History and Future Prospects of the Chinese Communist Party
G. Stolyarov II
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2003 and published in 2007 in seven parts on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices), where it received over 13,100 page views during 2007-2014. While more than 11 years have elapsed since it was written, and much of the "future" discussed in it is now in the past, the essay remains a thoughtful prospective analysis.
To preserve a record of my writings following the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices in 2014, I have given this essay a permanent presence on this page.
Some Important Events in the History of China from 1976 to 1989
On July 1, 1921, the Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai. It harbored a mere 70 members, yet it grew massively over the next 28 years. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong assumed power and declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China.
During the late 1960s, devastating famines wracked China due to the Cultural Revolution's wanton collectivization of land and the Party's creation of a disastrously inefficient state farming infrastructure.
But China's fortunes were on the rise once again in 1976, when Mao Zedong, principal founder of Communist China and its de-facto ruler for 27 years, died. He was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping, who would pursue an open-door economic and diplomatic policy with the West.
In 1978, currents of political change began to become noticeable. Thousands of dissidents posted essays expressing their displeasure with government policies on the Democracy Wall. Many were arrested and given draconian prison sentences. Wei Jingsheng, a prolific critic of the Chinese regime who today lives in America, was given 15 years in prison for his essay, "The Fifth Modernization."
Also in 1978, U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski ventured to China for the purpose of establishing normal diplomatic relations. In December 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China met and resolved to shift the course of China's development to one of "socialist modernization." This included a gradual buildup of ties with the outside world.
During the next year, in 1979, Deng Xioaping abolished the Democracy Wall, a place where ordinary Chinese had had the opportunity to "freely" discuss political and cultural issues. This was a step backward in China's political liberalization.
In July 1986, China formally applied for membership to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the predecessor of the World Trade Organization, indicating China's leadership's intention to assume a more open role with regard to world commerce. Three years later in 1989, Jiang Zemin was officially pronounced Deng Xiaoping's successor to the leadership of the Communist Party.
But politically, China remained repressive. In March 1989, Hu Jintao, the President of China today, suppressed pro-independence demonstrations in Lhasa, Tibet. On June 4, 1989, the government of Deng Xiaoping opened fire on thousands of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
From 1976 to 1989, the quality of life and the strength of the economy in China improved dramatically, but the country remained far behind the West, and political conditions were not favorable to any genuine dissent against government policies. Much of these aspects would continue to improve in the next two decades, however.
Some Important Events in the History of China During the Jiang Zemin Era (1997-2003)
On February 19, 1997, Deng Xioaping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party for the preceding 21 years, died. He was succeeded by Jiang Zemin. Zemin's leadership saw China's steady movement toward economic deregulation, while leaving open questions about the status of human rights in the country.
In 1998, China's Premier Zhu Rongji was publicly criticized after making "excessive" concessions to the U.S. in regard to China's WTO membership, especially in the area of dismantling protectionist policies.
In spring of 1998, activists, hopeful due to a surge of debate within the regime's own ranks, founded the China Democracy Party, the first formal opposition to the regime. Nevertheless, within a year all of its organizers were thrown into prison. Public awareness of this incident in China is almost non-existent.
During March of 1998, China's 15th National People's Congress met and outlined a five-year plan for broad-based legal reforms in realms that included investment, state-owned enterprises, the housing system, and government organizations.
In 1999, over ten million Chinese lost their jobs as the government struggled to reform the inefficient and cumbersome public sector. Growing private industries were expected to accommodate for this dramatic surge in the labor pool.
Also in 1999, Hong-Kong was assimilated into China after the expiration of a 99-year British lease. Its economic structure remains largely intact and free-market according to Jiang's "one country, two systems" model.
During July of 1999, a discussion was co-hosted by TIME magazine and the World Economic Forum in which Hu Jintao, the current President of China, predicted that, by 2020, China's working population would total about 1 billion.
In May of 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill granting permanent normal trade relations to China.
On March 13, 2001, Zhu Rongji, Premier of China, declared, officially that socialism as practiced by Mao in the 1950s was obsolete. He delivered the 10th Five-Year Plan to the National People's Congress. This plan advocated the phasing-out of government interference in the economy.
By 2002, Communist Party membership reached a record 66 million in China. In March 2002, China's ascension to participation in the WTO's Information Technology Agreement was postponed due to its continuation of import duties on some 200 items of advanced technology. China has agreed to eliminate the tariffs only for those products that are guaranteed to fuel domestic industries.
On May 31, 2002, Jiang Zemin called in a speech for the creation of a "political civilization" of innovative and experimental approaches to China's dilemmas and prospects. He avoided the use of the word "reform" due to the connotations of protests and dissent it creates.
On July 7, 2002, the 16th National People's Congress met and announced Jiang Zemin's forthcoming retirement. Hu Jintao was declared his successor, to assume the presidency within months. On March 16, 2003, Hu Jintao was officially sworn in as President of China.
Economic Modernization and Liberalization in China
Economic modernization in China began during the era of Deng Xioaping, who abandoned rigid adherence to communist dogma in favor of a more pragmatic approach that would "unleash the tremendous working capacity of the peasants." This included a gradual phasing out of government economic restrictions and an increase of trading contacts with the West.
The Chinese regime has steadily shifted toward a policy more overtly welcoming of capitalistic developments. Jiang Zemin's "three represents" theory, for example, has broadened the party's class restrictions to include entrepreneurs and the "advanced productive forces" of China.
The transition to a true market economy can take place only once China finalizes its dismantlement of protectionism for uncompetitive domestic firms. This, however, has angered and will continue to anger hard-liners within the party who possess vested interests in these industries. The opening of China to a global economy will displace these entrenched oligopolists and create a period of immense social mobility and a merit-based economic structure where the most productive individuals will assume the top positions.
The Communist Party is quick to take credit for China's recently booming economy, and many of its official statements, including those by the current Chinese ambassador to the U.S., proclaim that without the Party's guidance, modernization and liberalization would not have been possible. A more comprehensive analysis, however, yields that the party's sole contribution has been keeping out of the way of development and becoming a more economically tolerant and non-interventionist government. It was no proactive measure by the party, but rather its lack of proactive behavior that has resulted in conditions conductive to a capitalist economy.
The Chinese government has generally displayed a moderate enthusiasm in the implementation of World Trade Organization liberalization standards, so positive prospects may be in store for the economy. Already, China has been actively updating and expanding its legal system to gradually phase out the tradition of the law equaling an official's subjective decree. Objective laws are necessary for the property and association rights inherent within a free market economy to be enforced. However, the legal structure is still riddled with obscurities and ambiguities that render coherent enforcement difficult.
Masaharu Hishida believes that the Communist Party, as it becomes more inclusive in its admissions, will cease to be a vehicle of state-imposed ideology so much as it will become a network of associative potential and an "interest group" with immense sociopolitical leverage. Nevertheless, it will also lose the monolithic homogeneity that had enabled it in the past to ruthlessly "resolve" conflicting interests, and this will somewhat hinder its capacity to act as a united force. More likely, it will gradually be transformed into a multitude of enclaves vying for control of critical positions and waging special interest wars for their own petty favors. If the party endures, such will be the residue of China's "officialist" mentality which institutionalizes this manner of intrigue.
Obstacles to China's Greater Economic ProsperityAlthough China is steadily moving along the path of economic modernization and liberalization, numerous obstacles stand in the way. In order to achieve greater prosperity and approach the living standards of the West, China will need to overcome rampant corruption, a rigidly bureaucratic traditional culture, and recent government incompetence.
A paralyzing hindrance to economic development is one with which the Chinese Communist Party is already teeming: corruption. Nicholas Hope, former director of the World Bank's China and Mongolia department, likens it to a "cancer." Corruption has plagued the party since its inception, and is inherent in such a severely bureaucratic structure. It may be that as the economy progresses, more people will realize that the party in its present state is an obstruction to development and hence discard it or gradually drift away from it.
The mentality of China's rigidly bureaucratic infrastructure and that of the Communist Party has traditionally viewed back-door connections to powerful government employees as genuine avenues for economic advancement and individual contractual obligations as a mere façade.
International affairs analyst Masaharu Hishida argues that the World Trade Organization, in order to stimulate economic development in China, will need to transition the country from a whim-based mindset of "officialism" to a law-based, objective, Western mindset of "rationalism." In the words of Thomas Jefferson, China would need to have "a government of laws and not of men." Once rationalism replaces officialism, the rule of law can be expected to more effectively protect individual rights in the realm of political speech and dissent as well.
The recent 2003 SARS epidemic may prove to be a major economic and political setback for the Chinese Communist Party. Travel in China had suffered a catastrophic blow, as hotel occupancy hovered around 33 percent. Orders of meat products from China had dropped 87 percent. The value of foreign contracts had dropped 50 to 80 percent, while a partial closing of the border with Russia greatly impeded northward mobility of goods. China's GDP growth had been offset by 1.3% by the onset of the SARS tragedy.
Government refusal to initially admit the existence of a widespread problem further heightened distrust of the Chinese Communist Party's management and any countermeasures that were offered to this crisis. If the economy plummets further, the Chinese Communist Party will no longer be able to claim credit for the economic trend that legitimizes it with the general Chinese public.
Human Rights and Political Freedom in ChinaChina has yet to develop a political climate consistent with individual rights and freedom of speech. While the Chinese government has been becoming substantially less repressive over time, crucial obstacles remain.
Deng Xioaping took a hard-line position on dissent, brooking almost none within or outside a party that he termed "the crux of the country." Deng never did renounce the infrastructure of political control that Mao had established, as he had been one of its crucial architects as Mao's right-hand man prior to his death.
Jiang Zemin stated in 2003 that he was not about to "imitate" the West's democratic political system, and is searching for an "alternative" that would be more "particular" to the peculiar national characteristics of China. This may spell out potential friction between the government and more progressive reformer groups.
The Chinese populace, however, does not seem to be greatly enticed by the ideal democratic model. Many Chinese have employed the Party's mechanisms for personal social and economic advancement, and consider the Tiananmen Square protests to have been "naïve and uncompromising." Perhaps China's future is one of a gradual transition to democracy as it slowly absorbs its principles following the establishment of a sound market economy, instead of a swift and turbulent transition to an outright Western regime. The Party is definitely bound to change face and agenda as it adapts to the ever-changing socioeconomic status quo.
Democracy has been evolving at the local level. Since 1987, for example, direct election of village officials has been a nationwide practice. People at the grass-roots level are becoming aware of the advantages of a system of elections as they vote people into office who are best equipped with sound management principles. Many young entrepreneurs have found themselves in the position of village chief and act on their own judgment, sometimes even without any Communist Party affiliation.
Little indication has been shown, however, that the Chinese Communist Party will open itself to elections on a wider scale. Although this is not out of the question, even if it should occur, the Chinese Communist Party will still wield sufficient political and media leverage to dominate in elections. The greatest hope for democracy emanates from within the party itself, where the National People's Congress has taken to actively debating issues instead of merely rubber-stamping previous rulers' decrees, as it had during the 1960s and early 1970s. The National People's Congress is rapidly developing opposing political blocs and a multitude of agendas instead of a single monolithic party line.
Although not nearly as brutal as it had been in the late 1980s, the crackdown on dissent continues, especially against the well-publicized Buddhist group, Falun Gong, that combines religion with social commentary, two aspects that are still averse to the Chinese Communist Party. Tens of thousands of its members protest on China's streets and are frequently jailed by police and smeared by official media. The Falun Gong, however, is difficult to quell. It possesses extensive connections within the Chinese Communist Party itself, another demonstration that the Party is beginning to disintegrate from within.
The spread of information via the Internet is unlikely to compel the Chinese people to adopt more objective and libertarian political stances. Chinese Internet services are publicly managed, with tens of thousands of cyberpolice constantly "filtering" material that opposes the party line. Personal details of users and records of their site visits are also kept as a potent monitoring tool, which renders the Internet dangerous as a public forum of discourse.
The Effects of the Military on Chinese Politics
Control of the military is crucial to whichever entity wishes to take charge of Chinese politics. Jiang Zemin has retained leadership of the military despite transitioning all others of his powers to Hu Jintao.
China currently possesses the world's largest standing army and is undertaking a massive modernization effort which is aimed at achieving regional sovereignty and keeping on par with the United States in terms of the magnitude, if not the sophistication, of its arsenal. China has frequently eyed Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province, and a precarious balance of power exists in the Pacific, wherein the only genuine barrier to the unleashing of Chinese military power is the United States 7th Fleet. The role the military will play in China's affairs is to be ultimately determined by the country's foreign relations.
The army leadership has typically been strongly bound to the ruling elite of the Chinese Communist Party. Deng Xioaping had maintained extensive relations with his military, whose officers had pledged loyalty to the president himself.
The fomentation of an external crisis requiring the involvement of the military is likely to aid the ruling elite in maintaining the degree of power that it wields in the status quo, as the populace of China has historically, especially during World War II, shown to rally around a single authority during times of war.
Nevertheless, any aggression on China's behalf is bound to have catastrophic consequences for its economic development and crucial commercial ties with the West and, especially, the United States. At a time when 42 million people are still below the poverty line, the government continues to intervene in a manner inhibitive to the economy, and China awaits a period of massive temporary unemployment during the transition from the public to the private sphere, the Communist Party cannot afford to undermine the situation further. It could be at least tolerated while gradually morphing into a capitalistic government if its rule is accompanied by prosperous conditions. Hence, the chances of China's government coming to resemble the imperialist police state of Japan prior to and duringare negligible.
The military, nevertheless, is still employed to quell dissenters and radical reformers within China's boundaries. It is among the forces dispatched to monitor "subversive activity" in the printed, visual, and electronic media, as well as to conduct physical repression activities. While the peak of this usage was during the Tiananmen Square Massacre, it continues to this day, and may be the party's ticket toward preventing any mass upheaval that would dislodge it.
Future Prospects for the Chinese Communist PartyIn 1976, China was a devastated third-world country backward in its technological capacities and atrocious in its political status quo. During the past quarter-century, it has skyrocketed to a booming economic power with wide-ranging exports, rising standards of living, and increasing military sophistication.
The once monolithic behemoth of a Communist Party had, during the reign of Deng Xiaoping, begun to open up the way for economic liberalization and market stimuli, a trend which has continued to this day. China's economic conditions continue to westernize with such rapidity that the question surfaces as to the Communist Party's relevance in the world of the near future. It is certain that the party line and the party essence have shifted dramatically since 1976, but it is uncertain whether economic, sociopolitical, and military factors will continue to favor its still-looming dominance over gargantuan sectors of Chinese life.
To what in the future can we look as signs of China's direction? Two events will have substantial significance. In 2007, the 17th Party Congress will meet, initiating Hu Jintao's second term as president. This is expected to be the beginning of the time when Hu will have gained sufficient experience and confidence to implement his individual plans for reform, rather than merely extending the policy of Jiang Zemin, the previous Chinese president.
In 2008, the Summer Olympic Games will be held in Beijing. This proposition has met much international warmth and approval, as it is symbolic of China's growing integration into the dynamics of the world. In order to be respected as an Olympic host, the Chinese government will need to at least show to the world its devotion to the Western values of individual rights, free markets, and religious and political toleration.
As the elite of the Communist Party continues to overwhelmingly dominate the political and military aspects of Chinese life and in economics is faced with a demand for gradual instead of immediate modernization, it becomes clear that the future of the party is not a sudden and violent collapse.
No mass movement, revolution, or swift and absolute elimination of the party's bureaucratic control mechanisms can be expected, as no seeds have been sown in China for their emergence. The public's focus seems to be more pragmatic and concretely-oriented, and if the party can broaden its understanding and implementation of market dynamics in concord with similar trends in the Chinese populace's ever-rising expectations for standard of living, then it is likely that it will sustain itself as a dominant political force.
Doubtless, political freedoms will follow in mere decades after the implementation of free market reforms, but even multiparty elections and free expressions will not shatter an ever-dynamic entity which will in that scenario serve as a massive network for connection forging and job advancement. It is unlikely that the party will be destroyed within twelve years, but it may be that influence will gradually seep away over a lengthier period of time as market capitalism further inculcates the Chinese populace with a mentality of Western rationalism and a rejection of traditional Chinese officialism. Then, the perceived value of political pull and behind-the-scenes dealings will diminish in favor of a productivity-based, consumer sovereignty approach.
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Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress.
In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage Right, Rebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas,
Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently
the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until
Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout
Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its
Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s
selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.
Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).
Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology, a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.