The Big Ideas

‘The Future of China’s Past: Rising China’s Next Act'

The Brown Journal of International Affairs

Charles Horner & Eric Brown | Hudson Institute
‘The Future of China’s Past: Rising China’s Next Act'
‘The Future of China’s Past: Rising China’s Next Act'
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February 20, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘By the Party’s own acknowledgment, Deng’s initial arrangement has run its course. It is therefore time to develop a new understanding that will do for the Party in the next 30 years what Deng’s program did in the previous era. As Mao and Deng appeared at just the right moment, so too, says the Party, has its current General Secretary, Xi Jinping.’
BIG IDEA | ‘Xi has been in charge since March 2013, and the PRC has become notably different since.’
‘Political scientists were once comfortable describing the PRC as “post-totalitarian” or “authoritarian.” ’
‘Today, the term “neo totalitarian” is more appropriate, as the ruling Party builds the most technologically advanced police state ever known and escalates the repression of millions of its subjects who seek the modern political and religious rights promised under the PRC’
‘The Party also believes that its rule at home can be either strengthened or weakened by trends in the existing world order, trends it seeks to control.’

‘The Communist Party of China (CCP), since its founding in l921, has viewed itself as an ideological enterprise, led by an intellectual elite, as well as a Party of analysis and study, especially of history.’

  • ‘It declares that its conduct is directed by Marxism, a doctrine for comprehending the past and predicting the future, and by Leninism, a science for securing and then retaining political power.’

‘In the l920s and 1930s, the CCP was driven out of cities, and it faced near extinction.’

  • ‘At that point, Mao Zedong (1893–1976) offered a “correct” analysis and a new program—building the power of the Party in the countryside.

‘In the 1970s, when the regime had once again become shaky, Deng Xiaoping (1904–97) offered his own analysis and program.’

  • ‘He called it “reform and opening up,” and it was designed to connect the previously autarchical PRC to the international economy.’
  • ‘Deng’s successful program kept the Party in power for another thirty years.

‘But today, by the Party’s own acknowledgment, Deng’s initial arrangement has run its course.’

  • ‘It is therefore time to develop a new understanding that will do for the Party in the next 30 years what Deng’s program did in the previous era.’

‘As Mao and Deng appeared at just the right moment, so too, says the Party, has its current General Secretary, Xi Jinping. Xi’s doctrine, unveiled in October 2017, is known formally as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” ’

  • ‘In January 2018, Xi Jinping Thought was made part of the Communist Party’s constitution.’
  • ‘With Xi Jinping Thought, the Party is offering a wholly new ideological justification for the PRC’s existence, one that it says derives from authentically Chinese concepts rooted in China’s deep past, not the modern ideas it has relied on since its creation.’

‘Xi has been in charge since March 2013, and the PRC has become notably different since.’

  • ‘Political scientists were once comfortable describing the PRC as “post-totalitarian” or “authoritarian.” ’
  • ‘Today, the term “neo totalitarian” is more appropriate, as the ruling Party builds the most technologically advanced police state ever known and escalates the repression of millions of its subjects who seek the modern political and religious rights promised under the PRC’

‘The Party also believes that its rule at home can be either strengthened or weakened by trends in the existing world order, trends it seeks to control.’

  • ‘Therefore, Xi’s PRC has also launched a many-faceted assault on the post-1991 international order.’
  • It has significantly expanded its military power, which it uses to threaten the Chinese-speaking democracy in Taiwan and to press unfounded territorial claims against its neighbors in the Pacific Rim and across the Himalayas.’
  • ‘The Party is also engaged in a major propaganda effort to propound a new vision of China as a global hegemon.’

My Take

In her excellent book,  The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, Liz Economy explains posits three Chinese revolutions: Mao, Deng, and Xi.

This essay follows that pattern but with a different take. The authors provide in 16 pages the cultural as well as the historical underpinnings of each.

They also posit that a fourth revolution may be coming:

'There is yet a third contradiction, one created by the Party’s appropriation of China’s heritage, including of Confucianism..
'One senses this is an embrace born of desperation, of a need to re-write the history of the PRC yet again, for the Party to explain itself once more to the many peoples it rules. In this, the Party is not likely to succeed, and it will thus face a stark choice between two “China Models.”
One is the way of Xi Jinping—more repression and ethno-nationalism at home and an unceasing manufacturing of international tensions.
The other way, of course, is the way of those Chinese who see the universal in their past, and who compete for self-betterment and advantage and the respect of other nations in the modern world, not against the world. This would require a transition from the PRC III to a proto-democratic PRC IV.'

After three revolutions, the idea of a fourth may not be so far-fetched. Stay tuned.