Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

The secret to the Chinese Communist Party’s success

CHINA IN TRANSITION: As China goes through its secretive but widely anticipated leadership transition, the rest of the world is watching. This week, The Conversation takes an in depth look at the National…

Delegates at the 18th China Communist Party Congress listen to outgoing president Hu Jintao’s address. EPA/How Hwee Young

CHINA IN TRANSITION: As China goes through its secretive but widely anticipated leadership transition, the rest of the world is watching. This week, The Conversation takes an in depth look at the National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and the expected inauguration of Xi Jinping is a curiosity from afar.

During the congress, taxis in Beijing have been told to keep passengers from rolling down windows to prevent the distribution of protest materials. Street vendors are not permitted during this period. There are reports kites have been banned.

Seemingly, over the past six decades the Communist Party has continued to be the legitimate single party that governs mainland China, a feat which raises the question: how has this been accomplished?

There are potentially five reasons to explain the party’s resilience, which gives us insight into not only party behaviour, but also the potential for political reforms that the West has long hoped for.

The first reason for the party’s resilience is an intuitive one: a result of repression. The regime has used repression as a means to suppress political dissent and decreasing rights and freedoms in the name of social stability. Since market reforms in 1978, repression, although still present, has declined sharply.

For instance, there were fewer political prisoners after the Tiananmen Square protests than at the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. This decline, coupled with modest improvement in rights and freedoms, reduces the argument to some extent that the Communist Party’s regime resilience is solely the result of massive repression.

Another theory is that the Communist regime survives because it is able to manage elites well. The 83 million members of the Communist Party, accounting for 6% of the country’s population, are rewarded for their loyalty with access to influence in various aspects of political, economic and social life. The nine active members of the Politburo Standing Committee (which is rumoured to be reduced to seven), and the 2,270 delegates of the National People’s Congress who forge an even further elite cohort are managed through closed-door dialogues and compromises, and are represented in the public under the guise of little to no dissent.

In this setup, it is easy to suggest that the larger population does not matter – reinforcing the theory of mass repression. Whereas in the early stages of the party’s history, the masses were repressed during the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution”; following the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989, we see the party were graphically reminded that the mass citizenry mattered.

In fact, the increased maturity of the present-day Communist Party lies in the fact that it pays close attention to popular attitudes. In this vein, the third theory suggests that the party’s ability to monitor popular sentiment, via methods such as using secretive opinion polls, monitoring rumours, and anti-regime thoughts on the internet, and even attempts to control internet usage and traffic via the “Great Fire Wall”, have proven to be useful regime.

The fourth theory suggests that the party survives because it is able to maintain popular legitimacy via its social compact with society. The modern social compact is performance-based, and founded on economic grounds. Crudely put, in the words of former leader Deng Xiaoping, “to get rich is glorious”. In post-reform China, the state encourages (via laws, regulations and slogans) both the elites and masses to pursue increasing their wealth portfolio.

Police keep a close watch outside the Communist Party Congress at Tiananmen Square. EPA/Diego Azubel

If both groups continue to increase their wealth, then the legitimacy of the party is maintained. With robust growth in the economy, the resilience of the Chinese Communist Party lies in its ability to deliver economic prosperity to the majority of its citizens.

Embedded within the present social compact is the party’s ability to adapt and reuse political strategies of the past. While no longer on the propaganda trail of history, recent Chinese leadership has shown that it can still drum up intense domestic support by exploiting external situations.

For example, by fostering anti-Japanese sentiments over the Diaoyu Islands it has generated national support and a degree of certainty amongst the masses that the party is the one body that ensures stability in the present and future. The final theory thus suggests that such political strategies play a role in ensuring the endurance of the Communist Party.

The current Communist Party’s resilience suggests China may not see any meaningful political institutional changes in the near future, in spite of a new Xi Jinping administration. Nevertheless, the new administration will have to show an increased commitment to improve the livelihoods of those who do not benefit from the current social compact. Against this background, there are a growing number of Chinese citizens who have not achieved higher incomes, and have experienced reduce social services.

The redistributive commitments of the central state may have to increase in order to ensure the future of its regime. In this sense, if in no other, there is shared ground with the recent election in the US: economic rejuvenation is the key to success.

Articles also by This Author

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

10 Comments sorted by

  1. Bruce Mcdonald

    logged in via email @live.vu.edu.au

    "During the congress, taxis in Beijing have been told to keep passengers from rolling down windows to prevent the distribution of protest materials. Street vendors are not permitted during this period. There are reports kites have been banned."

    That certainly is a prime example of repression.

    report
  2. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Yes, and one could add a comment that China's budget for "internal" security exceeds their external security budget - ie: All their military forces combined, etc. So long as the handful of Princelings run the show and build on their obscene wealth this security budget will be needed. A good term for us to be aquainted with right now is "Jasmine Revolution" - or alternatively, "Arab Spring" Indeed, it is terrifying the Politburo Standing Committee.

    Muammar Gaddafi, one of China's great role models of how it could be done, was deposed in a trice - So it can be with China.

    Will it happen - well this is the information age, and people are better able to organise themselves into a cohesive force, and regardless of what our supposed economic commentators say about about China and its health, things are not all that rosy - so watch this space ..methinks

    report
    1. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Garry Baker

      The main reason why the Chinese party is succeeding is that poverty is being lifted across the board in an unprecedented and historical way despite some growing challenges - irrespective of your opinions on side issues, this is at the core of their success and will be for some time. Compare that with the world's largest "democracy", India, where people suffer and are arguably far more "repressed" than in China. The Chinese leadership despite serious elements of cronyism does care about lifting all…

      Read more
    2. Godfree Roberts

      Ceo

      In reply to Garry Baker

      China's per capita spending on internal security, adjusted for PPP, are approximately 20% of what the USA spends.
      The reason that China spends more on internal security than Defence is that it spends so little on Defence: it devotes about 25% of its tax income to the sector, whereas the USA devotes 52% of a much larger income stream.

      report
  3. Diane Bruhn

    ocassional activist

    "The first reason for the party’s resilience is an intuitive one: a result of repression. The regime has used repression as a means to suppress political dissent and decreasing rights and freedoms in the name of social stability. Since market reforms in 1978, repression, although still present, has declined sharply."

    In my opinion, some of these sentences are spin. "Repression has sharply declined", that's strange, the article mentions the 'great fire wall' which prevents Chinese people from…

    Read more
    1. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Diane Bruhn

      Perhaps one should consider trying to come from a background of intense poverty shared amongst most of the worlds population and argue that China is not a success. Instead see if what we think is free speech, poor wages and conditions (which is simply an ignorant statement about China today) is something we can automatically pull out of thin air by imposing without thought a democratic Australian system that gives a free vote to all because its meaningful to equate an overwhelmingly uneducated public vote as the same as a very well informed public...

      We have enough problems with a relatively ignorant population who don't know how to use their so-called "rights".

      report
  4. Godfree Roberts

    Ceo

    The article attempts to delegitimize China's government by, first, assuming that t IS illegitimate and then adducing proofs that are culturally nonsensical. That the Chinese people – smarter than us and connoisseurs of governance – overwhelmingly approve of their government and give it a world-beating level of trust (according to Pew, Edelman, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) is apparently irrelevant to this author's argument.
    It's time we gauged the government of China by what the Chinese think about it, and not what the US neoliberals imagine it to be.

    report
    1. Leon Stewart

      Educator

      In reply to Godfree Roberts

      I have lived (and still live) in China for most of the past 3 years. My journey into my own understanding of China began with an undergraduate degree, completed in 1990 and I have actively pursued my interest since then.

      Based purely on my experience - including the study - I cannot agree that the Chinese people approve of their government. I would say they approve of their government no more than any other nation does of its own government. Those who are not members of the Communist Party (the…

      Read more
    2. Godfree Roberts

      Ceo

      In reply to Godfree Roberts

      some relevant Chinese opinion survey results, by Pew, Edelman and Harvard's Kennedy School og Government can be found here:

      Government Approval:
      "Nine-in-ten Chinese are happy with the direction of their country (87%), feel good about the current state of their economy (91%) and are optimistic about China’s economic future (87%)." – Pew. 2010.
      http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/06/17/obama-more-popular-abroad-than-at-home/6/

      How Pew Conducts Surveys:
      http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2285/surveys-abroad-polling

      Read more
    3. Leon Stewart

      Educator

      In reply to Godfree Roberts

      As I said, the tacit approval of Chinese who are likely to respond by saying exactly what they think the questioner wants them to say, is not really approval.
      Surveys are one way people who don't know can turn to in order to attempt to find out. But direct experience teaching and learning in China provides evidence that Chinese people do not approach questions and answers in the same way that an educated western person might. Surveys are of questionable value at best.
      Approval can also be expressed and mean very different things. To imply that "the government is on the right track" because they have learnt how to adequately control their population so that people 'express approval' to academics, government officials or foreigners doing surveys is virtually meaningless in the context of really evaluating that government.

      report