Compared with the history of other countries in the world, China’s history is quite unique. It is a history of one centralised dynasty after another, with a few intervals of chaos when dynasties collapsed.
Even after the 1911 democratic revolution that put an end to China’s last hereditary dynasties, China has remained ruled by one dynasty after another.
After the establishment of the Republic of China, China’s president Yuen Shikai ruled China with the power of an emperor and tried to establish his own dynasty but failed. True, there was a democratic parliamentary election, but Yuan assassinated the majority leader soon after the election and maintained his dominance.
The election of the parliament was really a democratic one at that time, but the elected parliament had no real power and was later disbanded by force. There has been no similar really democratic election ever since.
When Yuan died, no one succeeded him as the dominant emperor. China was in chaos of wars among various warlords.
Then another dynasty, the Chiang Kai-shek Dynasty, emerged, but failed to be thoroughly dominant, and lost to the Communists in the civil war.
Mao Zedong came to power and promised to establish democracy for the people and dictatorship against the enemy. He even wrote an article to tell people that they were allowed to disagree, but he turned out to be an absolute emperor who cruelly crushed whatever dissent arose.
However, in spite of the 20 to 40 million deaths due to the famine caused by him, and in spite of the Great Cultural Revolution in which he persecuted many innocent people and reduced China to a nation without culture or knowledge, he remains worshipped by many of China’s Maoists, and quite a few people outside China.
Therefore, people have got the wrong idea that the Mao era had put an end to China’s history of dynasties.
The fact remains that the Mao era was itself the Mao Dynasty, with Mao as its dominant Emperor though it was not a hereditary one.
The Chiang Kai-shek Dynasty, though it fled to Taiwan, remained a hereditary one. Chiang was succeeded by his son Chiang Ching-kuo, who should be credited for Taiwan’s democratic transformation.
Deng Xiaoping established the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) Dynasty by his idea of a collective leadership with a core. As described in my book “Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements,” it is not a hereditary one that belongs to a family but a dynasty that belongs to a party.
At first, Deng Xiaoping wanted to establish a system of collective leadership in the Party to avoid any repetition of Mao’s autocracy. However he later realised that the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) he and other elders had arranged to be elected was not able to have real power; while the power remained in the hands of powerful retired elders. Among them, Deng had the final say.
Ever since Deng commenced China’s reform and opening up, reformist leaders chosen by Deng have encountered fierce attacks from conservatives. Hu Yaobang was brought down by conservatives. Zhao Ziyang, who replaced Hu, was fiercely attacked for carrying out Deng’s reform. According to Zhao’s memoirs, Deng once wanted to fully retire and hand over the most important post of Central Military Commission Chairman to Zhao, in order to enable Zhao to carry on the reform.
Zhao, however, refused and told Deng if Deng had retired, Zhao would have been unable to deal with the conservatives’ opposition.
Reform and opening up is Deng’s priority. It would be the greatest regret for Deng that when he died, no one would be able to carry on his reform and opening up.
Some people blamed Tiananmen activists for causing the downfall of Zhao, the major reformist at that time, but I believe that as Zhao was unable to take over Deng’s power to carry on the reform after Deng’s death, Deng would certainly find some one able to carry on the reform to replace Zhao.
When Zhao Ziyang was removed from his post as the general secretary after Deng sent troops to suppress the students’ democratic movement, conservatives prevailed. Deng was clearly aware that under the circumstances then it was hard for his successor to carry on his reform as the conservatives were too strong then.
However, learning from Mao’s tyranny, and Deng’s own absolute power that had enabled him to carry out the reform in spite of strong opposition, Deng realised that what he needed was a successor who was competent enough to become a paramount leader (the core) like Deng himself. Then like Deng, Deng’s successor would be powerful enough to carry on Deng’s reform in spite of strong opposition.
When Deng realised the importance of the core system for carrying on his reform and opening up, he began to formally establish China’s core system. He said Mao was the core of the first generation of leadership. True, Mao typically acted as an emperor with absolute power.
Deng called himself the core of the second generation of leadership and was regarded as the paramount leader by people outside China.
In 1992, Deng told his successor Jiang Zemin that he would not rest at ease until Jiang had established himself as the core, meaning he wanted Jiang to be a paramount leader as powerful as Deng.
How paramount was Deng the leader? He alone was able to decide to send troops to suppress democracy fighters at Tiananmen. Though retired, he alone was able to save his reform and opening up by his Southern Tour when conservatives prevailed.
How paramount is Jiang, the core of the third generation? People seem to have no idea about that. They believed the rumour that Jiang was beaten by Hu Jintao in a power struggle when Chen Liangyu fell into disgrace for corruption. Certainly, there were quite a few other rumours. Due to lack of transparency in China’ power centre, people would rather believe them.
I point out in my book, Jiang had a majority through his protégés in the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) when he retired in 2002. In 2007, though Hu Jintao succeeded in promoting his protégé Li Keqiang into the PSC, Jiang promoted his Xi Jinping into the PSC as the successor to Hu Jintao and maintained a majority through his protégés.
That did not seem convincing enough.
Now before the major reshuffle at the 18th Party Congress, Jiang has done something absolutely convincing in the Bo Xilai saga.
Like the time before Deng’s Southern Tour, the conservatives were strong again this time. Bo Xilai even dared to set a Maoist Chongqing Model to challenge the reformists in China’s power center.
It was only with the help of powerful elders, the reformists were able to put Bo under house arrest. However, they were not strong enough to punish Bo harshly to prevent his return to power later.
Through investigation, they found Bo’s and his wife’s crimes of taking huge bribes, and abusing power, but they were not strong enough to punish Bo for such crimes.
As a result, Bo’s wife was not accused of taking bribes when she was prosecuted.
In the trial of Bo’s former protégé Wang Lijun, Bo was clearly involved but the prosecutor and court refrained from mentioning Bo’s name. Bo still seemed untouchable.
Soon afterwards, at the weekend of the week from September 16 to 22, Jiang Zemin made a rare public appearance in Beijing before quite a few high officials.
There was then a surprising U-turn in the Bo Xilai saga. At a meeting on September 28, the Politburo decided to punish Bo harshly.
Jiang obviously played a critical role in bringing about the U-turn, and thus displayed his dominant power as the core.
People would say that the Chinese system is precisely the Leninist autocracy of the Soviet Union.
No, the Chinese system is entirely different from the Soviet one.
In the Soviet Union, when a person was elected or appointed the post as the head of the communist party, he naturally had the power of his office.
In China, however, that is not the case. Unless the person elected or appointed as general secretary and concurrently the Central Military Commission Chairman is the core, he may only be a “daughter-in-law” and has to obey the instructions of the core who will be the “mother-in-law”.
The core, even if retired and has no post or title, remains the emperor who has the dominant power.
From this, we can see how serious China’s problems are. Even in a developing country such as India, Indonesia or the Philippines, when a person is elected the prime minister or president, he naturally has the power of his office as soon as he has been elected in the parliament or inaugurated. In China, however, a Party leader elected by the Party central committee may be powerless and the country may remain dominated by the core who holds no official post at all.
In order to really have power and be firmly established, the person elected to the top posts has to gradually establish his power base and become the core. Even if he is lucky enough to really succeed in establishing his power base, it will take at least several years. Anyway, it is a very difficult process.
The vital difference between the Soviet Union and China is therefore that it is much easier to establish democracy under a Soviet system. What is needed is to establish a system of universal suffrage.
However, it is much more difficult in China as universal suffrage may be useless, as the party and state leaders will have no power even if elected through a universal suffrage. The power remains in the core, who has the power to treat the leaders elected as his “daughters-in-law”.
The problem is that the core is not a post, therefore cannot be elected.
On the other hand, the Mao era was not a dynasty belonging to the Party, but to Mao the tyrant. Mao was above the Party. In order to seize power back from Liu Shaoqi, he even destroyed the Party. Mao was the absolute emperor above the Party.
The CCP Dynasty, established by Deng Xiaoping after Mao’s death, belongs to the Chinese Communist Party. Its core, though it has the power of an emperor, is not as strong as Mao to be above the Party.
However, we cannot be sure whether an extra-strong core may later turn the party’s dynasty into his personal dynasty or a dynasty belonging to his family. There will certainly be such a possibility unless there is democracy through a political reform.
We see that China is now at crossroad: It may become a democracy through further reform, or it may become a dynasty belonging to a person or his family. However, I am sure that under the current world situation, people will undoubtedly rise up to overthrow such a dynasty.
- China at crossroad: risk of disintegration (chinadailymail.com)
- China: Conservatives’ Waterloo in Bo Xilai saga (chinadailymail.com)
- China’s Xi Jinping: sea dispute hardliner or peace seeker? (chinadailymail.com)