what you’re talking about. (Laughter.) So
I think that the idea that the Chinese will allow this very carefully controlled system of
village elections to go up further is unlikely, because things can get more difficult as they
go up the ladder. So I don’t think that this is going to happen. If it does happen, if some
leader thinks he or she – but more likely he – has got enough power to try and introduce
some form of democratization, I think that the Party would fall apart, because it has no
commitment to democracy, as we understand it, in the way that the Nationalist Party
really did.
MR. PEI: Here is one question from the audience. What would be the most
important tangible indicators of regime failure that would portend a regime collapse?
MR. MACFARQUHAR: Well, I think that in your book, Minxin, and in Andy’s
remarks, and in my remarks too, all the signs are already there. The massive corruption,
the pollution – and the Communist Party of China has not forgotten that corruption was a
major factor in the demise of the Nationalist Party. It wasn’t the only factor. Military
defeat was a major factor. But it was an important reason why the middle classes lost
faith in the Nationalist Party. There was corruption on a massive scale. There was
widespread dissent because of all the corruption at the local level and what it leads to in
terms of pollution and the confiscation of land and so on. So I think that the factors are
all there. The question is what will trigger them. All the elements for a really massive
collapse are there. Andy described them; I have described them; they’re there. The
question is what will the trigger be?
MR. NATHAN: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I mean, I would say that if the
system was going to collapse in years, not decades – as Rod predicted – there are things
we should see now today – I think that’s the thrust of the question – that, I don’t see. I do
see that the peasants and the laid-off workers and the people whose land has been seized
are unhappy. I don’t think those are indicators of impending regime collapse.
What I would want to see today if the regime is going to collapse within years
would be slowed economic growth, which I don’t see, which could be most readily
triggered by a slowdown in the U.S. economy, which I also don’t see although I’m not an
economist for either of these two economies. But, I mean, if we saw a tanking of the
U.S. economy, I might begin to predict trouble down the road for the Chinese regime.
The second thing that I would want to see that I don’t see is signs of a defection of
the broad middle class. I’m thinking of about 300 million people; I’m not thinking of a
tiny middle class. I’m thinking about the inclusive middle class. Rod mentions polling,
and my colleague, Tanjin (ph), I’m sure has done polling that shows that those people are
pretty satisfied on balance. They have quite a lot of freedom in their personal lives. They
think that the political system works pretty well. They themselves are doing rather well.
Middle class defection, which we could sense from polls or from conversations or from
behavior of people not going back – my Ph.D. students go back to China to teach. That
was not the case with our students that we used to have from Taiwan years ago. Now it
is; they also go back.
The third indicator I’d want to see is signs of splits in the elite. Now, Rod is the
Pekingologist par excellence. His book on the Cultural Revolution and its three
preceding volumes on the origins of the Cultural Revolution satisfy me that you can see
signs in advance of elite splits. You have interpret this purge of Chen Liangyu in
Shanghai – is that a sign of a split or not? How you interpret it; to me, it isn’t, because I
think that Joe Kahn’s story was correct. It’s a sign of the people in power consolidating
power further.
MR. PEI: Here is a question on inequality. The trend is rising in China and the
Communist Party’s 11th Five-Year Plan pledges to address this problem. What if, after
another five years, the problem is not mitigated? What will that do to China’s stability?
MR. PEI: Here is a question on inequality. The trend is rising in China and the
Communist Party’s 11th Five-Year Plan pledges to address this problem. What if, after
another five years, the problem is not mitigated? What will that do to China’s stability?
MR. MACFARQUHAR: Well, of course, having an unequal society is something
which is potentially a source of instability. That unequal society has been growing, and
this present administration in Beijing is pledged to try to do something about that. What
some of you will know is that this is very unusual in East Asian development. On the
whole, East Asian countries have developed, but kept equality pretty close between
different groups in society. And that’s been totally abandoned by China, probably
because of Deng Xiaoping’s famous saying, some will get rich before others. Well, the
question is the others. At what time will they say, well, I’m still not rich, and you’re not
giving me hope?
So I don’t think that people who are poor, because they’re poor will naturally
revolt. That’s not what history tells us. It’s when they see themselves possibly getting a
little better, and have some time to think about their position. That’s when things happen.
When they’re poor, as many parts of China still are, they’re too busy trying to scratch a
living to think about revolting.
MR. NATHAN: The fact that the Party is aware of it and has pledged to address
it is an example of what I meant by adaptive policy change. As long as inequality
coexists with a rising median income, I don’t think it’s going to become a crucial social
issue, and that has been the case. Even if that were not the case, in China more so than
elsewhere, the people who suffer the short end of the stick have less access to power.
You don’t have a universal vote. They can’t get together and vote the – what is the word
we use here, the polite word – voting people out. Bums – in China, you can’t vote them
out. Really, the poor in China who are on the low end of the Gini coefficient are isolated
in these rural villages. They are isolated in sweatshop jobs where they’re locked up six
days a week for ten hours a day or much more than that. They don’t have a good way to
make their dissatisfaction known. Nonetheless, the regime is out there trying to fix the
MR. PEI: There’s a question about the evolution of the leadership. Who do you
expect to be Hu Jintao’s successor, and what can we expect from the fifth-generation
MR. MACFARQUHAR: Well, Andy’s last two books that I know of – there’s a
third one where he mentions in the footnotes, which isn’t out yet –are all about how the
leadership has been changing over the last ten years or more. And so he really should be
the answerer of this. I’ve not the slightest idea who is going to be Hu Jintao’s successor,
assuming that Hu Jintao lasts until 2012. I don’t think Hu Jintao knows who is going to
be his successor is more to the point, because he is not in a position to go around the
country like Mao did and pick people out and suddenly they are helicoptered into
positions. Deng Xiaoping also did the same – to a lesser extent, but he did it. Hu Jintao
can’t really do that. I think that it is true that the Chinese Communist Party is trying to
get back to some kind of a meritocratic, Confucian system of recruiting its leaders. But I
just don’t think Hu Jintao knows.
What any leader wants anywhere is that his or her legacy is respected. Mao
wanted someone who would come and carry on the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping
wanted someone who would carry on the reform. That’s why he nearly – as Andy rightly
says in his paper – why he nearly tried to sack Jiang Zemin when he thought he wasn’t
going fast enough on reform. So Hu Jintao will want to have as his successor someone
who is going to carry on whatever he thinks of as his legacy. At this moment, what his
legacy will be is not clear.
MR. NATHAN: The system that they’ve worked out – I was referring before to
this institutionalization or regularization of the succession system – they have these
meetings of the Party Congress every five years. So Hu Jintao came in in ’02 – he and
his people, the current Politburo and its standing committee, came in the 16th Party
Congress in ’02. So five years after ’02 is ’07, the 17th Party Congress – we’re going to
see the retirement of people who have hit the age ceiling, that is 70. Let’s see, how does
that rule go – that they’re going to become 70 I think it is. (Inaudible.) Well, but it
worked the last time. The last time that it didn’t work was with Jiang Zemin. But I
expect to see a bunch of the current standing committee members step out. Right now, I
can’t remember exactly who they are – Huang Ju, Jia Qinglin, and others whose age is
above the ceiling, which is something to do with the age of 70. And we’ll see a couple,
one or two or three people from this younger age window, which is the people who are
now in their 50’s I think it would be, coming in.
Now, in China’s New Rulers which I coauthored with Bruce Gilley, we do name
some names – Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, and Bo Xilai. . And so we’ll see. I certainly
agree with Rod that I don’t know, and Hu Jintao doesn’t necessarily know for absolutely
certain who it’s going to be. But I think those are the leading candidates and people stay
in the leading candidate position in China for years and years and years and years. You
don’t get somebody coming up from left field as we do in our own political system who
nobody has ever really heard of. You get leaders who have been under the scrutiny of the
Party’s organization department and the top leaders already for many, many years. So
these are the guys that I think will be likely to come in at that time. They will then have
another five years to be looked over and see how they perform and whether they get
caught in corruption scandals or their followers do and so forth before 2012 when some
of those generation will succeed. Just the predictability that somebody from a particular
age group is going to succeed to the roles of Party secretary and head of state and head of
the military commission and premier is quite a high level of predictability for any
political system.
MR. PEI: Okay, now on leadership split. Is leadership more likely to split in face
of a foreign policy crisis or a domestic crisis? And more specifically, what will a
scenario of war on the Korean peninsula do to China’s leadership cohesion?
MR. NATHAN: It seems a little unfair that – I don’t have a conviction about
whether it would be domestic or foreign that would be most likely to cause a leadership
split, although I think the two kinds of crises are very easily linked together, say for
example around Japan. You know, when people demonstrate against Japan, they are also
reflecting various dissatisfactions against the leadership and it becomes a domestic crisis.
I mean, a foreign policy crisis would itself cause some kind of domestic dissatisfaction.
So I don’t have an answer to that. I already gave my idea of the most likely scenarios –
Taiwan, North Korea, economic downturn, or a public health crisis.
In the case of the North Korean situation, obviously, how that would go is very
unpredictable, but probably a chief concern of the Chinese leaders themselves is a flow of
refugees into Northeast China that could be quite massive and could cause a big setback
to the economy there. They wouldn’t like to see a Korean situation that ended up with a
Korea unified under a government allied with the United States. That is to say, if a
Korean scenario unfolded in such a way that the South won and took over and maintained
its alliance with the U.S. – all big ifs, especially the last one I think – that wouldn’t be too
much in China’s interest. I don’t think it would necessarily lead to a split in the
leadership either though. If there were actually the use of nuclear weapons on the
peninsula, then God knows which way the fallout would blow and how that would affect
the situation in China. So that’s some pretty mealy-mouthed responses to that question.
MR. MACFARQUHAR: I think that we have seen one example of leadership
disagreement in terms of foreign policy, and that was over the bombardment – the
missiles that were used as a demonstration in the Taiwan Strait in the mid-90s. I think
there are people in this room who know a great deal more about that particular episode
than I do, but I think that the indications are that Jiang Zemin was not keen on that, that
he had his doubts about it, but that people who shouldn’t have been in favor of it who
wanted to embarrass him as being insufficiently nationalistic managed to form enough of
a coalition to force him to agree to it. So I think on these very, very tricky matters – the
Taiwan Strait, the Korean Peninsula – that is a real possibility of disagreement.
We have to look back to the Korean War in 1950. And as the armies of the
United Nations, led by the United States, were marching up the peninsula after the Inchon
Landing by MacArthur, there was a debate, a discussion within the Chinese Politburo
about what to do. And everyone was against intervening for obvious reasons, because the
Communists had just captured power. The economy was in terrible condition. They’d
just fought a civil war and an anti-Japanese war for years. They didn’t want to do it.
And Mao carried the day. In those days, someone like Mao could carry the day.
Whether his arguments were right or wrong really was beside the point. I don’t think
that’s the case now. So I think that it’s more likely that a foreign policy disagreement
could lead to a split within the leadership because it’s so dangerous – Taiwan Strait or the
Korean Peninsula – that people could quite easily for very good reasons on both sides
disagree sharply.
MR. PEI: This concerns the nature of the Chinese Communist Party today. Is the
CCP still a Communist Party in the ideological sense, and would it be more accurate to
call it a corporate state or an oligarchy?
MR. NATHAN: Well, I don’t think it’s really a doctrinaire Communist Party in
the sense of Marxism-Leninism, but it was interesting that Joe Kahn said in his article –
and this also is something that we forecasted in our book, China’s New Rulers – that what
Hu and Wen want to do is to build up the social welfare system, address – I forget exactly
how Joe Kahn put it – but in our book – address inequality in the economy. There are
some left-leaning ideals that are animating at least that part of the leadership. Of course,
those are prudent things to do. They may be for stability as well. Also interesting for me
is that among the semi-free intellectuals in China – intellectuals who conduct debates in
China who are not in exile – who are in China but who nonetheless have quite a bit of
elbow room to conduct various debates – the pro-liberal-democracy ideas that were
prevalent before 1989 are really in recession.
Chinese intellectuals have a lot of ideas that are neo-authoritarian, neoconservative,
neo-leftist, as they call it themselves. They’re not really Marxist; there’s
post-colonial thinking, there is post-structuralism. There are all these trends, which tend
– all of them – to be critical of liberal democracy as an ideal. The intelligentsia is not
really in favor of democratization right now. They give different reasons. Some of them
are that it is too early, that our country is too chaotic. Some of them are that liberal
democracy – and this comes to the question of communism – some of the criticisms of
liberal democracy by Chinese intellectuals are the classic criticisms that liberal
democracy is just a device to fool the populace into letting itself be exploited by
MR. MACFARQUHAR: What’s the nature of the Communist Party? Well, it’s a
Leninist Party without Marxism. It’s a Party which is there, and it wishes to continue to
control because it believes in control, because that’s what it’s always done. And it’s not
going to give up control. What’s the nature of the Party? It’s a sort of Rotary Club of 70
million people who joined in because it’s good for careers.
So it is determined to stay in power, absolutely determined to stay in power. I
think that the – what was the second half of the question?
MR. PEI: Is it a corporate state or an oligarchy?
MR. MACFARQUHAR: Well, you know, all these words can be applied to it.
It’s an autocratic state. It’s repressive. And those people who join the Party don’t want it
to be democratized, because that will be the end of their privileges. So I would agree
with Andy. I think we’re both absolutely on the same wavelength in thinking that
democratization is not what the people who we think would want democratization are
actually going to advocate. And that’s very good for the Party. So you can call it what
you like – corporatist, maybe. I think Rotary Club is not bad.
MR. PEI: This question actually follows the answers you’ve just given. If the
CCP does continue to rule for another 15-20 years, is this an obstacle to China’s highspeed
MR. NATHAN: Who asked that question and why would it be an obstacle? I
don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know what you’re implying by that question.
MR. PEI: One-party rule, lack of rule of law, inequality and so forth?
MR. NATHAN: Okay, good, thanks. And the continuation of the state sector –
like the Internet and a lot of the other things I talked about, this is one of those things
where they said it couldn’t be done. Even Pei Minxin says it can’t be done. You’ve got
to marketize; can’t be half-marketized. That seems to be an implication of Pei’s
argument. I’m not an economist, as I said before, but this Party has so far managed to
sustain a high rate of economic growth while keeping a quasi-marketized economy. In
fact, by controlling the rate of conversion of the currency, by controlling the banking
system, by controlling transport, by controlling what they call pillar industries, they’ve
insulated their economy from a lot of shocks that they would otherwise not be able to
control, and they seem to have turned that into an asset for economic – you know, those
are beneficial to their strategy of economic growth. Their strategy of economic growth
does depend very importantly on the Western markets – the U.S. and European markets.
That’s probably the chief vulnerability that I see, not Communist Party rule.
MR. MACFARQUHAR: Yeah, I think I’d agree with that. I think that the real
problem for the Chinese Communist Party is that a competence mandate, as governments
discover throughout the world – is a very insecure basis for hoping that your future will
be as good as your past. People cannot be – governments cannot be competent forever.
And I think it’s partly regimes get tired, even if they turn over – they get tired quite
quickly in the West – and they will get tired in China. I don’t think Communist Party
rule by itself, by definition, is inimical to economic development. But I do think that all
the factors that Andy mentioned, particularly the dependence of the Chinese economy
upon Western markets is absolutely crucial. And a downturn, as you said earlier, could
be catastrophic. But I don’t think that 10, 20, whatever years it is that they may continue
to rule by itself is going to harm the economy, simply because of what I said earlier.
This is a Communist Party, which decided when Deng Xiaoping came back to
power in 1978 that it had to promote economic growth for the prosperity of the country
and the people, otherwise they’d be out. That is what they are strong about. There are
neo-Maoists in China today who are arguing, because of the inequality, that the Maoist
system was much more equal, and we should go back to that. And the regime has already
issued an indication that it is not going to turn its back on reform. It’s got to go on this
path, because they believe that is the only way it will survive. So I don’t think by itself,
Communist rule is going to undermine the economy. There are all sorts of other things,
which happen in long-lived regimes – regime tiredness.
MR. PEI: I have two last questions. Foreign policy implications – the question
for Andy is: will a resilient Communist Party maintain a stable, cooperative, peaceful
foreign policy with its neighbors and with the rest of the world? And to you, Rod, how
will the fragility of the Chinese Communist Party affect its foreign policy?
MR. NATHAN: The grammar of that question seems to imply that the resilience
of the Party would be inimical to a cooperative, so maybe again I’m not understanding
the question. But I think one of the points that we’ve both developed is that the resilience
of the regime actually depends upon its – what they themselves say – peaceful
international environment, and on its access to the Western markets, not only the export
markets, but there’s also the FDI and the technology and things like that. So I don’t think
that the search to stay in power constitutes an incentive for the regime to conduct an
adventuristic foreign policy, if I’m making myself clear. It’s just the opposite.
To stay in power, one wants to keep a predictable international environment, to
seek cooperation, to try to ensure energy supplies, and so forth. Where is Michael
Swaine? He is the great expert on all this. But Michael and I don’t see – right, Michael?;
where is he? – signs of Chinese preparation to build a blue water Navy that secures its sea
lanes of communication, to stabilize its oil resources, and challenge American primacy in
the naval environment. We just don’t see those signs. We don’t see signs of China
preparing the physical capability to invade the Middle East or Latin America to secure
those energy resources, or signs of China getting ready to invade countries in Southeast
Asia. The military preparations are for Taiwan. The DOD then says what will those
military assets be used for after Taiwan? And we don’t know when the magic moment of
“after Taiwan” will come. But we cannot see an intent by the Chinese leadership, or a
capability being created, to disturb the cooperative relations or status quo situation or to
challenge the American role in maintaining stability in the Asian region, things like that.
I mean, one could go into much more detail, maybe Jim Lilley sees different things. You
guys have a debate. (Chuckles.)
MR. MACFARQUHAR: How will fragility affect foreign policy? Well, it will
affect it in exactly the same way as not being fragile. The more fragile the regime, the
less likely it wants to have foreign adventures, the less likely it wants to have an
unpeaceful environment around it, of course. So that I think that the Chinese have
decided that they need a long time – this Communist Party needs a long time – to make
sure that they re-legitimize with a competence mandate by making the country rich and
powerful. And so, in so far as they feel fragile, they will want that peace to continue.
The one area of exception, of course, would be the Taiwan Strait.
What is very interesting about the concept of fragility is that the Chinese are more
conscious of this than Americans. No one here, perhaps except a few specialists, will
remember that it was John Foster Dulles who in ’57 said that he hoped that there would
be a peaceful evolution of the Chinese Communist regime into a democratic system.
We’ve all forgotten that. The Chinese have not forgotten it. They still worry about
peaceful evolution. They worry about peaceful evolution because of what happened, for
instance, in ’89, that ideas are coming in. They’ve got to come in. And the more that
society is less under their control, the less they know about what people are actually
thinking. Doubtless, they may carry out their own opinion polls, but I think those are
even less likely to result in honest answers.
But I think because they feel fragile, because peaceful evolution is something they
do worry about, because there are all these many things in the society, starting with
corruption, but not finishing there – which Andy and I have both emphasized – they feel
fragile. They know that they are doing a race against time with the economy. They
realize that the whole of the Communist world has collapsed except for themselves,
Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and Laos, and that they are the bulwark. They are the last
bulwark. They’ve got to – albeit with a different banner – do what Mao was trying to do
in the Cultural Revolution – keep the revolutionary flag going, because if they go down,
that’s the end of it everywhere. So I think they do feel fragile. I think they’ve got reason
to feel fragile. They don’t know what the future will bring, and for that reason, they are
even more careful. And the last thing they want is adventurism in foreign policy.
MR. PEI: The last question – what recent U.S. policy moves toward China do
either of you think has been particularly counter-productive for a long-term, sustainable,
U.S.-China relationship?
MR. MACFARQUHAR: I can’t think what recent American policy moves
toward China have been. (Laughter.) The secretary of the Treasury has just been there,
and based on his previous acquaintance in his many, many trips to China, and doubtless
the good relationships and the financial relationships that he conducted while he was
doing that, it was a good trip. And I think that if he suggested to them, look, we have a
real problem in America. There is Senator Schumer and his colleagues who are going to
put down all sorts of bans on you if you don’t do something about your exchange rate.
Well, if this secretary of the Treasury says that, I think they’ll listen. I think they won’t
do much, but they’ll do enough. Already the Schumer – can’t remember the other
sponsor of the legislation, they’ve already said they’re not going to push it now, because
they’ve been reassured. And that’s what’s going to happen.
They know about Congress now. In the old days, they thought it was just Nixon
and Kissinger ran the place. They know about the Congress now. They’re much more
sophisticated now, and so their ears are attuned to any little change in congressional
sentiment if it seems to be getting going. But I think that the United States has other
problems at the moment, and I don’t recall that there have been any major China
initiatives recently.
MR. NATHAN: Yeah, this is a tough question, because of the particular way that
this question is asked. Now, I would like to answer a different question therefore, which
is that I believe the Chinese leaders think that many American foreign policies and
domestic policies are unwise and counterproductive. I think they think that the U.S. has
messed up the North Korean negotiations by threatening the North Koreans. And it’s not
that the Chinese are not willing to use leverage to bring North Korea to the bargaining
table, but the Chinese sincerely believe that the U.S. position is not one that in good faith
they can advise the North Koreans to accept. I think they think our Iraq invasion was
unwise and mishandled. I think that they think that our policy with Iran is not going to
get us anyplace. We say we won’t accept Iran’s actions, but we have no – in fact –
option, diplomatic, economic, or military to prevent it. I think they think that our twin
deficits are unwise, and that jawboning them about the twin deficits is kind of irrelevant.
And -- I can’t read my own handwriting -- I think they think a lot of our policies are
But will that disrupt a long-term sustainable U.S.-China relationship? That’s why
this question is so hard to answer. It’s hard to think of almost anything that would disrupt
that relationship because as we’ve both developed in our answers to previous questions,
the Chinese need that long-term sustainable U.S.-China relationship and they know it.
And so, they are intent upon preserving it while riding the sort of unpredictable waves of
U.S. domestic and foreign policy. If the two sides were to actually come to a war in
Taiwan or in North Korea, that would disrupt the relationship. But the policy of the U.S.
government is not to have a war in Taiwan, and I believe in the end of the day – I hope –
will turn out to be not to have a war in North Korea. And so then, I kind of agree with
Rod that even though they think many, many of our most important policies are bad ones,
that’s not going to disrupt the long-term sustainable relationship.
MR. PEI: Time for closing remarks. And Rod will start with five minutes, and
Andy, you will conclude this debate with five minutes of your own remarks.
MR. MACFARQUHAR: Goodness, what else is there to say? (Laughter.) I was
once asked by Michael Swaine, so you then believe in the “big bang theory,” do you?
And what he meant by that – and I said yes – what he meant by that was that my belief is
– and here I think Andy and I agree – my belief is that you’re unlikely to see a gradual
change in this system as a result of the leadership deciding that it ought to change. I’m
going to qualify that in a minute, but I think that is the main thing.
And if we look back over the last 150 or so years that the Chinese have tried to
come to terms with the outside world, as they gradually realized that they had to come to
terms, the big changes were caused by really big bangs. The first big bang was defeat by
the Japanese, whom they’d always considered to be sort of their students, pirates, dwarfs,
in the war of 1894-95. That was what impelled the reconsideration as to whether or not
the Confucian system was really going to work. Once they abandoned the Confucian
system for the government in 1905, the writing was on the wall, and by 1911-12, the
Confucian system, after 2000 years, was out.
The second big bang, as I’ve already suggested, was the Cultural Revolution. Up
till the Cultural Revolution, and including the Cultural Revolution, China was obsessed –
China’s leaders were obsessed – with exceptionalism. We’re China. We’ve been
ourselves; we’ve been the teachers of our known world for 5,000 years. We’re going to
stay exceptional. We’re going to stay being China. And so the attempt was, how do we
be modern and Chinese? Or, to use the phrase of the 19th century, how can we use the
Chinese knowledge as the essence and Western knowledge for practical use? How can
we preserve the Chinese essence? And Mao’s Cultural Revolution was a last gasp of
that. What I think happened at the end of the Cultural Revolution was a decision by
Deng Xiaoping – look, that way has failed. We’ve got to jump on the East Asian-type
capitalist model. And so Chinese exceptionalism, I think – Andy hints otherwise in his
paper, though I’m not sure what he meant – I think the idea of Chinese exceptionalism
has, to some extent, been dismissed – not the enormous pride in being Chinese and what
China has done through the centuries, but that idea that China can somehow chart a
different road towards prosperity.
I’m going to modify my suggestion that the present system will only go with a big
bang, whether it’s a Tiananmen type sort of event or the Falun Gong sort of events writ
large, whatever – because I think that the one thing that the Chinese have learned in their
interaction with the outside world over the last 150 years or more has been what it takes
to get what they want most. They want prosperity; they want power; but above all, they
want respect. They want the respect of the outside world. They want, particularly, the
respect of the United States, for obvious reasons.
And I think that as a result of the form and opening up, a lot of people in China
have interacted with the West. And they know ultimately what will be the marker that
gets them final respect. It won’t be the extraordinary growth rate, though that’s
impressive. It won’t be if they build very strong nuclear weaponry, though that will be
something that the Pentagon will worry about. It will be if they develop a democratic
system that gives human rights to Chinese, that gives the rights for Chinese finally to be
able to choose their own rulers – a system, incidentally, which would make for far greater
stability in China than the present system.
So I have just a small ray of optimism in my belief that a big bang is the way,
unfortunately, that China tends to move in radically new directions. And that is that there
is this core of people growing in number who know how to lead China to a more
respectable – in the sense of getting respect from the outside world – the question is
whether they will ever have the power, the courage, and the prestige to be able to bring it
about. Thank you.
MR. NATHAN: Rod accused me at the beginning of predicting the present to
continue. He said that’s much easier to do. But I would accuse him of predicting the past
to continue in the sense that what he’s predicting is ’89, Tiananmen, ’99, Falun Gong.
He says, you know, those things happened before and they can happen again.
MR. MACFARQUHAR: (Off mike.)
MR. NATHAN: That really goes back – 1911. So I think from a sort of
methodological point of view, neither one of us has an upper hand. Except: those things
did happen in ’89 and ’99, but what happened then? The Communist Party survived, in
fact. So if one wants to predict events like that, one should predict the Communist Party
But this is not 1989 anymore. A lot of things have changed. After 1989, inflation
was conquered – maybe not for all time, but that was one of the sparks of ’89, and it’s no
longer bothering the Chinese economy. Corruption was one of the sparks and that
problem is certainly still there. People’s incomes have increased tremendously since
1989. China’s foreign policy has enjoyed successes since 1989. As I’ve argued in my
earlier remarks, the Party has reformed itself since 1989 in terms of its succession
mechanisms. It has created the People’s Armed Police. It has created the Internet police.
So this is not ’89, and it’s not ’99 anymore. A lot of things have changed.
The second thing I’d like to address is the last gasp of Chinese exceptionalism.
Rod said he’d picked up some hints in my paper that I don’t hold that view, and that’s
right. I don’t hold that view. I think that view is going to prove very misleading. In my
view, the Chinese leaders and the intelligentsia in China and the broad society there still
think the things that he mentioned, that we are China; we’re going to do things our way;
we’re not going to do them in the Western way. And I think the search for a sort of
alternative way to run a modern economy, an alternative way to run a modern political
system, an alternative way to have – they want to be modern, as Rod said very eloquently
-- but they don’t want to be like us and they don’t want to be like Taiwan. I think they
honestly see little that’s attractive in our society or in Taiwan’s society or political
system, and they believe that their own, whatever it is, has the answer to an alternative
modernity. And I can cite lots and lots of what I was alluding to before –
neoconservative and neo-left Chinese thinkers who are not writing on the payroll of the
Party propaganda department -- who write about that.
The American model, or Western model has very low appeal in China, I’m sorry
to say. And not only in China, but in a lot of places around the world, and not only
because of Bush’s policies but because it simply doesn’t have that much appeal in Iran
and in many other countries around the world. So I think the notion that – the Francis
Fukuyama notion of the end of history, or Minxin Pei’s notion that China’s transition is
incomplete until it has complete market and complete democracy – as I said in my review
of Minxin’s book, I think that’s not correct. Well, that opens the way to a huge, really
academic argument about this – on which I’ll give you some footnotes if you want.
The final point that I want to address is the human rights part that I alluded to
briefly. I think that given the fact that China is seeking and is very self-confidently
seeking a whole alternative model for the economy, society, culture and politics, its
human rights violations are really very important to the fate, you know, of the globe – not
to make it any more ambitious than that. First of all, China is a place where it’s hard to
go and do business or, you know, for foreigners to go and to feel secure. So that’s bad on
just the level of working there.
And secondly, the Chinese system, as it’s now constructed, makes it hard for all
of us to solve the global public health and global environment issues, and these are all
intimately connected to human rights because the human rights victims in China are the
ones that are advocating for the rule of law, for environmental issues, for public health
victims and so forth. They become human rights cases after advocating for something
else and running up against officials who don’t want them to. And to build a just and
equitable and sustainable globalization for the future, which is something that the U.S.
itself has not done, you know, its share of, but in addition to that, it’s important for us that
China do so.
How to do human rights work in China under the circumstances of China’s rise,
China’s self-confidence? It’s much more difficult than it used to be in the past, and I
don’t have time to give my ideas about how to do it, but there are things that can be done.
MR. PEI: Before I ask you to join me in thanking the two speakers, I have two
announcements to make.
First of all, the papers the two speakers have written will be posted on our
website, as will be the transcript and the video and audio for this debate. And in a month
or so we will have a second debate on the Chinese economy. And then throughout the
remainder of this year and next year, we will hold another 10 to 12 debates on various
issues related to China. So keep tuned.
Now let us thank the two debaters for this wonderful presentation. (Applause.)
Thank you for coming.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Mao colossus strides a divide

BEIJING - When Hu Jintao assumed the supreme leadership of China in 2002 his priority was to dispel the increasing feeling that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was losing contact with the masses while promoting a wild capitalism for the benefit of the urban elite.

Under Hu, the CPP's promotion of a better redistribution of wealth in a "socialist-capitalist economy" has given renewed significance to the "New Leftists", thinkers who over the past two decades have advocated classic socialist methods to compensate for the imperfections of the capitalistic economy.

The most recent chapter of this trend is a profound re-study of Mao Zedong's ideals and a benevolent revisionism of his legacy

by prestigious scholars, both in China and abroad. Mao led the People's Republic of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.

The global financial crisis has given analysts of Marxism a new role as protagonists, and intellectuals from some of the world's top universities are rethinking Mao Thought as a way to help close growing social and wealth gaps. In doing this, they are also trying to cast new insights toward the New Leftist movement itself.

Ban Wang, professor of Chinese literature and culture at Stanford University, rejects defining this "upsurge of interest" in Mao's thinking as New Maoism because "it is not a systematic restoration of the whole package of Mao's thought".

Some of Mao's ideas are interesting because they can be used, Wang said. "Mao's thought teaches us a method for investigating China's real circumstances at a specific time," he said. "But this epistemological value is also harnessed to a vision of a socialist future radically different from capitalism. Though times may change, certain workable responses in the Chinese experience to recurrent problems may still have life and validity."

Maoism as a political alternative doesn't exist in China. From the beginning of the reforms in late 1978 until the 1990s, his heritage was discouraged as the CCP searched for a new voice for its rhetoric. Although liberal factions retain an important position of power, top cadres of the party often use quotations from Mao to give them a voice. CCP think-tanks such as the Central Party School or the Chinese Academy of Social Science are breathing new life into Mao's Credo in their lectures and research projects.

As Wang assures, "The new upsurge of Mao thinking makes strategic uses of Mao's legacy: there are many usable elements in Mao's thought, such as the mass line as a guide for understanding and adjusting the fluid relationships between the state, regions, society and individuals. The mass line is also at the center of the notion of intra-party democracy. There are also questions of national independence and state sovereignty, which were what the Chinese revolution fought for and which persist in the relation with Taiwan and minority areas. State sovereignty is related to economic sovereignty, manifest in the policy of economic self-reliance."

Foreign scholars commonly accuse the New Leftists of feeding nationalist movements.

"Using the claim that China should assume a more powerful role in international and security affairs while replacing the beneficiaries of the old world order, neo-leftist analysts have once again revealed their inclination toward their own brand of nationalism," according to Bernt Berger, an expert on China security policy at the University of Hamburg. "The assertive nationalist rhetoric behind recent neo-leftist statements appeals to a growing number of people who are dissatisfied with corruption ... This rhetoric traditionally had a hint of counter-imperialist or post-colonial emancipation and self-assertion," Berger wrote in a 2009 report for the ISN Security Watch.

Wang arrives at the same conclusion as Berger, though without acknowledging the nationalist inconvenience. "Revolutionary theories and practices crystallized by the term 'Mao Zedong Thought' are the engine of China's drive from a semi-colonized, beleaguered country to an independent nation-state, now proudly standing by other nations ... There are websites, forums and academic studies devoted to the discussion and elaboration of revolutionary and socialist motifs. The new-found confidence in China's rising power seems to say that despite all the trials and tribulations, socialist builders, after all, did something right."

Disenchantment with globalization, that began and was encouraged by the Western world, is a focal point for the revival of Mao and the new leftists. A book written by several critics of current CCP policies, Unhappy China: The great time, grand vision and our internal and external challenges, was last year's political bestseller. Wang Hui, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Tsinghua University in Beijing and probably an icon of the group, expressed regret over the new left label because it was formulated in the US and Europe. The New Leftists, as happened with concepts such as "Rightists" and "Old Leftists", could be misunderstood in China as a new faction of dogmatic elites, according to Wang Hui.

The New Left and the intellectual supporters for a restoration of Mao's ideals share a mistrust of liberalism and globalization. But Ban Wang says that new Maoism is "more indebted to classical Maoism". Their defense of Mao's teachings is strident because "these have been prematurely consigned by liberals to the dustbin of history", Ban Wang says.

It is common among new Maoist intellectuals to search the dark periods of contemporary Chinese history for positive experiences.

Words and Their Stories: Essays on the Language of the Chinese Revolution, a forthcoming book edited by Ban Wang, documents examples of these in the Mao era. Wang is convinced that during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) there was an earnest intention to decentralize power in favor of the "creative potential of the rural masses". The CCP made significant improvements to public health in rural areas during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Wang asserts.

China took several steps toward modernization in that decade, making progress on gender equality, a more direct communication between the government and the people, new genres of opera and literature backed by Jiang Qing - Mao's wife and member of the Gang of Four - and a proud feeling against individualism because people believed they were relevant and "part of something", Bai Di, director of Asian Studies of Drew University, said in a recent interview with Revolution, the magazine of the US Revolutionary Communist Party.

Of the Cultural Revolution purges, Bai said, "There were people who were trying to return to the old hierarchy in society ... I don't think these people wanted to go to capitalism, they were trying to take people back to old tradition, and they were trying to retrench back to feudalism."

Was Mao Really a Monster? is a collection of essays by 15 international scholars and posed this question in response to Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's best-seller that became famous for the ferocity of its attack on Mao's actions. Almost all the essayists criticize Chang and Halliday for a lack of neutrality and rigor. "We make a counter-argument in the revolution's critical defense at a time when revisionists histories of the great social revolutions are in the ascendancy," Gregor Benton, professor of Chinese history at Cardiff University, and Lin Chun, professor at the London School of Economics, wrote in the introduction to the book, which they co-edited and published in 2009.

A minority of radical leftists go even further. There is at least one organized underground Maoist association, the Chinese Maoist Communist Party, and others claim to have founded new Maoist parties. The Chinese Maoist Communist Party has published its founding principles on websites like This online forum was shut down temporarily in 2007 after posting a message signed by 17 former top CCP officials and Marxist scholars criticizing the party for being too capitalist.

Above ground, the Beijing bookstore Utopia is at the heart of Maoism activism in China. The store sells all Mao's written works and other papers that support the Great Helmsman's legacy. Located in the university district of Haidian, Utopia organizes weekly gatherings with scholars and all kinds of social activities.

Rebecca Karl, expert on Maoism in Asia at the New York University Department of History, considers it wrong to call these movements Maoist. "They would have to be revolutionary to be Maoist," she says. She views the New Left as a group of thinkers who are "more like social democrats" in their criticism of capitalism and undemocratic practices.

While it is true that nostalgia and radical support for Mao's legacy is found among a tiny minority, the intellectual activity in favor of revisiting Mao's tasks and thoughts has echoed in the corridors of power. "A number of party cadres are invoking Maoist values, including radical egalitarianism, when formulating public policies,'' Willy Lam has written. ( See Power struggle behind revival of Maoism
Asia Times Online, November 23, 2009.)

Vice President Xi Jingping, the favorite to succeed Hu as premier and often considered a representative of the liberal wing of the CCP, uses quotations and the ideas of Mao and has even paid respects by visiting places of importance to the Great Helmsman's life. Bo Xilai, the party chief of Chongqing municipality and former minister of commerce, is the highest CCP representative directly attached to Mao's restoration. Bo has involved himself in Maoist propaganda campaigns in Chongqing, with his government sending Mao quotations to citizens by SMS, and building Mao statues.

Using Mao's figure as a respected icon to unite the people under the wing of the CCP has an undeniable logic. Yang Yao, director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University, warned recently that despite measures implemented during the Hu era to hold back social imbalances, the situation is getting worst. "Since the CCP lacks legitimacy in the classic democratic sense it has been forced to seek performance-based legitimacy instead by continuously improving the living standards of Chinese citizens. So far, this strategy has succeeded, but there are signs that it will not last because of the growing inequality."


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Power struggle behind revival of Maoism

As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership tries to convince United States President Barack Obama and other world leaders that China is eagerly integrating itself with the global marketplace, the ultra-conservative norms and worldview of Chairman Mao Zedong are making a big comeback in public life.

In provinces and cities that foreign dignitaries are unlikely to visit, vintage Cultural Revolution-era (1966-1976) totems are proliferating. In Chongqing, a mega-city of 32 million people in western China, Mao sculptures - which were feverishly demolished soon after the late patriarch Deng Xiaoping catalyzed the reform era in 1978 - are being erected throughout government offices, factories and universities.

A newly constructed seven-story statue of the demigod in Chongqing's college district dwarfed nearby halls, libraries and

classroom buildings. Not far from the Helmsman's birthplace in Juzhizhou village, Hunan province, the latest tourist attraction is a sky-scraping, 32-meter torso of the young Mao. Moreover, the long-forgotten slogan "Long Live Mao Zedong Thought" has been resuscitated after banners bearing this battle cry were held high by college students and nationalistic Beijing residents during parades in Tiananmen Square that marked the 60th birthday of the People's Republic.

There are at least three dimensions to Maoism's resurgence in China. One is simply a celebration of national pride. Given the fact that the Helmsman's successors ranging from Deng Xiaoping to President Hu Jintao have imposed a blackout on public discussion about the great famine and other atrocities of the Mao era, most Chinese remember Mao as the larger-than-life founder of the republic and the "pride of the Chinese race".

The contributions of Mao were played up in this year's blockbuster movie Lofty Ambitions of Founding a Republic, which was specially commissioned by party authorities. Thus, Central Party School theorist Li Junru, who gained fame for his exposition of Deng's reform programs, recently characterized Mao as a titan who "led the Chinese people in their struggle against the reactionary rule of imperialism and feudalism, so that the Chinese race [could] stand tall among the people of the world".

Moreover, according to a conservative theoretician, Peng Xiaoguang, the enduring enthusiasm for "Mao Zedong Thought" - particularly among the young - testified to the intelligentsia's search for an "ultimate faith" that could speed up China's rise, particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The other two dimensions of the Maoist revival portend struggles and changes within the CCP; it is emblematic of the CCP's shift to the left, as well as the intensification of political infighting among the party's disparate factions (in China, "leftism" denotes doctrinaire socialist values, emphasis on the party's monopoly on power, and a move away from the free-market precepts).

It is well known that since the Tibet riots in March 2008, the CCP leadership has tightened the noose around the nation's dissidents as well as activists of non-governmental agencies. Yet in the wake of the international financial meltdown, economic policy has also displayed anti-market tendencies, if not also a re-assumption of values such as state guidance of the economy, which were observed during the long reign of the revered chairman.

This is evidenced by the phenomenon called guojin mintui, or state-controlled enterprises advancing at the expense of the private sector. In areas ranging from coal and steel to transportation, state-controlled firms are swallowing up private companies. Moreover, government-run outfits are the major beneficiaries of the $585 million stimulus package announced late last year, as well as the $1.1 trillion worth of loans extended by Chinese banks in the first three quarters of the year.

Even more significant is the fact that a number of party cadres are invoking Maoist values including radical egalitarianism when formulating public policies. While Mao was said to have ushered in the new China by pulling down the "three big mountains" of feudalism, bureaucratic capitalism and imperialism, his latter-day followers are engaged in an equally epic struggle against the "three new mountains", a reference to runaway prices in the medical, education and housing sectors.

Nowhere is this ethos more pronounced than in Chongqing, whose leadership has vowed to develop so-called "red GDP". This is a codeword for economic development that is geared toward the needs of the masses - and not dictated by the greed of privileged classes such as the country's estimated 30 million millionaires.

For example, while real estate prices in cities ranging from Shanghai and Shenzhen are sharply increasing, Chongqing cadres have pledged to ensure that at least one-third of all apartments in the metropolis are affordable to workers and farmers. The Chongqing party secretary, Bo Xilai, has indicated that the key to the CCP maintaining its perennial ruling-party status is "whether it is tightly linked with the people and the masses". "Chairman Mao put it best: we must serve the people with all our hearts and minds," Bo noted. "The party will become impregnable if cadres from top to bottom are tightly bonded with the masses."

As with most political trends in China, the resuscitation of Maoist norms is related to factional intrigue. Jockeying for position between two major CCP cliques - the so-called Gang of Princelings and the Communist Youth League (CYL) Faction - has intensified in the run-up to the 18th CCP Congress. At this critical conclave slated for 2012, the fourth-generation leadership under President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao is due to yield power to the fifth generation, or cadres born in the 1950s.

Bo and Vice President Xi Jinping, two prominent politburo members who also happen to be "princelings", or the offspring of party elders, are among the most high-profile architects of the Maoist revival. Implicit in the princelings' re-hoisting of the Maoist flag is a veiled critique of the policies undertaken by Hu and his CYL faction, which have exacerbated the polarization of rich and poor and even led to the betrayal of socialist China's spiritual heirlooms.

Bo is the son of party elder Bo Yibo, who was dubbed one of the CCP's "eight immortals". As former minister of commerce and governor of the northeastern Liaoning province, Bo was often praised by multinational executives for his generally progressive views on globalization. Yet after moving to Chongqing in late 2007, the charismatic regional "warlord" has launched numerous campaigns to popularize Maoist quotations, doctrines and even Cultural Revolution-style "revolutionary operas".

In less than two years, Bo cited the Helmsman's instructions in at least 30 public speeches. The 60-year-old princeling has also asked his assistants to text message sayings by Mao to the city's netizens. Bo's favorite Mao quotations include: "The world is ours; we must all take part in running [public] affairs"; "Human beings need to have [a revolutionary] spirit"; "The world belongs to young people. They are like the sun at eight or nine in the morning"; and "Once the political line has been settled, [the quality of] cadres is the deciding factor".

Vice President Xi Jinping, the son of the late vice premier Xi Zhongxun, is also a keen follower of the Great Helmsman. The 56-year-old Xi, who doubles as president of the Central Party School, likes to sprinkle his homilies to students of the elite cadre-training institution with Mao's words of wisdom.

Xi's repeated emphasis on grooming neophytes who are "both politically upright and professionally competent" echoes Mao's dictum on picking officials who are "both red and expert". While talking about "party construction", or ways to ensure the ideological purity of CCP cells, Xi noted that the leadership must learn from the "great party-construction engineering project that was successfully pioneered by the first-generation leadership with comrade Mao Zedong as its core".

When he is touring the provinces, Xi likes to celebrate "proletariat paragons" first lionized by Mao. While inspecting the Daqing oilfield in Heilongjiang province last September, the vice president eulogized the "spirit of the Iron Man of Daqing", a reference to the well-nigh super-human exploits of Wang Jinxi, the legendary oilfield worker. Xi has also heaped praise on "heroes of the masses", such as the self-sacrificing fireman, Lei Feng, and the altruistic county party secretary, Jiao Yulu.

It is easy to see why princelings should take full advantage of their illustrious lineage. As the famous Chinese proverb goes: "He who has won heaven and earth has the right to be their rulers." This was the basis of the "revolutionary legitimacy" of the first- and second-generation leadership under Mao and Deng respectively.

As the sons and daughters of Long March veterans, princelings regard their "revolutionary bloodline" as a prime political resource. Thus, while visiting the "revolutionary Mecca" of Jinggangshan in Jiangxi province last year, Xi paid homage to the "countless martyrs of the revolution who used their blood and lives to win over this country". "They laid a strong foundation for the good livelihood [we are enjoying]," he said. "Under no circumstances can we forsake this tradition."

Similarly, while marking the October 1 National Day last year, Bo urged Chongqing's cadres "to forever bear in mind the ideals and hot-blooded [devotion] of our elders". "Forsaking [their revolutionary tradition] is tantamount to betrayal," Bo instructed.

By contrast, affiliates of President Hu's CYL faction - most of whom are career party apparatchiks from relatively humble backgrounds - cannot aspire to the kind of halo effect that the likes of Bo or Xi appear to have inherited from their renowned forebears.

Even as China's global prestige has been substantially enhanced by its "economic miracle", party authorities have repeatedly called on all members to ju'an siwei, that is, to "be wary of risks and emergencies at a time of stability and plenty". In addition, princelings, who are deemed to have benefited from the revolutionary - and politically correct - genes of the Long March generation, seem to be the safest choices to shepherd the party and country down the road of Chinese-style socialism under new historical circumstances.

Moreover, while the Hu-Wen team has staked its reputation on goals such as "putting people first" and extending the social security net to the great majority of Chinese, it cannot be denied that negative phenomena such as social injustice and exploitation of disadvantaged classes have increased since the turn of the century.

The reinvigoration of Maoist standards, then, could prove to be the biggest challenge to unity within the Hu-Wen administration. Steering the ship of state to the left might temporarily enable the Hu leadership to garner the support of advocates of 1950s-style egalitarianism - and blunt the putsch for power spearheaded by Bo, Xi and other princelings. Yet, turning back the clock could deal a body blow to economic as well as political reform - and render China less qualified than ever for a place at the head table of the global community.

Dr Willy Wo-Lap Lam is a senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation. He has worked in senior editorial positions in international media including Asiaweek newsmagazine, South China Morning Post, and the Asia-Pacific Headquarters of CNN. He is the author of five books on China, including the recently published Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges. Lam is an adjunct professor of China studies at Akita International University, Japan, and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Turmoil Looming Over China?

By Bhaskar Roy

For the last several years Chinese leaders have been talking about challenges to social stability. Although almost seeming routine to some outsiders, the Beijing Mandarins had more than one reason to be worried about. For them, the ultimate disaster would be a popular uprising against the Communist Party rule.

Yu Jianrong, a well known and outspoken senior sociologist at China’s premier research institution, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) recently related to a gathering of lawyers in Beijing what he heard from a group of retired “Ministry level” cadres when he visited them. One of them told him what many may be fearing but are afraid to say. This person told Yu: “You think that China’s society will not experience upheaval. I think it will definitely experience upheaval, and that time is not too distant”.

Yu Jianrong went on to explain that since 2007 China experienced more than 90 thousand peoples’ protest a year, and the size of these protests were increasing. This figure in higher than the average of around 80 thousand plus protests and demonstrations according Chinese official statistics available till 2005. The figures going up only suggest that the Chinese state has failed to come to grips with the situation.

The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) had cautioned late last year that there was definite threat to China’s social stability from both outside and inside and the ministry was making all efforts to face the challenges. The security budget for 2010 has been increased by 44%. Regional security budgets have been increased substantially with Xinjing getting its budget almost doubled. Other provinces have also started spending heavily on security. For example China’s north-east province of Liaoning is spending 15% of its total budget on maintaining security.

The problems do not end with the protests, demonstration and strikes. Lives have been lost. Almost 200 people died in Xinjiang riots in July 2009. The March 2008 Tibetan uprising also cost lives. These have been topped with execution and long term jails for “instigators” by the state. China’s laws and judiciary are still dictated by state politics and not by a fair legal system. Despite promises from leaders the legal system has not seen any real change on the ground.

What would be high on the concern scale of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the increasing questioning it is facing from the people at large, the Han Chinese. This is far more serious in a way for the party than the challenges faced from the minority demands – the Uighurs of Xinjiang and the Tibetans.

Hans comprise 94% of the 1.3 billion population of China. The Hans are also the governors of the state, the sole content almost of the armed and security forces, and the leading intellectuals, critics and party members apart from the party and state apparatus. The Han monolith is the life line of the party. If this begins to crack it can be anybody’s guess. The third plenum of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s so-called parliament held in Beijing from March 6 to 14 this year, let fly some straws in the wind for the future. One delegate to the session, an intellectual, openly remarked that while the NPC was to become independent of the party, its Chairman Wu Bangguo, the Party’s Politburo’s Standing Committee Member, was trying to keep the institution under the Party’s control. That he got away with this criticism, at least till now, is remarkable compared to a few years ago.

On the eve of the NPC session, thirteen important regional newspapers wrote a joint editorial demanding abolition of Hukou or the family registration system of the Maoist era. This law was enacted by Mao Zedong to keep migration of peasants away from the cities. According to Hukou law, peasants are registered in their home place and do not get any legal rights for medical assistance, school admission for children and even from exploitation by employers if they migrate to another place. Of the thirteen newspaper editors, twelve were reprimanded by the authorities, and the one from Shanghai who drafted the editorial was dismissed from his job. This, certainly, is not the end of the story.

Delegates to the NPC also raised questions on party cadres–bureaucracy– business nexus in corruption, and lack of transparency in government decisions. Strong actions have been taken against pro-democracy leaders who asked for explanations on issues.

Some retired senior cadres have also taken cause supporting the questions. These retired cadres, who are more liberal in their political attitude unfortunately lack a platform after the powerful Central Advisory Commission (CAC) was disbanded by Deng Xiaoping after the 1989 Tien An Men (TAM) square incident. That CAC comprised mainly of the Long Marchers who were jolted by the pro-democracy movement by students. Most of them are dead and gone. Most of today’s middle to senior level retired cadres are more in tune to let the steam of frustration out and walk with the developments. None of them, however, question the one party rule. They advocate a caring and transparent CCP.

Despite the shining sky scrapers of Shanghai and Shenzen, show of opulence in the coastal cities, demonstration of economic and military power, there is a bleak under-canvas.

The official statistics of China say that unemployment is around 4%, while state think tanks put it nearer to 10%. The actual figure is said to be higher.

China is supposed to have surfed the global economic meltdown quite comfortably. But there are questions. Near about a 100 thousand export manufacturers closed shop during the economic collapse. This has let loose a huge number of workers in the coastal cities most of whom are migrants. The more than $ 500 billion economic stimulus released by the state have mostly gone to state owned banks, from which state owned enterprises have siphoned the maximum. These companies hardly pay back debts. The private sector received a pittance and, hence, many collapsed.

China is an export driven economy. The state of the purchasing power of China’s main export destinations – the US, Europe and Japan are not in the best economic conditions. China suffered a $10 billion trade deficit in March. Trade and currency war also erupted with the US. This does not portend well for the Chinese job market or the economy.

The housing bubble is beginning to attack serious attention of the authorities, and the totally state controlled media like the People’s Daily and the China Daily are taking cognizance of the building mafia-bureaucratic conspiracy. Housing is going beyond the means of the common man and they do not any longer have the protection of state housing. This also includes the medicare sector. There are many other issues, and corruption by and under the eyes of state officials is one of them.

The problems are huge and growing. In his government work report to the NPC plenum, Premier Wen Jiabao did not or could not assure the people of any reliable remedy. The issue is that the problems have been accumulating over the years and the income and livelihood differential between central China and the huge hinterland continues to increase. And, as the jobless of migrants in the cities increase it makes ground for another explosive situation. Assessments have been written whether China’s economy is a vulnerable bubble or whether it has firm foundations. Apart from overseas markets for its products, it is also hugely dependent on energy resources and raw materials imports.

That apart, the question that looms large is whether there will be a people’s upheaval or the protests will calm down. There certainly will not be a second TAM incident of 1989. Both the government and the students have learnt their respective lessons. The state will not use tanks, but riot control gears. The students are not going to take an honourable position against the state. If anything, there will be network uprising given today’s communication facilities. That will not be something that China’s neighbour like India will welcome. An unstable China is not good for anyone.

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