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Tuesday October 23 2007

(As in: will the current Chinese regime fail?  China itself surely won’t fail.)

Read about it in this excerpt of the book of that name, by John Lee.

Excerpt of excerpt:

… [T]he size of instances of unrest is growing and can be frightening. For example, in cases recently documented for 2003, a mob of 50,000 torched police cars in Chongqing to protest against the beating of a migrant worker; 100,000 stormed a government building and forced the postponement of a dam project in Sichuan due to inadequate compensation; 20,000 miners and their families rioted against lay-offs and the loss of their pensions.

Other recent instances of unrest include 80,000 retired workers who protested in China’s northeast over unpaid pensions in 2002; 30,000 rioting over exorbitant bridge tolls issued by local authorities in 2004; 7000 textile workers protesting after being forbidden to form their own union in the Shaanxi province in 2004. Of the 74,000 instances recorded in 2004, 17 involved 10,000 or more people, 46 involved 5000 or more people and 120 involved 1000 or more people. That order was restored only after martial law was implemented in many of these cases highlights the seriousness of the problem. Even for the smaller incidents, the numerous anecdotal accounts of protesters violently targeting or resisting authorities speaks volumes about the crumbling regard for the “people’s” party.

I remember how the Communist regime that ruled Poland fell to bits in the seventies and eighties, and maybe there’s a parallel.  Step one in the fall of Poland, as I recall the story, and as many others (it seems to me) rather neglect to include in the story, was a massive pile of money.  In China’s case the pile of money comes from farming out the Chinese coastal population to manufacturing entrepreneurs and taxing and slice-of-the-action-know-what-I-mean-John-ing the resulting gush of money.  In Poland’s case, the money was simply donated by Western banker-wankers.

Poland’s ruling elite then settled down to spend that money on themselves, and took their collective eye off the ball.  And since their money was unearned, they lost any prestige or dignity they had previously possessed.  That allowed the Pope, Solidarnosc, etc., to do their thing.  And that mattered, because we now know that although the USSR was prepared to threaten yet another invasion (along the lines of the earlier Hungarian and Czech operations) they too had lost the will to keep their power in the only way they truly could.

China’s elite now seem to be becoming similarly diverted and delegitimated by their new luxury lifestyles.  One of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about the semi-capitalism that has erupted in China in recent years, quite aside from the fact that I welcome the cheap products that we in the West are having bestowed upon us, is that I believe that this process will undermine rather than strengthen, indeed already is undermining, the current primitive and predatory political arrangements in China.

Part of the Poland story in the eighties was the vital impact of communications technology in enabling outsiders to keep in touch with and to support trouble-makers within Poland.  John Lee says a lot less about that.  He also says less about how all the new money may be paying for trouble as well as for the swimming pools and mistresses of those who would be on the receiving end of the trouble.

Nevertheless, all in all, the way Lee tells it, this sounds like a classic pre-revolutionary-upheaval scenario.

The main thing that is missing - again: as John Lee tells it in the excerpt quoted above - is a political program to stake out the political future and unite opposition to the current regime.  Maybe such programs exist, but have not received widespread enough publicity.  (You know the kind of thing: democracy, end to corruption, don’t not pay pensions, don’t smash down people’s houses without any warning, bosses must obey the law, independent judiciary, etc. etc..) The thing that really finishes off crappy regimes is the sense, on both sides, that the crappy regime in question has lost control of the future.  And the way to control the future is to talk about it and write about.  Presumably Chinese émigré organisations are doing this, alongside publicising all those demos by dispossessed workers and outraged pensioners, but my admittedly only very casual listening out for such stuff has not picked up much along these lines.

Nevertheless, this key quote from near the top of the excerpt linked to shows that half the ideological battle is being won:

China is no longer a totalitarian state. The regime no longer seeks to control every aspect of life or way of thinking. Although the Chinese Communist Party remains determined to hold on to power, there is no utopian goal as such that totalitarian regimes ruthlessly strive towards.

We come back to that pile of money.  The pile of money did that, I reckon.  Talk about an open ideological goal, just begging to have its net bent backwards.

If China’s current bosses don’t control everything, they may end up controlling nothing, unless they radically alter their manner of ruling.  They must become more law-abiding and predictable in their predations, and allow reasonably honest elections in which the people can choose which members of the elite will do the predating, thereby to moderate it, and thereby to allow said people to get at least a slice of the new money action themselves.

All it needs is a few sons and daughters of the old elite, with the right mixture of youthful idealism and political savvy to concoct the right manifesti, and it could all start to happen.

I know what the objection to the above might be.  The new elite are totally in bed with the new capitalists, indeed these are indistinguishable groups, and all are far too busy making and spending money to be bothering with politics.  Indeed, I’m sure the overwhelming majority of such people are doing exactly this.  But it only takes a few posh/rich people to break ranks to stir things up mightily.  Specifically, it needs a few posh/rich people of the next generation, to feel the need to earn the silver spoons their mouths already contained when they were born.

Maybe John Lee himself has in mind to do something along these lines.  (Lee?  Is that a Chinese name, I wonder?) I haven’t, as they say, read the whole thing, i.e. the whole book.

History keeps on happening, because people will insist on keeping on making it.  Because they can.  (Money again.)

But, I promise nothing!  China may not oblige.  This has really just been me thinking aloud, as I’m sure you could tell.