Throughout Chinese history there has been an emphasis on creating and maintaining order through establishing a benevolent authority and preserving the status quo in regards to the relationship between superiors and subordinates. These values in ways clash with a desire for equality and mass action and a distrust of authority.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tze is reported to have said:
“When the Master governs, the people
Are hardly aware he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.”

It can be argued that Marxism and Confucianism have certain intrinsic similarities, namely that the wise, all-knowing state knows what best for the masses.

Book: China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society by Daniel Bell On the Government in China: Wikipedia article on the Government of China Wikipedia ; Chinese Government site on the Chinese Government ; Directory of Government Branches ; U.S.-China Business Council Info on Chinese Government Branches ; Chinese Government Branches / ; Guide to Chinese Government Agencies ;, official Chinese government source < a href=""> ; National Flag, Anthem and ; Information on Top Chinese Leaders China Vitae ; More on Top Chinese Officials ;China Elections and Governance Blog ; CIA List of Current World Leaders /


Early Chinese Political Philosophers

Tsinghua University professor Yan Xuetong wrote in the New York Times: “Ancient Chinese political theorists like Guanzi, Confucius, Xunzi and Mencius were writing in the pre-Qin period, before China was unified as an empire more than 2,000 years ago---a world in which small countries were competing ruthlessly for territorial advantage. [Source: Yan Xuetong, New York Times, November 20, 2011. Yan Xuetong, the author of “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power,” is a professor of political science and dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University.]

It was perhaps the greatest period for Chinese thought, and several schools competed for ideological supremacy and political influence. They converged on one crucial insight: The key to international influence was political power, and the central attribute of political power was morally informed leadership. Rulers who acted in accordance with moral norms whenever possible tended to win the race for leadership over the long term.

China was unified by the ruthless king of Qin in 221 B.C., but his short-lived rule was not nearly as successful as that of Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty, who drew on a mixture of legalistic realism and Confucian “soft power” to rule the country for over 50 years, from 140 B.C. until 86 B.C.

According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Xunzi, there were three types of leadership: humane authority, hegemony and tyranny. Humane authority won the hearts and minds of the people at home and abroad. Tyranny---based on military force---inevitably created enemies. Hegemonic powers lay in between: they did not cheat the people at home or cheat allies abroad. But they were frequently indifferent to moral concerns and often used violence against non-allies. The philosophers generally agreed that humane authority would win in any competition with hegemony or tyranny.

Confucianism, Government and Superior Men

Confucius is regarded by many historians as more of a political philosopher than religious leader. He espoused the radical idea in his time that the purpose of government was to make people happy and that it should rule through moral example not force. His political doctrine was summed by statements: "Govern for the benefit of the people, reduce taxes, and recruit “superior men' of any origin” and “Promote the straight and throw out the twisted and people will keep order.”

Confucian thought: “The powerful must be benevolent in treating the weak: the weak must be wise in dealing with the powerful.”

One of the key elements of his philosophy was the creation of a better society based not on a new system of government but rather on a system of defining and educating able leaders."Superior men" (jun-zi) were defined as benevolent leaders, whose primary aim was to benefit the people and whose virtues included competence, fearlessness, patience, fairness, wisdom and lack of vulgarity. Confucians argued that both leaders and bureaucrats should be "superior men" and they should rule through just leadership and setting good examples.

Jun-zi is a word that literally means "son or a prince or nobleman" and which Confucius defined as "a man who conducts himself nobly.” Members of the jun-zi class were like English gentlemen---well educated men of leisure---except they did not necessarily attain their position through the good fortune of noble birth. They were regarded as people who embodied the Confucian ideals of morality and aesthetics, who achieved their status through merit not birth, and who use their skills to help other people. They didn't tax the people unjustly. They made sure people had sufficient food and lived in a orderly and peaceful society. By providing these things Confucius believed leaders would win the confidence, trust and obedience of the people.

Mandate of Heaven

Early Chinese monarchs were both priests and kings. The Chinese people believed that their rulers were chosen to lead with a "Mandate of Heaven," a kind of political legitimacy based on the notion that the overthrow of ruler was justified if the ruler becomes wicked, loses the trust of the people or double-crossed the supreme being.

The “mandate of heaven” was first adopted during the Zhou Dynasty (1100-221 B.C.) and was described as a divine right to rule. The philosopher Mencis wrote about it at length and framed it in both moral and cosmic terms, stating that if a ruler is just and carries out the prescribed rituals to the ancestors then his rule and the cosmic, natural and human order would be maintained.

Later the mandate idea was incorporated into the Taoist concept that the collapse of a dynasty was preceded by "Disapprovals of Heaven," natural disasters such as great earthquakes, floods or fires and these were often preceded by certain cosmic signs. According to these beliefs on September 8, 2040 five planets will gather within the space of fewer than degrees "signaling the conferral of Heaven's Mandate."

The legendary emperors did not need to govern at all because the moral certitude that emanated from them was enough to bring about peace and prosperity. One ruler is said to have done nothing but reverently face the south.

Basis of the Mandate of Heaven

20080310-book six writing of Mater Kong, Sung tapei.jpg
9th century versions of
Confucian classics
The Mandate of Heaven was something earned through "virtue and moral rectitude" by a ruler that had a divine, magical and natural affect on the natural and social order. If the sacred social contract between the people and the ruler was violated, according to Sinologist Orville Schell, "the all-knowing forces of 'heaven' from which an emperor drew his 'mandate' to rule...would be withheld and his dynasty would collapse” and “the mandate then would be passed on to a new leader or dynasty.”

Unlike Japan, whose emperor came from a family that descended from gods and therefore could not lose his power to rule, China was ruled by dynasty whose mandate to rule could be taken away if emperor violated his special relationship with the Chinese people. European monarchs traditionally had trouble claiming any kind of divine mandate.

Behind the Mandate of Heaven was the belief that royal ancestors became divinities after they died. If they and heaven itself approved the current rulers their approval would make sure the world was in order; ying and yang were in balance, the seasons appeared when they were supposed to, harvests were plentiful and there were no calamitous events. If the royal ancestors and heaven didn’t approve then bad things would happen.

History has been interpreted as cyclical astrological growth and decay of dynasties. The fuzzy, ambiguous aspect of the mandate known as the "right of rebellion" which allowed new dynasties to rise up and replace corrupt ones has been instrumental in maintaining China's status as a state.

Confucianism, Education and Administration

Confucius is credited with organizing China's first educational system and setting up an efficient administration system, based on the careful selection of a bureaucracy that helped the emperor and other leaders rule. Members of the bureaucracy were trained in special schools and chosen for their jobs based on their the proficiency on a civil service exam that tested their knowledge of Confucian texts. Before Confucius's time the only schools in China were ones that taught archery.

Confucius regarded government and education as inseparable. Without good education, he reasoned, it was impossible to find leaders who possess the virtues to run a government. "What has one who is not able to govern himself, to do with governing others?" Confucius asked. Under Confucianism, teachers and scholars were regarded, like oldest males and fathers, as unquestioned authorities.

The basic principal behind Confucian education is that if you work hard, endure and suffer as a young person you will reap rewards later in life. The strategy of Confucian education, used in China for centuries, is to memorize the moral precepts in the hopes that they will rub off and improve the character of the person who memorizes them and makes him or her more moral. Teachers have traditionally been held in high esteem and their power and control has ben regarded as almost absolute.

Socialism and Communism

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1950s land reform poster
Socialism is a political system based on the concept that businesses and industries better serve the people if they are owned and operated by the workers and state. The idea sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, when gross inequalities and hardships caused by private ownership, were plain for all to see. In the 18th and 19th centuries a number of "utopian" philosophers offered idealist views of the world based on socialism. The word "socialism" first appeared in a cooperative journal in 1827.

Socialists viewed the profit motive as something inherently evil and selfish; and saw capitalists as evil people who would do anything to keep the wages of workers low so they could enrich themselves and live comfortably while workers suffered and lived in poverty. Socialists were generally regarded as reformers who made socialist reforms within the frameworks of existing governments, preferably democratic ones.

Communism is an extreme form in Socialism in which workers seize control of the government by revolution, and create a "dictatorship of the proletariat" in which there is no private property and the state (and thus the people) own everything. Workers and farmers are organized into communes or communal work units, hence the tern "Communism."

Chinese Communist Ideology

Beijing describes its ideology as communist, but its underpinnings are very different from Moscow-style Leninism or Stalinism. The new Chinese version of the Communist Manifesto reads "the world will be for the common people, and the sounds of happiness will reach the deepest springs. Ah! Come! People of every land, how can you not be roused?" not the traditional: "proletariats have nothing to lose but their chains. They have the world to win. Working men of all countries unite"

Maoism is a variant of Marxism, derived from the literature of Mao Zedong and is widely applied as the political and military guiding ideology in the Communist Party of China (CPC). Maoism is basically Marxism--which mostly addressed urban revolution--adapted to agrarian societies, with peasant farmers being the discriminated underclass rather than factory workers. Unlike the Russian Communists, who initially ignored rural peasants and believed that revolution was spread through the cities by workers in short dramatic bursts of activity, Mao believed that engaging Chinese peasants in a long war was the key to the success of his revolution.

Decisions and initiatives are done within a changing vocabulary and framework of Communist Party ideology. Ian Buruma wrote in the New York Times magazine, "First, the Chinese Communist Party reduced problems to crude and brutal class struggle. Then when people were sick of Maoism, they were lulled by the promise of universal prosperity...Since that dream cannot come true for many, if not most people, they are now subjected to aggressive nationalist propaganda...with constant campaigns to make China great, to stand up to America imperialism, to get the Olympics to Beijing, to win more gold medals and so on."

Almost nobody, including party cadres, believe in Communism any more. Even hard-liners don't bother with the Marxist-Leninist line anymore. When one official was asked by the New York Times what the Communist Party stood for, he said, “Nothing. Stability maybe. But really no ideals at all.”

The Communist Party has become increasingly technocratic as it seeks to reinforce its power in the face of public anger over corruption, and an ever-widening gulf between its ideology and the reality of life in an increasingly unequal society.

In the mid 2000s, the Communist Party began an effort to reconcile the obvious contradictions between the Marxist ideology. See Communism in a Changing World

Communist Propaganda: See Government in China Section; See Mao, Propaganda, History; Reading Between the Lines, See Media; Culture, See Censorship,

Communist Government in China

The Communist government has traditionally been regarded as a dictatorship of the proletariat. Participation in the government is limited to members of the Communist Party. Political power is concentrated in the Politburo of the Communist Party.

The Communist Party was organized according to Lenin's principal of "democratic centralism." In theory it was supposed to be made up elected officials in various units from the local to the national Party Congress level. In practice power flowed in the opposite direction. Delegates were generally selected from the top and rubber stamped on the local and republic level.

The first maxim of Marxist-Leninism was for the party to stay in power at all costs. The second was the that party was always right.

Is China a Fascist State?

Roland Farris wrote in Truthout: “There was a time when China was referred to as a society which was Communist or Post-Communist; today, the terms Authoritarian Capitalist or Capitalist with Asian/Chinese Characteristics are more common. However, there is a new term that appears to be increasingly applicable to the operation of the Chinese state and its impact on the lives of Chinese people and, above all, the education of Chinese youth born in the 1990s. It is increasingly clear that China is the most powerful, mature and internationally accepted fascist state in global history and its status as such should cause us all a great deal of concern. [Source: Roland Farris, Truthout, February 5, 2012]

To call China a fascist state is nothing particularly novel. In March 2010, the Taipei Times published an editorial by a J. Michael Cole , which refers to the writings of Umberto Eco and Robert Paxton to match accepted definitions of fascism with the socio-political realities in China. Cole points to the realities of emphasizing the role of the nation in all matters, including sports; a sense of national grievance as the core of national identity; the paranoid control of any potential opposition; and the rise of Han Chinese racism. Cole is right in much of his analysis. But for all its correctness, his analysis from Taipei cannot compare to the horror that is the lived reality of watching this fascist state unfold before one's very eyes in the center of Chinese power in Beijing.

Paxton provides a useful definition of fascism as "a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

As an educator trying to inculcate a sense of global citizenship in young Chinese, these characteristics are far too common in my encounters with the minds of Chinese youth. The most succinct example of such indoctrination came when one of my "International Education" students became angry about a discussion concerning global environmental degradation. Despite the fact that the documentary which framed our discussion focused on a wide range of global environmental issues and that it in fact made no reference to China, she insisted that I was shaming Chinese people by talking about the environment. She followed on to insist that since China had been humiliated by foreign powers with advanced weaponry, they had no choice but to develop as quickly as possible better weapons so that they could regain their dignity and territorial integrity. The rapidity with which a discussion of global environmental issues jumped to a rant on Chinese national humiliation is telling: As anyone who has spent time face to face with regular Chinese people is aware, one never knows exactly what will trigger such mental leaps.

It becomes clear very early on to those who venture outside the venues of the rich, powerful and tactful, that the education system is rife with lessons in national humiliation, social Darwinism and the cult of the nation. Students are taught that, prior to recent history, China was the dominant power in the world, with 5,000 years of uninterrupted power and prosperity. Any attempt to engage in a discussion concerning the correctness of referring to the various pre-national ethno-cultural entities that contended for the territory of what is now called the People's Republic of China in nation-state terms is met with hostility. Never mind that, until 1949, the geographic nation-state known as "China" today had not really existed, that a series of different ethnic and cultural groups, coexisting in separate kingdoms, speaking different languages and carrying on different customs, competed for supremacy much the same way that various European nations competed until recent times. When I try to impress that arguing for an imagined 5,000-year-old Chinese empire which must be re-established is akin to Italians insisting on the restoration of the Roman Empire, I am met with a wall of stubborn and often hostile refusal.

Social Darwinism has reached the level of state religion in modern Chinese society, with the ubiquitous phrases expounding the importance of "developing oneself" and "using one's advantage" to prove one's fitness over others. There is usually a racial overtone to such talk, with the Han Chinese cast as the dominant race in the globe that - due to national complacency - were recently overtaken by hairy barbarians from the West, but will eventually reinstate their domination over the globe. Those of other ethnic origins, particularly of African descent, are often spoken of in condescending, almost sub-human terms, as a kind of hapless helper race to be valued for their physical strength and musical talents, but otherwise to be "managed" by one of the superior, more "developed" races. Such views are not implicitly conveyed, but explicitly, in the form of an overtly racist natural history taught in the school system wherein Chinese physical characteristics of reduced body hair and physical size are taken to indicate a higher level of racial development over hairier and supposedly more physically robust Europeans and Africans who only recently became civilized and so bear the characteristics of a harsher lifestyle. My students unflinchingly express a condescending affection for Africans, with statements such as, "I like black people, because, since they are closer to animals, they are really good at sports." There is a widespread belief among average Chinese that Africans and Chinese are not able to produce offspring together and, therefore, effectively constitute separate species.

Another key indicator of fascist state organization is the militarization of the youth, which is an integral part of the Chinese education system - and indeed of Chinese working life. All university students in their freshman year are obliged to enroll in five weeks of military training and indoctrination, most of which consists in standing still for long periods of time, marching for hours on end from 5 AM until 1 AM, shouting, "Yi! Er!" over and over and mass-rehearsed and largely useless hand-to-hand combat drills. While some schools provide riflery and first-aid training, the purpose of the training is largely to inculcate in the students a sense that their education is part of the nation's strength rather than their individual personal aspirations. Such training begins in middle school and is a yearly event all the way up until the first year of university, after which it ceases. There truly is nothing scarier than 18-year-old boys dressed up in ill-fitting military uniforms running around with plastic truncheons.

Communism and Society in China

left In China the authority of the state and maintenance of social stability have precedence over the well being of individuals and individual rights. Chinese are taught in the education system and often told by their parents to devote their energies and talents for the good of China not for their personal glory or money.

Communist society has not been a classless society. Under Mao, it was essentially divided into three tiers: 1) the privileged elite that ran the country; 2) the urban, educated professional class; and 3) the blue-collar industrial workers and farmers. The most basic social divisions were between the peasants, mostly subsistence farmers bound to the land, and urban people who worked in factories and in the bureaucracy

The government has the ability to mobilize large numbers of people quickly. The military is called in to help offer relief after major earthquakes or floods. Neighborhood watch teams make sure parents don’t have too many children and keep an eye out for terrorists.

There is an understanding in China that you can do most anything, say anything and wear anything as long as you stay out of politics and don’t try to organize people. Chinese that have overstepped the bounds have ended up in jail or had to sit through self-criticism meetings and admit faults they really didn't have.

Resilience of the Communist Party in China

Jim Yardley wrote in the New York Times, “Economic and social change is so rapid in China that the Communist Party is sometimes depicted as an overwhelmed caretaker” yet “the party has adapted and navigated its way forward, losening its grip on elements of society even as it crushes and courts threats to its hold on political power.”

David Shambough, a George Washington University political scientist and author of China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation, told the New York Times, “This is a very reflective Party. They are adaptive, reflective and open, within limits. But survival is the bottom line. And they see survival as the an outcome of adaption.”

Introspection by the Communist Party in China

The Communist Party has managed to hold to power by taking a careful look itself and others. The Washington Post’s John Pomfret wrote: “Tiananmen saved the party from collapse: it prompted the party to launch a far-reaching investigation into how some political parties succeeded in staying in power and why others failed. As a result of that study, it replaced thousands of party hacks with technocrats and college graduates. It opened the door to business owners who decades ago would have been jailed for walking “the capitalist road.”

A report issued in 2001, based in part on evaluations of the changes that occurred in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism there, stated that social and economic changes brought about by prosperity and globalization “may bring growing dangers and pressures, and can be predicted that in the ensuing period the number” or public protests “may jump, severely harming social stability.”

In 2004, Zeng Qinghong, a vice president and highly-regarded political fixer in the Communist Party warned that “painful lessons” learned from the collapse of the Soviet Union had to be addressed and that members of the party need to “wake up” and realize that “a party’s power does not necessarily last as long as the party does.” He was alluding to demands on the Communist Party to reform in the face of pressures such as economic liberalization, globalization and stagnation in the party.

Chinese Communism in a Changing World

Marxism is above all a materialist ideology. Communism, socialism and Marxism have managed to stay alive in China as ideas and philosophies even though their ideologies and principals in many ways contradict the reality that exists in China today and changes that have brought prosperity and a better life to many ordinary Chinese.

Communist Party ideology is essentially pragmatic. One foreign diplomat told the Washington Post: “The trouble now is that the principles of the party are farther and farther from the everyday reality” An editor at a party publishing house said: “Ideas about socialism and communism have become very shaky” and many believe they are “no longer appropriate for China.”

A 25-year-old teacher told Reuters “We were taught Marxism and Leninism in school. But when I became independent and went to college, I saw professors take bribes and I felt the old slogans like “serve the people” were no longer relevant.

Marxism is hardly discussed any more even among Communist intellectuals. John Pomfret of the Washington Post wrote: “Communism as an ideology is dead. It has been replaced by hedonism...Nationalism may appeal to a few hot-headed students but it can’t compare to a night on the town with a hot hostess in a Karaoke bar...China’s energy is focused on production and consumption---not self-reflection. This country is all id and no superego. It citizens hunger for sex, food, money, goods and cheap thrills.”

Comparing China in the 2000s to China in the past one historian with a lot of experience in China told the New York Times, “There’s much greater awareness of the need to be open to the outside world generally, and much greater relaxation within China, and much greater willingness to listen to professional as opposed to ideological reasons.”

Adapting Communism to a Changing World in China

Poster from the 1980s
Many traditional Communists are concerned about the way Communist China has distanced itself from its original socialist ideals as it has embraced free market economics. These traditionalists are disturbed by the way socialist principals have been tossed out and replaced with greed and corruption and also by the way some people have been allowed to get so rich and others have become so poor.

Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post:’since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, China's ruling party has pulled off an extraordinary Houdini act, shaking off the horrors of Mao-made catastrophe---including the death by starvation of 35 to 40 million people in the so-called Great Leap Forward---and disentangling itself from the ideological chains that doomed the Soviet communists. Highly flexible on matters of economic doctrine but fiercely rigid in its commitment to political control, the party has not only survived but thrived. It now has 78 million members, including many multimillionaires. "We are the Communist Party," said Chen Yuan, a senior Chinese banker and the son of a Long March veteran, "and we decide what communism means." [Source: By Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, July 25, 2010]

There have been periodic calls for China to re-embrace its socialist ideals but China at this point has come too far to step back. Instead what is happening is that new philosophies have emerged that attempt to explain and rationalize how entrepreneurship and free markets can merge, coexist and flourish with socialism and communism in what is now described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” In some cases officials have been required to undergoing training is such philosophies. Ordinary people for the most part could care less about them.

Marxism is used today primarily as a means of justifying the government’s hold on power and its legitimacy. In the mid 2000s, the government opened a new $14 million Marxism-Leninism academy in Beijing with 200 employees, headed by a president who holds a vice-minister rank in the Chinese Cabinet. Millions of dollars is also spent on producing new translations of Marxist literature and new school textbooks with the most recent spins and philosophies..

The Communist Party’s legitimacy is now largely based on promoting and defending Chinese nationalism. The response to the Tibetan uprising showed the depth of this nationalism.

Bao Ting, a senior party official, who spent seven years in prison for challenging hardliners during the Tiananmen Square protests, told Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times than in the old days hard-liners worried about a “peaceful revolution”---a gradual shift to a Western-style political system and economic system. “Now, in fact, what we have is a peaceful revolution.”

See Nationalism

Book: China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation by David Shambough, a George Washington University political scientist.

Reforming and Modernizing the Chinese Communist Party

“The party has largely transformed itself “from a mass organization designed for mass mobilization and ideological campaigns, into a technocratic leadership corps---Professor Jeremy Paltiel of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, told The Guardian. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 20, 2009]

Outwardly, the party remains rigidly ideological; members are drilled in Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents and current president Hu Jintao's Scientific Development Outlook. Hu has, in fact, stepped up political education , perhaps because of an evident disconnect: to many, what the party really stands for is personal advancement, social stability and national unity. “There's a difference between believing in Marxism and being a party member,” one said drily. [Ibid]

“For the last two decades, the party's mission had been to “maintain the brand but change the content,” suggested Anne-Marie Brady, associate professor of political science at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. “Experts have been called in to study political change overseas, culling lessons from New Labor and French and German socialists , and using Gorbachev's reforms as an example of what not to do...That learning from the west has been brought back into China and used to maintain and enhance the strength of the current political system.” [Ibid]

20080310-Political reforem.jpg
Political reforms poster
In 2001, President Jiang Zemin announced that capitalists, private businessman and entrepreneurs were welcome to join the Communist party. At that time, an estimated 113,000 party members ran businesses, most of them started after the members joined the party. This attitude contrasts with 1950s and the Cultural Revolution, when people deemed capitalists were often shot on sight or sent to prison camps. See Jiang Zemin, History

Some regard the decision to let capitalists and businessmen into the party as a way of preventing these people from forming an opposition. Many entrepreneurs have joined the Communist Party and become government officials. Many of younger people who have joined the party reportedly have done so to make business connections in the government. There are now millionaire members, branches in Wal-Marts and plans to open a branch on the first Chinese space station.

See Elections, Separate Section.

In 2010, Communist party officials used Bryan Adams’hit Everything I Do, I Do it For You as the theme song for a publicity drive. The song was played from hidden speakers during a tour of the Campus of the Central Part School, the intellectual home of China's Communist leadership. “[The purpose of] our party is to serve the people. We have nothing to hide,” Chen Baosheng, vice president of the Central Party School, told The Guardian when the school opened its doors to reporters for its first media tour today. The publicity campaign is part of a wider attempt to modernize the party. Beijing-based political analyst Russell Leigh Moses said: “This is something of a reform, though more a repackaging and representation. “It's designed to bring out a better spin which officials in Beijing could benefit from. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, June 30, 2010]

The government has modernized its techniques as well as its cadres. It is now an assiduous user of opinion polling and sophisticated spin techniques, showing greater responsiveness to public opinion. Unlike its models overseas, it does not require votes: but it needs at least tacit support. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 20, 2009]

Communist party officials used Bryan Adams’hit Everything I Do, I Do it For You as the theme song for a publicity drive. The song was played from hidden speakers during a tour of the Campus of the Central Part School, the intellectual home of China's Communist leadership. “[The purpose of] our party is to serve the people. We have nothing to hide,” Chen Baosheng, vice president of the Central Party School, told The Guardian when the school opened its doors to reporters for its first media tour today.

China’s Communist Party Allows More Dissent and Freedom of Speech

Allowing people more space to challenge the status quo may, in fact, help to perpetuate the system, providing outlets for frustration and dissent as long as there are no attempts to organize independently; what the party fears most are alternative power structures. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 20, 2009]

When public outrage becomes widespread and dangerous over tainted baby milk, for example authorities often seek to assuage it before stamping it out. Bloggers may be allowed to have their say before the shutters come down. Official heads may roll. New initiatives may be announced. [Ibid]

The demands of Chinese citizens have carved out greater albeit variable space to criticize lower-ranking officials or hold them to account, engage in public affairs, debate ideas and take part in an emerging civil society. [Ibid]

Yet lawyers, activists and dissident intellectuals are routinely harassed and threatened. Even parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake have been bullied and detained for protesting about shoddily built schools. “If [people] don't touch the line, they can do a lot of things. But there is a line there,” one young Chinese woman told The Guardian. [Ibid]

For All Its Modernizations the Chinese Communist Party Remains Leninist at Its Core

Jerome A. Cohen wrote in South China Morning Post, “Almost 35 years after Mao Zedong's death, China-watchers still debate his influence. Does his distinctive adaptation of Marxist-Leninist ideology continue to guide the policies, politics and practices of an increasingly powerful party-state that now confronts challenges the chairman never had to face? Some maintain that Maoism long ago lost its ability to affect official conduct and today serves mainly to project an image of communist continuity amid profound national transformations. Other observers see, at least in certain aspects of government, the persisting relevance of Maoist thought, especially since 2007, when the 17th party congress launched an effort to recreate the "red culture" of the party's revolutionary pre-"Liberation" past.

At a dinner party in Beijing in the 1990s Rupert Murdoch, the boss of New York-based News Corp. declared that he hadn't met a single communist during all his visits to China. Superficially this may seem so but as Richard McGregor argues in his book The Party the modern Chinese state "still runs on Soviet hardware," and “Lenin, who designed the prototype used to run communist countries around the world, would recognize the [Chinese] model immediately.” Much of this hardware lies hidden from view. "The Party is like God. He is everywhere. You just can't see him," a professor at People's University in Beijing explained to McGregor. [Source: By Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, July 25, 2010]

"The Chinese communist system is, in many ways, rotten, costly, corrupt and often dysfunctional," McGregor wrote. "But the system has also proved to be flexible and protean enough to absorb everything that has been thrown at it, to the surprise and horror of many in the west. For the foreseeable future, it looks as though their wish, to bestride the world as a colossus on their own implacable terms, will come true." [Ibid]

Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post: “McGregor's analysis does not preclude the possibility that the party might one day evolve into a more open and less secretive organization, as happened to its old enemy in Taiwan, the KMT, a once rigidly Leninist outfit. Indeed, since the publication of this book, the Chinese Communist Party has made a big show of greater transparency, inviting journalists to visit the Central Party School in Beijing and announcing the appointment of spokespersons for previously media-phobic party bodies, including the Central Organization Department.” [Ibid]

“But there is no sign of the party surrendering its core prerogative: immunity from independent scrutiny of its actions or checks on its authority. Chinese judges, police officers, journalists and others are no longer mere cogs in a vicious totalitarian system. But, for all the relative freedom they now enjoy to act as professionals, not simply as political hacks, they remain firmly subordinate to what has become the Chinese Communist Party's only real ideology: its own survival.” [Ibid]

The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor (Harper, 2010) McGregor has been a reporter with the Financial Times for some time. The Washington Post called the book “illuminating and important.”

Political Reformers in China

Since the mushrooming and then suppression of the Tiananmen democracy protests amid a split between reformists and conservatives, China's leaders have concluded that cracks at the top can only lead to disaster. Maintaining consensus , at least in public , has been central to their operation. If anyone is pushing for major reform, it is not evident. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 20, 2009]

The monthly magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu (Annals of Emperors Huang and Yan) whose editorial board and contributors include reformist-minded former party heavyweights, retired officials and former state media journalists, has long been seen as a thorn in the side of the conservative faction of the communist government. [Source: Verna Yu, Asia Times, November 22, 2008]

Its liberal stance has often fallen foul of official censors. In July 2008, after a controversial article about reformer Zhao Ziyang was published an official visited publisher Du Daozheng at his home, conveying a message from the Ministry of Culture seeking his retirement, said chief editor Wu Si. “They said he was quite elderly and must be quite tired, so it was time he stepped down,” Wu said. The order was widely seen by insiders as the first step of a wider purge of the magazine, which has already been warned several times for publishing essays which touched on sensitive topics seen as tacitly critical of the present leadership. [Ibid]

Calls for Reforms from Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao

The Strait Times reported in October 2010 that several hundred retired party cadres issued an open letter calling for greater freedom of expression and thought as the first concrete step towards political reform. In their letter, they disclosed that soon after taking power in 2003, President Hu Jintao had told an internal meeting that the CCP would 'die a natural death' unless it undertook political reform. By pointing out that Hu had backtracked on his reform promises since then, the cadres were putting pressure on the next CCP boss to get the job done. [Source: Ching Cheong, the Strait Times, October 22, 2010]

See Wen Jiabao, the Reformer

Steven Hill of Truth Dig wrote. “Wen’s remarks led to speculation that Shenzhen, which set the pace for China’s economic development, could soon become a “special political zone.” But even with such top-level endorsement the prospects of democracy remain unclear, since the two leaders’ remarks raised a lot of eyebrows among the old guard and hard-liners in Beijing. The public remarks of the premier are usually accorded prominent coverage in official media, but state media either played down or avoided reporting on Wen’s calls for political reforms.” [Source: Steven Hill, Truth Dig, December 15, 2010]

Political Challenges in China

Professor Sun Liping, a sociologist at Tsinghua University, , and the doctoral supervisor of Xi Jinping , warned earlier in 2009 that China's greatest danger was not social instability, as authorities say, but instead “social decay”, with rising inequality and alienation. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 20, 2009]

“The fundamental cause is the marriage between political power and capitalism,” he wrote. “The two have joined hands in China We thought power would be constrained in a market economy. But we have now seen that power has acquired higher value and greater space for exertion.” [Ibid]

Image Sources: 2) Palace Museum, Taipei; 3, 4) Landsberger Posters

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012

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