China’s endemic corruption “could cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,” outgoing President Hu Jintao told the ruling Communist Party’s 18th Congress yesterday.
Warning that “social problems have increased markedly” over the decade of his rule, he gave voice to a widespread anxiety within the ruling elite that the country may be in a pre-revolutionary situation.
The FT’s Jamil Anderlini gives a flavor of the mood:
I spoke to a professor of politics at one of China’s most prestigious universities who assured me that within three years the Chinese people would take to the streets to demand that the government relinquish power. I listened to a group of drivers, whose job is to ferry diplomats and senior party officials around Beijing’s gridlocked streets, cursing in earthy Mandarin about the “turtle’s egg” Communist party and how it wouldn’t be around in five years.
Most surreal of all was when I found myself in one of Beijing’s hottest nightclubs raising a glass of expensive cognac with a recently retired senior officer in the Chinese police and a wealthy property developer as they heartily toasted the downfall of the party. As beautiful people twirled to the thumping beat on the dance floor next to them, these two beneficiaries of the system cursed the greedy corrupt officials whose palms they had to keep well lubricated but who still demanded exorbitantly high taxes to fill state coffers.
In fact, things had become so bad for the property developer that he had come up with an ingenious way to outsource his bribery. He now organises private high-stakes poker games with well-connected officials but hires a professional player to represent him. He allows the officials to play on credit, shows up to drink a few toasts and play a few rounds, tells his representative poker pro who to lose big to and then goes home to bed in the interests of preserving his liver and his sanity.
“The Communist party and its leaders are well aware that its subjects are becoming less patient and more demanding and that its minions are getting out of control,” Anderlini notes:
The word among the politically well-connected in Beijing is that Li Keqiang, the man who will be confirmed as China’s next premier at the end of next week, has started recommending to his colleagues that they read Alexis de Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution. …. Chinese academics see it as a warning – de Tocqueville blamed the 1789 French revolution in part on the fact that the bourgeoisie inspired envy among the masses while the nobles elicited scorn.