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China’s Communist Party: We Will Rule Forever

Last Thursday, a senior official historian said China’s ruling organization can stay in power indefinitely. “The Communist Party has built China to what it is today,” said Li Zhongjie to an audience of Chinese academics and journalists. “Many countries in the world are extremely envious. So why can’t we carry on?”

At the beginning of this year, almost all analysts agreed with Li. We were assured that the party was resilient, foresighted, and durable.

Now, there is doubt as the global narrative is beginning to change. There are many reasons for the reappraisal, and many of them start with the economy, now the world’s second largest. China’s economy, in short, is deteriorating. Economic growth is slowing fast at the same time inflation is accelerating. And just about every observer is worried that sky-high property values, not supported by economic fundamentals, will collapse. Economic failure—or perhaps even just slow growth—will expose the deep fault lines in Chinese society.

Why? Everyone says the party’s legitimacy is primarily based on the continual delivery of prosperity. There is little else to underpin the ruling organization, which will mark its 90th anniversary on July 1st. The Communists no longer possess the ability to inspire and teach. They have lost most of their moral legitimacy and stay in power only through increasingly coercive measures. We should not be surprised, therefore, that the country is, at the moment, being disrupted by demonstrations, riots, and bombings.

As society is becoming even more volatile, the Communist Party is losing its coherence. Veteran China watcher Willy Lam has recently noted that the organization is returning to Mao-like themes, promoted by the party’s “feverish campaign to resuscitate Maoist values.”

While senior party leaders look back, they fail to deal with the challenges of the present or adequately comprehend the problems of the future. They are no longer thinking strategically or even long-term. The South China Morning Post’s Wang Xiangwei recently told us that the party is now reactive, careening from one disaster to the next, its actions driven by a “peculiar crisis-driven policymaking process.”

The country’s rulers stay in power because they censor, imprison, and repress. Yet a corrupt, arbitrary, and insecure leadership knows it could lose power soon. That’s why Li and fellow officials insist on telling us they will rule forever.

Li needs to learn a little Chinese history. “I am emperor, my descendants will be numerous,” said Qin Shihuang, China’s first imperial ruler. “From the second generation to the ten thousandth, my line will not end.” Qin’s line ended a little more than two years after he died.

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