But he has changed his mind and now believes that the party is in a state of decline that echoes the dying days of Chinese dynasties throughout history. The signs include a hollow state ideology that society does not believe in but ritualistically feigns compliance with, worsening corruption, failure to provide the public with adequate social welfare and a pervasive public sense of insecurity and frustration. Shambaugh says a powerful indicator of just how little faith exists in the system is the number of wealthy Chinese elites with offshore assets and property, offshore bank accounts and children studying in western universities.
Every morning of the week except Monday, long lines of Chinese tourists snake across the square as they wait for a glimpse of the great helmsman in his crystal sarcophagus. But on a recent weekday, the dominant sentiment among onlookers seemed to be indifference or mild disappointment. This subtle change in attitudes over the past decade represents a deeper shift in Chinese society that is hard to quantify but increasingly obvious. Probably the most important stimulus for heightened cynicism and questioning of authority has been the rise of mass internet communication.
As the Chinese economy slows and anger grows at a host of problems stemming from a lack of political inclusion, it is this loss of control over thoughts, ideas and messages that the party really worries about. He spent two years in prison in the early s after he was falsely accused of spying for the CIA. In September , Shen was among a small group of trusted scholars summoned by former Chinese president Jiang Zemin to discuss the fall of the Soviet Union.
How long can the Communist party survive in China? | Financial Times
But as the new administration flexes its muscles abroad, most prominently in simmering territorial disputes with neighbours to the east, south and west, it paradoxically appears ever more anxious and uncertain at home. Since his ascension, Xi has presided over a series of harsh crackdowns on dissidents, free speech, ethnic separatists and civil society and has shown absolutely no sign that he is the covert political reformer that some had hoped.
The current system will definitely collapse. The question that really worries me is what will come next. These numbers suggest continued rapid economic growth in China will put it on the cusp of its own political transformation within just a couple of years. Most economists expect the pace to moderate further over the next few years. By most measures, Communist China now has one of the most unequal societies on earth, with most of the wealth concentrated in the hands of a small, politically connected elite.
If the current slowdown were to morph into an economic crisis or trigger widespread unemployment, most analysts believe the government would quickly face some sort of popular uprising. The old economist was purged repeatedly during the Maoist era. The negative example of Egypt is constantly invoked these days by both Chinese and western political analysts.
Like the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Communist party has been highly successful at squashing any organisational force in society before it can take root. If the new Chinese president, Xi Jinping, were to seize the initiative and launch meaningful political reforms then China might follow the example of Taiwan and South Korea in the late s and s and orchestrate a peaceful transition to a more pluralistic and democratic system.
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The junior version of the Party follows a similar organizational structure, and is designed for young people between the ages of 14 and Resembling that of the Party, membership in the Youth League is selective, and requires a formal petition with official approval. She stepped away from the lectern. Her voice reverberated in the room of 50, her petite frame appearing larger than life.
If you believe in it, you should enthusiastically apply to the Youth League. But if you do not believe in it, there is no need to join just for the title. She gave an example of one of her students who was raised Christian. After a brief pause, she looked at us and smiled. The last statement caused a small stir in the classroom.
Many of us, myself included, had never heard such a voluntary declaration. From the government-sanctioned narrative we had learned, loyalty to the Party was always linked with love for the motherland, like a pair of conjoined twins born of the same flesh. It was more slogan than theory, more abstract symbol than belief system.
In middle school, our curriculum included textbooks on history and politics. The thin volumes introduced obscure concepts in broad strokes, meant to be swallowed whole and regurgitated word for word in our exams.
Protecting the Party
If one took the time to chew and digest, an inquisitive mind could easily spot inconsistencies and missing pieces. It was much easier to simply repeat without thinking. To cope with the loss of her husband, my mother sought solace in the Bible. I was ambivalent about the existence of a higher order, but praying every night before bed had become a comforting ritual. He survived the camps and was sent to the frontlines in Returning with battle scars and military medals, the man was summoned by the district party committee. The officials informed him that his wife, who was arrested with him, had died, but he could have his party membership back.
Confronted by Alexievich for expressing such an incomprehensible sentiment, he lost his temper.
Our faith will make you jealous! What greatness do you have in your life? You have nothing. Just comfort. For those who followed communism when it was still a contested idea, who joined the fight for political power from the barrel of a gun, a party membership could be more precious than life itself. It was what gave life its meaning. A blind faith could convince the fervent mind to overlook the atrocities committed in its name.
However, when the revolutionary has become the dictator, association with the ruling party is no longer about sacrifice, but survival. Historically, communist states have a long record of oppression against those who challenge government policy, including the ones from the left. When the Communist Party is only nominally communist, what keeps it in power is not the appeal of ideology, but power itself. The people of China fear the Party, but their pledge of allegiance to the hammer and sickle is not a result of simple coercion.
By making its membership a coveted social privilege that enables job promotions and other perks, the Party commands a base of not forced converts but witting foot soldiers. The application for the Youth League, submitted during middle school, is more like a census survey than a political petition. Not only did I become a member of the Youth League, my grades at the top of the class also earned me the highest position offered a student, Class Secretary.
I shouldered the title for the next four years, sometimes feeling guilty for its lack of responsibility. In my freshman year at college, each class branch of the Youth League was expected to organize a handful of activities. I invited two speakers: one was a local writer, the other the father of a notable alumni who had just been promoted to full professor at Harvard. Film screenings fulfilled the rest of the quota.
Sophomore year began with a class-wide election. Student leadership positions, previously determined by ranking in the college entrance exam , would now be determined by popular vote. Boys outnumbered girls some four to one at our STEM-focused university. In our gender-segregated dorm buildings, my male opponent campaigned on the eve of the election. The two of us made brief candidate statements in front of the class, and the votes were cast.
I lost by a few tallies.
The fleeting disappointment was replaced by a sense of relief. No more paperwork. Once in a while, my buddies and I spoke of a few schoolmates who were noticeably active in the Youth League. Maybe they were genuine followers of Marx, we joked. Maybe they were preparing to climb the Party ladder for a future in the Chinese government. I attended a special undergraduate program where one must be 15 or younger to gain admission.
Unlike the lax regulations for the Young Pioneers and the Youth League, Party membership is only open to adults. Several of us looked around the room, perplexed by the vivid imagery. Like a third of my class, I was preparing for graduate school in the U.