Like Mao, Xi Jinping has made the preservation of the power of the Communist Party his overriding goal, notes a leading analyst. His motive appears partly to be to counter the growing demands of the new, large middle class, created by China’s recent transformation. In doing so, however, Xi runs the risk of reversing many of the extraordinary advances that China has made since the reforms introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, the leader who opened up China to the rest of the world, Willy Lam writes for Prospect:
Deng used to say that “economic construction is the centre of the work of the party,” a repudiation of Mao’s belief that ideology trumps economics. Xi, however, has given equal billing to economics, on the one hand, and ideological rectitude on the other. As the ultra-conservative newspaper Beijing Daily put it: “The fate of the CCP depends on whether it can defend the battlefield of ideology and thought.”
Xi’s appeal to nationalism has been popular with the young. And, for the moment, the repressive apparatus of the state seems to be working, notes Lam, an Adjunct Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong:
However, as the American sinologist David Shambaugh argued in a much-discussed article earlier this year, the way the police-state apparatus has targeted “the press, social media, film, arts and literature, religious groups, the Internet, intellectuals, Tibetans and Uighurs, dissidents, lawyers, NGOs, university students and textbooks” demonstrates how fearful the regime has become.
“While it would be foolish to predict the demise of the Communist Party in China any time soon, Xi’s faithful impersonation of Mao,” Lam says, “coupled with his failure to offer a new vision of how China might develop into a modern, democratic state, means that he is unlikely to be judged favorably by history—or by China’s growing middle class.”
About a third of the reported protests in China over the past year are over labor issues, notes Anita Chan, a research professor at the Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology, Sydney. Most are staged by workers from China’s countryside who migrated to cities in search of work, she writes for Yale Global Online:
They make up about 60 percent of China’s industrial workforce, providing almost all the workers in the export industries that fill stores around the globe with goods. Guangdong Province, just north of Hong Kong, contains the biggest concentration of such factories in China and has witnessed the largest surge in worker protests…..Thanks to the proximity to Hong Kong, Guangdong’s labor activism is the country’s most vibrant. Two decades ago Hong Kong NGOs quietly crossed the border into Guangdong and set up labor NGOs. Trying to avoid the authorities, the NGOs advised workers about illegal labor practices. Since then, indigenous Chinese-run labor NGOs, worker centers and pro bono advisers on labor law have sprung up throughout the province. As a result, Guangdong workers tend to have a better understanding of their legal rights than elsewhere in China.
Anita Chan is a research professor at the Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology, Sydney. She is also co-editor of The China Journal. She has published a dozen books, the latest of which are Walmart in China, Labour in Vietnam, and Chinese Workers in Comparative Perspective.