The Big Ideas

by Malcolm Riddell

Harvard Magazine

Ed Steinfeld | Brown University

Harvard Magazine

Ed Steinfeld | Brown University

Harvard Magazine

'From Rebel to Ruler': Tony Saich on Chinese Communism at 100
'From Rebel to Ruler': Tony Saich on Chinese Communism at 100
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July 1, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘At so many points during its century-long existence, the CCP appeared to be in its death throes, whether as a result of external attack or self-inflicted internal strife.’
‘Yet it has not only survived but has led China to a level of worldwide power and influence that just a few years ago, let alone a century ago at the party’s inception, would have been unimaginable.’

‘In his magisterial account of the hundred-year history of the Chinese Communist Party,  From Rebel to Ruler, Tony Saich identifies themes extending from the genesis of the CCP in the early 1920s all the way through the rule of Xi Jinping over a rising global superpower today.’

‘Immediately striking among these themes is the omnipresence of struggle:’

  • ‘Struggle against the foreign-controlled police and local warlords in the 1920s; struggle against the rival Nationalist Party (KMT) for revolutionary and national leadership; struggle within the party among various elite factions; continued struggle within the party under Mao’s leadership after the official establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949; and struggle against all manner of foreign threats, including a cataclysmic rift with the Soviet Union in the 1950s and ’60s, and a deepening conflict with the United States today.’

‘With struggle has come the additional theme of profound sacrifice and bloodshed:’

  • ‘Near total annihilation in the face of the KMT’s 1927 “White Terror”; near total annihilation yet again at the hands of the KMT during the Long March retreat of 1934-35; ghastly battlefield losses in the Anti-Japanese War (World War II) and the War to Resist America and Aid Korea (Korean War); millions of deaths stemming from the famine induced by the Great Leap Forward, a grievous error by the party itself; and at least another million lost through the internecine violence of the Cultural Revolution, yet another grave leadership error.’

‘But, struggle and sacrifice have generated still another theme, the party’s almost mythic capacity for resilience, endurance, and re-creation.’

  • ‘At so many points during its century-long existence, the CCP appeared to be in its death throes, whether as a result of external attack or self-inflicted internal strife.’
  • ‘Yet it has not only survived, but has led China to a level of worldwide power and influence that just a few years ago, let alone a century ago at the party’s inception, would have been unimaginable.’

‘What do these historical patterns and legacies mean for governance in China now? At least two points underscored by Saich stand out.’

‘First, despite dizzying ideological zigzags over time, and equally head-spinning volte-face with respect to policy practice, China’s political leadership today still goes to extraordinary lengths to insist on its own infallibility and inevitability.’

  • ‘As Saich beautifully documents, whenever the party has undergone major internal power struggles no effort has been spared to totally rewrite history, erase inconvenient truths from the past, and thoroughly massage the facts so as to justify both the historical inevitability and moral rectitude of the leadership cadre that emerged.’
  • ‘Saich writes: “The party believes that it possesses the ability not only to correctly interpret the past but also to outline the future, and this belief has led the party to declare its infallibility. Thus, when mistakes are made, blame must lie either with members of the party following the incorrect political line and leading party members astray, or with ‘outsiders,’ especially foreigners, meddling in party affairs.” ’

‘That leads to a second point raised by Saich. For all the fragility of China’s governance model, and for all its costly blunders past and present, the CCP enjoys a relatively high degree of legitimacy among Chinese citizens.’

  • ‘The party is inextricably associated with a revolution and modernization process that many Chinese still see as their own, something linked to their personal identity.’
  • ‘Alas, in the eyes of many Chinese citizens right now, CCP-style authoritarianism looks pretty appealing relative to what the world’s leading democracies, especially the United States, have on offer.’

‘While questions about what China is and is becoming will continue to perplex, readers searching for a road map toward sound answers would be well advised to begin with From Rebel to Ruler. A better primer on Chinese elite politics and political history cannot be found.’

Bloomberg

CHINADebate

The Big Ideas

'China Plans to Exempt H.K. IPOs From Cybersecurity Reviews'

‘China plans to exempt companies going public in Hong Kong from first seeking the approval of the country’s cybersecurity regulator, removing one hurdle for businesses that list in the Asian financial hub instead of the U.S.’
7/18/2021

The Wall Street Journal

CHINADebate

The Big Ideas

The Editorial Board | The Wall Street Journal

'Biden’s Warning on Hong Kong'

‘The pretense of Chinese and Hong Kong authorities is that their crackdown on the rule of law and dissent will have no effect on Hong Kong’s viability as an international center for trade and finance.’
The Editorial Board | The Wall Street Journal
7/18/2021

CHINADebate

CHINADebate

The Big Ideas

Why the U.S. Lacks Leverage over China

During the celebration of the Chinese Communist Party’s Centennial celebration, Mr. Xi stood in the same place on the balcony facing Tiananmen Square where Mao Zedong stood when he announced the founding of the PRC; Mr. Xi wore a gray Mao suit, among a sea of blue western suits; and he centered himself right above the portrait of Mao, who is similarly attired.
Malcolm Riddell
Founder of CHINADebate
7/18/2021

Foreign Affairs

CHINADebate

The Big Ideas

Kurt Tong | Asia Group

Hong Kong and the Limits of Decoupling

‘The United States’ inability to make China regret—much less reverse—its transgressions in Hong Kong suggests that financial separation, sanctions, and economic barriers are less reliable tools than many in Washington believe.’
Kurt Tong | Asia Group
7/18/2021

Nikkei Asia

CHINADebate

The Big Ideas

'I will aim for Mao's Status.'

‘There on the gate was Xi Jinping, Chinese president and party general secretary, in a gray Mao suit. Just below his feet was the portrait of Mao Zedong, also dressed in a gray Mao suit.’
7/18/2021

Financial Times

CHINADebate

The Big Ideas

'US warns companies of risk of doing business in Hong Kong'

“In the face of Beijing’s decisions over the past year that have stifled the democratic aspirations of people in Hong Kong, we are taking action,” said Antony Blinken, US secretary of state. “Today we send a clear message that the US resolutely stands with Hong Kongers.”
7/18/2021

CHINADebate

CHINADebate

The Big Ideas

The Chinese Point of View

Here are a few of my thoughts on the importance of Wang Jisi’s ‘The Plot Against China.’ Yuen Yuen Ang’s ‘The Evolution of Chinese Corruption’ speaks for itself - but note especially how Mr. Xi's anti-corruption campaign could hurt China's economy. I have now lived long enough that when a friend complains about his or her spouse, I say to myself, ‘There are no doubt two sides to this story.’
Malcolm Riddell
Founder of CHINADebate
7/4/2021

Foreign Affairs

CHINADebate

The Big Ideas

Wang Jisi | President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University

'How Beijing Sees U.S.-China Relations'

‘In Chinese eyes, the most significant threat to China’s sovereignty and national security has long been U.S. interference in its internal affairs aimed at changing the country’s political system and undermining the CCP.’
Wang Jisi | President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University
7/4/2021
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