Evaluating China's Era of Communist Rule

On the PRC's 60th anniversary, commentators reflect on the history and future of the Communist Party

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Today is the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, an event that has drawn praise for China's economic leadership and scorn for its human rights failures. As Beijing is flooded with goose-stepping soldiers and clean energy workers waving from parade floats, experts evaluate the state of China and its communist rule. There's no question that China's middle class enjoys dramatic economic progress while the Communist Party's still-tight grip loosens, but many experts are asking how much their interests align. Do the Chinese people and their leaders share the same goals, or are they pulling the world's most populous country in disparate directions?

  • Celebrate Chinese People, Not Politics  Isabel Hilton argued in the Guardian that China's rise is an accomplishment of the Chinese people despite its political leadership. "The message is one of prosperity and national strength under the party's benign, enlightened leadership: a story exclusively of the last three decades," she wrote. "It is more accurate to say that the people lifted the Communist party out of poverty – once it had the sense to get out of the people's way." Hilton described the Communist Party's horrific abuses during its first 30 years of power. "Let us wish too that the people soon have the right to their own version of history and their own place in the parade."
  • China Should Abandon its 'Big Lie'  Minxin Pei wrote in the Financial Times that communist China must acknowledge its troubled history, which has been "whitewashed" out. The years from 1957 to 1976 "are known for the worst human suffering, brutality and fanaticism in Chinese history." For example, "Mao's Great Leap Forward, an ill-conceived scheme to vault China into the industrialised world in 1958, led to the worst famine in world history, in which about 36m people starved to death." Pei explained, "The party's suppression of historical memory carries a huge cost. Beijing cannot expect to gain genuine international respect unless its leaders confront history and achieve political reconciliation with their people, many of them victims of the party’s failures during the Maoist era."
  • Communist Party 'Divorced From its Subjects'  Gordon G. Chang warned of troublesome discord between Chinese leadership and people. "As the late Samuel Huntington noted, instability occurs under many conditions, but especially when political institutions do not keep up with the social forces unleashed by economic change," he wrote. "When I went to my dad's hometown, dusty Rugao in Jiangsu province, last summer, no one wanted to talk about the Olympics, which were seen as 'the government's games.' Instead, almost everyone asked how American democracy worked and who would win the presidential election." Chang is the author of a book titled "The Coming Collapse of China."
  • Why China Must Go Free-Market  Foreign Policy's John Lee lamented the billion-strong lower class that makes China "the most unequal country in all Asia." He wrote, "While the Chinese state is rich and the party powerful, civil society is weak and the vast majority of people remain poor." He explained, "For example, according to a 2005 Chinese Academy of Social Sciences report, more than 40 million households have had their lands illegally seized by corrupt and unaccountable local officials over the past decade. In the 1990s, poverty alleviation slowed dramatically, and since 2000, the numbers of those still in poverty actually doubled in absolute terms." Lee concluded China must "take its hands off the levers of economic power."
  • Communist Party Clamping Down Again  The Wall Street Journal's Asia edition editorial anticipated an "uncertain future" for the party. "Party apparatchiks are reasserting their control over the judiciary, instructing judges to follow the Party first, then the people and the law. The Party has also reasserted its control over information by clamping down on the Internet and expanding state-run media," it wrote. "Chinese economist Wu Jinglian, who helped guide China's transition to a market economy decades ago, is now warning about the reversal of reform." It concluded, "Until China's leaders can trust their own people to attend a parade—and pass judgment from the ballot box—the so-called people's revolution will remain unrealized."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.