The Coming Change – The Party loosens its grip on power

This week we’ve been looking at how the party relies on improving its citizens quality of life for its mandate to rule. We started by looking at how GDP is no longer enough to maintain that stability, and what changes will be coming in the next few decades. Today I want to focus on some ways the Party could eventually transform its system of rule.

As you read remember that the Party will maintain absolute power until a majority of the population feels that their lives are no longer improving.

The most important idea to understand, is that there is no action considered beyond the pale for maintaining their position of power. As Fei Xiaotong points out in his book, “From the Soil”, they would be willing to sacrifice the whole country for the sake of their party, and the whole world for the sake of their country (I’ll give you a second to let that sink in).

The Party has demonstrated this stance several times, most notably in Tian’anmen square, and more recently with their overreaction to whispers of a Jasmine revolution (e.g beating foreign journalists trying to report on a group of 20 people standing around).

I believe that any popular movement to remove the Party completely from power would be met with such overwhelming force, that it could not succeed. The fact that the gov’t spends more on domestic security than their military shows just how desperate they are to cling to power.

They have also been learning how to defeat protest movements by studying those at home and abroad:

  • Tibet protests led to the blocking of Youtube, since it allowed images of gov’t backed violence to be quickly spread.
  • Iran protests led to the blocking of Facebook and Twitter, which were heralded as the tools of modern demonstrators.
  • Jasmine protests led to speedier and wider ranged key-word censorship on Weibo, and other Chinese-run sites.

Some of you may point again to the protest of 12,000 in Dalian just this past week. While it was a surprising show of unity, it was not directed at the gov’t. These resulted in quick concessions from the local gov’t. For a more typical example,  look instead at the recent riots in Guangdong by migrant workers, which caused the local gov’t to bring in paramilitary troops and armored-vehicles.

Instead the change will be gradual, I think a completely non-violent movement, dedicated to reforming local gov’ts is likely sometime in the next 10 years.

Already the central gov’t is allowing more open criticism of these low ranking officials, and will eventually concede to more supervision from the citizens they rule. Once this happens public oversight would slowly expand to higher levels.

After all, those with a hunger for democracy have been experimenting with how to protest despite gov’t controls:

  • Code words and double meanings to out-maneuver the Great Firewall of China.
  • Organize protests as walks, so that gov’t cannot distinguish between demonstrators and pedestrians.
  • Using sites beyond the firewall to spread the message quickly to like minded individuals (e.g Ai Weiwei has 100,000 followers on Twitter).
  • They are pushing the boundaries of what is “safe” to change with actions like the Dalian protest.

Secondly it is important to consider the sheer size of the Communist Party, nearly 78 million members. They would not be willing to lose their status, even for the greater social good.

These people would need to agree to the changes made, and the Party itself could not be dismantled without serious waves through Chinese society. Instead positions and promotions would gradually be decoupled from Party membership, and new political parties would be allowed to compete for spots in the government.

Before any of that can happen though, I believe we would see greater discussion of policy and enforcement within the Party and Gov’t organizations (currently laws are passed with virtually no dissent or discussion).

These next few decades will decide the fate of China’s next century. A smooth, and gradual transition from the current one-party system would ensure China’s position as a dominant world power for the next century (this is an idea that Wen Jiabao has been hinting at on recent trips overseas), or the Party may try to cling to power after losing their mandate, and China’s rise could end with internal struggle and isolation.

note: I am in no way advocating these changes, but simply pointing out likely problems and compromises that may occur in the near future.

8 responses to “The Coming Change – The Party loosens its grip on power”

  1. Yaxue C. says:

    As you can imagine, I get to be asked “What do you think of China’s future” a lot (as if I know any better!) by friends, acquaintances, fellow parents, neighbors, etc. The typical asker is someone who is somewhat awed by China, the sheer scale and numbers and all that, but somewhat skeptical, yet didn’t quite know what to make of his/her awe and doubt. It’s like when he/she awes, there is the doubt; when he/she doubts, there is the awe. I always say, “China for me is like a dark abyss, and I don’t know when it is going to open up and swallow everything.”

    This may sound a little dramatic, and I will tell you why China feels like such a black hole to me. The past 30 years of so-called reform has mostly been patchwork: A patch here and a patch there, when things don’t work or don’t work well. From the Party itself, there has been no attempt, nor the will, to discuss about the system itself. Any such discussion is either not encouraged (if it is done mildly) or stamped out (if it sounds threatening). Catchwords aside such as democracy and human rights, it seems to me the system is very sick, indeed, cancerous, in three aspects:

    1. Social infrastructure. By social infrastructure, I mean a relatively just and fair society. During the first thirty years of the communist rule, the Party ruled through the paranoia of Class Struggle, Mao’s crazy ego and epic ignorance. Then, after Mao was gone, it realized things couldn’t go on like that anymore. But the Party chose to avoid the hard questions and, instead, has chosen to do patch work, swerving this way and that way, at the same time allowing the most privileged and the most shameless to profit so much and so obscenely. It has done precious little for the rural population who has essentially become the slaves behind China’s economic rise. Because of the fundamental absence of a mechanism for justice and fairness, the Chinese society is becoming increasingly broken.

    2. The management of the society. Management means how best to do things. But we all know that, in China, things are never done to that end, and the Party’s self-serving nature, the power’s vanity, the cadre’s selfish motivation almost always take precedence over how best to do things. If things are not done well, then it’s done badly. And because of China’s size, bad means epically bad.

    3. The people. For years I have always maintained that the biggest damage the Communist has done to the country and to the people is it has damaged the people. Without except, every single individual in this society is damaged in multiple ways, myself included. Good people cannot afford being good; bad people get worse. In the Chinese society, you can’t use a universal moral compass to guide your outlook, your judgment and your actions. Or you suffer. The Party hierarchy almost never attracts the best minds, because the latter simply cannot survive the Party’s crooked politics. In fact, the Party has never trusted intelligent people with integrity, because these are the people who are morally relentless and who ask serious questions, and the Party doesn’t like to be questioned!

    All three aspects together, at least some of you will agree with me: THAT IS BAD. For China to be a viable, thriving society in the future, the Party has to change drastically, I am afraid, to the point of being unrecognizable. I am not too confident about that. Right now, the Party, as well as the more prosperous part of the population, is living a national euphoria. But that can disappear in a poof.

    I have a simple suggestion: To see what the Chinese system is like, how things are run, and how people behave, get yourself a chair, sit somewhere off a busy crossroad, and watch for half an hour. You will have a pretty good idea.

  2. ^ Good comment from Yaxue C.

  3. Yaxue C. says:

    I know in general that a lot of things are badly run in China, but when I read the following the other day from an acquaintance’s blog, I was still jolted in disbelief: She recently received her certificate for completing income tax (完税证明), and, to her horror, she found every bit of information about her on the form, except for her name, was incorrect. She mentioned this to her colleagues, they told her it was very common, and theirs were all wrong too.

    Massive error in tax documentation? What does that mean? What could it possibly imply besides sloppiness? Can someone kindly expound on this a little bit? Any economist, real or pseudo?

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  5. Ryan says:

    Brave post and great comment from Yaxue C.

    “the Party has to change drastically, I am afraid, to the point of being unrecognizable” I think that’s pretty bang on. I don’t believer there’s really any way to maintain Communism with Chinese Characteristics and the authority of that ideology, and also make the fundamental changes needed to become what most of us would consider the positive end goal.

  6. Alphonse says:

    Blocking some “Social” Sites is not big deal , its just good advertisement for those media companies . The so Called Twitter and Facebook Revolutions are just an invention to get people interested on international affairs .The Social Sites can be easily use by No democratic governments too , its so childish to think following and liking something can harm governments , besides this “social” sites put people at home not on the streets .
    Also social sites can use them to gather information and to disapprove something in national level like the red cross (weibo with guo meimei) and finally its no surprise facebook is linked with cia and the fbi.

    • Tom says:

      If blocking social sites isn’t a big deal, why did David Cameron suggest it during the London riots? Why did Beijing block linked in during the Jasmine protests? Clearly they have an organizational structure that allows people to organize much more quickly than governments can respond to.

  7. Great post and equally great comments too. I often find myself pondering China’s future (with more than a little trepidation). As you mentioned in your post above, China has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to sacrifice the world to save itself, and that is something to be both feared and respected by nations around the world.


    I think that you’re operating under a couple false assumptions. The first of these is that all people are doing on social networking sites are following and liking. You’re right that you cannot threaten a government in the way, however you can threaten governments by using these forums as places to gather and discuss in relative “safety”. Organizing online is just as dangerous to a authoritarian government as offline organizing, with the added caveat that the viral nature of the internet can massively compound the seriousness of an issue in a very short span of time.

    The second incorrect assumption is that social networking sites are keeping people at home rather than sending them out onto the streets. This is erroneous. Studies have been performed which suggest that people who are active on social networking sites are actually MORE social than those who are not. I can speak from experience that my own use of various social networking sites has indeed had this effect.

    Anyways, thanks again for the thoughtful post and comments, all.


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