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China Scandals: Crisis in the Communist Party

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Posted on Apr 17, 2012
Photo by Kent Wang (CC-BY-SA)

Mao Zedong featured on a 1965 Communist poster designed by Zhang Yuqing.

By William Pfaff

Events suggest that the long-overdue crisis of China’s Communist Party has arrived. Evidence is provided by the affair of the Chinese police chief who tried to defect to the United States and was turned away, the sensational slaying of the mysterious Englishman, about whom Britain’s foreign secretary seems to have known more than he told us at the time of the killing, and more than he should have known, had the mysterious Englishman been merely the innocuous expatriate he purported to be, and the British government had claimed that he was.

China’s crisis, as I have argued in the past, is that of political legitimacy. The legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party rests entirely on the fact that it has no political rival. It inherited an abused and demoralized China from Mao Zedong in 1976, after Mao’s morbid narcissism, produced by absolute power, had spurred him to launch the Great Leap Forward. Then came the Cultural Revolution, culminating in the attempted coup of the “Gang of Four,” empowered by his widow.

All this makes for a history that cannot be dismissed. It remains relevant because it is recent—the treacherous false freedom of allowing “a hundred flowers bloom” began in 1956 and ended 20 years later when Mao died. Deng Xiaoping assumed effective power in 1978. The actuality of this history demonstrates what could again happen. The Tiananmen Square demonstrations, and massacre, occurred in 1989, and the martial law then imposed was ended in January 1990, just 22 years ago—two years before Bill Clinton became president, while Margaret Thatcher was still prime minister of Britain, and Francois Mitterrand the president of France. Why, it was only yesterday!

In his book of essays and poems, “No Enemies, No Hatred,” the political dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2010) Liu Xiaobo has described the system that still governs China today, as it did under Mao Zedong. “In order to guard the power of its one-party dictatorship and the vested interests of the privileged elite, the party keeps a tight grip on the appointments and dismissals of officials at every level. In effect it takes this power out of the hands of the people, where rightly it belongs, and turns it into an item of private exchange within the party. The power of every official at every level comes not from below, from the people, but from above, from higher levels within the structure of private authority. This fact then establishes a pattern: The first priority of officials is always to serve the higher-ups (because, in effect, this serves oneself).”

The mechanism for determining supreme power is the Party Congress, held every decade, which will take place this fall, “a comet-like event that awes onlookers as a portent of change and renewal,” as writer Ian Johnson has described it, the most spectacular of which portent—thus far, this year—being the fall from power of Bo Xilai, a prominent regional official and member of the Politburo, widely considered a candidate for the Politburo’s Standing Committee, an appointment considered a crucial step toward the highest office, which many thought was Bo’s destiny.

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Now he has not only been disgraced and stripped of office, but his wife is being held on suspicion of involvement in the slaying of a former family friend, Neil Heywood, a longtime resident of China. It is rumored that the illegal transfer abroad of large sums of money was involved in the affair, but mere money seems too insignificant to explain the rank of the people involved and the now-unsuccessful efforts of the British government to distance itself from the matter, Heywood being said to have once been a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

All very intriguing for us foreign devils following the affair in the sensationalist Western press, although not at all so for the Bo family, including their son at Harvard, whose flamboyant displays of wealth and privilege while a student in Britain and the United States seem to have become well known among the Facebook-linked children of the Chinese ruling elite, and to security authorities as well.

On Monday, China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao again warned his government that it must end a culture of corruption lest this lead to the end of Communist rule. The warning is eminently justified with respect to a ruling body that has itself done little to deserve power, other than by being descended from the individuals who in the early and mid-20th century carried out the Communist revolution.

Not only is China experiencing grave scandals involving officials across the country, but foreign residents report a culture of graft at all levels of society. The country’s long history is distinguished by xenophobic, nationalist, separatist, and peasants’ and workers’ revolts. The dynastic system collapsed in ruin in 1911, and since then China has seen not only Sun Yat-sen’s, Chiang Kai-shek’s and Mao Zedong’s nationalist and ideological movements and civil wars, but persisting sectoral revolts and warlordism, foreign invasion and extensive civil unrest. China is a turbulent society, and foreigners are mistaken to take its recent economic success as a guarantee of political order, as most seem to do.


Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, April 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm Link to this comment

Libertarian Capitalists for some, the elite.  But then that is what
libertarianism is all about, isn’t it?  Surely it is not for the poor!

So let’s put poverty in China in perspective by looking at three
categories of poverty as noted on fact checker Jeff Hays “facts
and details” website*:  1) extreme, or absolute, poverty defined
by the World Bank as a household that gets by on less than $1 a
day, not enough to support the basic needs of survival; 2) moderate
poverty, defined as living on $1 or $2 a day, where basic needs are
met but just barely; and 3) relative poverty, as defined by income
below a certain level of the national average.

About 13 percent of China’s population, which is about 203 million
people, live on less than $1 a day. About 42 percent of China’s popula-
tion, or about 593 million people, live on less than $2 a day. Most live in
the countryside.
* http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=155&catid=11&subcatid=70

“To understand just how poor rural Guizhou is, you can look at the statistics.
Or you can look at the children in Qixin village. Zhao Ai is nine, but is so short
he appears three years younger. He eats nothing between leaving home at 6.30am
for a two-hour trek down the mountain to Ruiyuan primary school and returning at
5pm. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, October 2, 2011]

It can truthfully be said “China helped more people out of poverty than any
other country in history.” Since the Deng reforms the number of people living in
absolute poverty (unable to adequately feed themselves) has declined from one in
four in 1978 to one in twelve today (less than 100 million people). The number of
extreme poor has been reduced by 300 million.  But the poverty rate has changed
very little since 1985. The article has an abundance of other facts and information. 
And I guess the most telling part is that on the Income Gap.  Then not to forget
either, the riots in the Riots in Left Out Regions of China section near the end of
the article as well where a “Communist” newspaper called the rioters “illegal
elements” which is an interesting commentary from an ideology that is allegedly
“for the benefit of the people”?????

Oh well…econo/politics are the same in China as everywhere.

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, April 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment

You mean Capitalists don’t you? But then China isn’t Maoist anymore. They are Libertarian Capitalists! As free a market as they can get.

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By Ed Romano, April 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm Link to this comment

Good Afternoon Comrades,  Today I went to the Super Market and saw a sign that read…All Natural Chicken
$1.99 lb. Navigating through the aisles I ran into the manager and told him I had seen the sign…I asked him if he could tell me what an unnatural chicken looked like. He looked a little stunned. So I left him standing there…..Then I can home and saw in the paper that the USDA is proposing to end all inspection of chicken and leave it up to the chicken processors to insure that the chickens of the future will be safe to eat. ....So I have to imagine that the market manager will know soon enough what an unnatural chicken looks like.
  Watch out for those communists. They’ll ruin the country if they get the chance.

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By SomeoneInAsia, April 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m really not sure how fair it is to say regarding China that “The country’s long history is distinguished by xenophobic, nationalist, separatist, and peasants’ and workers’ revolts.” During Confucius’ day there wasn’t a single China yet, only many warring states, a situation he sought to overcome. He also said that “Within the Four Seas all men are brothers,” which hardly sounds xenophobic to me. The later T’ang Dynasty was distinguished by its profoundly cosmopolitan spirit; Arabs, Persians, Indians, Parthians and maybe even Greeks, Romans and Jews came to the city of Ch’ang-an. In the late 16th Century Matteo Ricci was able to travel to China and engage in intellectual exchanges with the Chinese. The Emperor himself invited him to the Imperial Court. The Ming philosopher Chiao Hung asserted that sages are to be found everywhere around the world, not just in China. And finally, Jewish communities were allowed to flourish for long periods in China without fear of persecution. Compare Europe.

Please be clear regarding the facts before making sweeping claims. Thank you.

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By Ed Romano, April 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment

I think that “the events suggesting the long overdue crisis ” of the US Capitalist parties has not quite arrived, but can be seen on the horizon. Whatever a communist society may be…. China is certainly not it. Whatever a “democracy” may be the U.S. ain’t it either, because political democracy tied to economic dictatorship can only produce a farce.
  As an aside I found it interesting that a top official of China’s Politboro has a son attending Harvard. This while the sons and daughters of American Workers are working in Wal Mart or bagging groceries for a living. But if you ever take a walk through Harvard Yard at lunch time you’ll get a good idea of the what the values of the ruling class in this country are really all about.

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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, April 19, 2012 at 6:50 am Link to this comment

«China is a turbulent society, and foreigners are mistaken to take its recent economic success as a guarantee of political order, as most seem to do.» Providential, is it not, that Mr Pfaff and I - and, I presume, the vast majority of Truthdig readers - live in such non-turbulent societies as Europe and North Armerica, which have never been visited by revolution and war, not to mention xenophobia or nationalism….

Henri

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DonSchneider's avatar

By DonSchneider, April 19, 2012 at 5:10 am Link to this comment

The USSR and modern China are not communist states my darlings ! Never were,
and never will be.  They both replaced Capital as the driving force with political
POWER, and access to power. Now both have discovered that power can create
access to and control of Capital. So they have come to mirror the economies of the
west during the days of the robber barons. And the West is in a headlong rush
back to the era of the robber barons that if you will recall fostered the
environment that allowed the generation of the socio-political push toward
workers revolution.  So here the world goes round the mulberry bush of Global
Capitalism. Now will the Chinese throw away their lead in the race to dominate a
world of SUPER GLOBAL Capitalism because of turmoil perceived by western
pundits ?  Now that is the most egregious mouthful of wishful thinking ever ! 
America’s robber Barons are too far behind the Chinese now to really be
competitive in the international competition for the “Brass Ring” ! Speak Mandarin?

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, April 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm Link to this comment

Well if you ever read Marx & Engles you know that the central power structure of China an the now former USSR wasn’t anything like what they talked about. Their visages were used an selective quotes taken but it had nothing to do with what they talked about happening for the worker. They were just new incarnations of old despotism with new clothes.

The way I see it China is finally moving into the the no holds barred Capitalism Marx & Engles talked about that must happen in order for it to kill itself an then the workers can take over production an do it right for themselves an their society. But it is a hard row to hoe. Very hard an many not come out the other end as they thought. Things have changed including the kind of powers the corporations are getting here as well. In China as long as the corps there are part of the power structure of the gov’t an military they will be fine. (Rather like the arrangement in Nazi Germany that was made in that exploitive environment.)

In some ways it was like what the Libertarians want here. No restraint which means like the good old days before the EPA an such. Like in China now where there are places where breathing air is very hard with all the toxins an pollutants. Poor products created with the eye not to make high quality items but the cheapest to sell to anyone. Letting the buyer beware attitude. Unlike in China, we still have a few stumbling blocks left for them, corporations, but they have been very busy moving them out of the way or canceling them.

So it might be a race to see which corporations can merge with their gov’ts an gain state power in the near future. We shall see but it won’t be pretty. (Like seeing how sausage is made.)

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, April 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment

What do you mean by a “fake Marx Communism, Night-Gaunt, April 17
8:23 pm, when you said, “Now in China as they move from a fake Marx
Communism…”  I wonder if the kind of capitalism you are describing as
the current China economic system isn’t a foreordained, that is, a normal
resulting reaction to communism?  Some transmuting systems may just
take a longer time to manifest.

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By jimmmmmy, April 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm Link to this comment

Good article lots of facts , but its embarrassing similar to how politics work in the west under the current christo -capitalist regimes top down with fake enemies and elections. With state media generated issues. One small difference is the issues the media likes to trend here need to be profitable. Not really necessary in Chinese politics this makes western politics more corrupt than the Chinese variety.

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, April 18, 2012 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment

It is all important but turmoil in China can hurt us in our need for preparation to weaken the effects of GCC, if it isn’t too late, an make the transition easier. Don’t be myopic, don’t limit your vision. Part of our collective problems have been such myopia among our leaders.

Wars can an have been started over resources. Also mass migrations caused by GCC over food an water will be happening more often. The richer countries will be at threat from being overwhelmed by millions when they move from their dead countries to those that still have resources. They will not go quietly into the night. I wonder when they will start mining their boarders an setting up the machine gun nests? They will you an I both know it.

The hard times are just beginning.

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, April 18, 2012 at 12:04 am Link to this comment

@ Big B

I am far more concerned about the melting glaciers and the depleted or poisoned groundwater in thirty years time.

The wars of the future will not be over oil.

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, April 17, 2012 at 9:23 pm Link to this comment

Well the power to the elite versions of Communism in Russia an still in China are just authoritarianism by slightly different means but the same outcome. The people are still powerless an are ruled by despotic powers over their lives an the entire countries.

Now in China as they move from a fake Marx Communism to a more right wing corporate fascism it seems to be progressing over all in a smooth way. However now as half the country is Libertarian Capitalist, the safety net has been cruelly removed so the unrest an out right anger has grown to larger proportions.

I wouldn’t be surprised if China has a civil war in the near future an it breaks up into north an south halves for awhile. Also there are those on the far northern boarders who want their freedom too like their counter parts in the former Russian Empire. We shall see how it works out. I would suspect that the world would tremble when it did.

Good thing that for now China is content to wield its economic power around the world instead of military at this time. For every military base the US Empire puts out, China is setting up factories, all without an EPA to bother them in their aggressive Capitalism unrestrained just the way the Republicans want for us again. Note it.

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By litlpeep, April 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment

Well, the oil is running out faster than we might suppose; but this is the least of China’s worries.  Even in the US, the oily politics is all greasy smoke and mirrors.

Pfaff’s article is not news to long-time China watchers.  When Ting Tsao Ping “introduced” capitalism into China after Mao went the way we all sooner or later go, China’s Red Royalty only bought itself time, and it was anyone’s guess just how much time.

Finally the surface shimmer has cracked; the turmoil will simmer a few more years, of course.  But now the intrigues will begin in earnest.  Yes, we will have at least one dog in that fight.

China’s corruption will catch up with the USA’s within the decade, as their economy is still growing, though the growth is slowing.  Our economy is stalled dead in its tracks, and the bipartisan hack parade refuses to do anything about the paralysis imposed by Wall Street’s election manipulators.

Listen to your neighbors.

Be well.

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, April 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm Link to this comment

As the saying goes about absolute power and corruption.  Communism
has proven since it was first incepted and installed as a form of govern-
ment that it descends into corruption if only because its mere structure
of a central committee that rules absolutely cannot preclude it given the
nature of men and their enthrallment and desiderata for power and
wealth.  Forms of government must be based on economic systems but
also must find ways to absorb this human tendency for the extremism
of plutocracy and we know that capitalism falls into similar corruption. 

The remedy seems to be a transparent and regulated government where
its people has direct involvement and its representatives are made to be
reflective of the peoples’ welfare.  It might be time to seriously consider
socialized capitalism.

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By Big B, April 17, 2012 at 5:46 pm Link to this comment

China will collapse just about in time for the really big resource wars to start. Then It will indeed be a war between Oceanna and Eurasia.

It will be very interesting in about 30 years when the oil is running out.

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