January 2, 2014

MICHAEL BARONE: China may face a revolution of rising expectations.

In between Qianlong and Deng, China went through tough times. The Taiping rebellion (1849-64), decades of Western domination, the Chinese revolution (1911-27), the War with Japan (1931-45) and Mao Zedong’s Communist policies (1949-76) each resulted in the deaths of millions.

The Chinese ruling party and, apparently, the Chinese people see the economic growth of the last 35 years as a restoration of China’s rightful central place in the world. And note that that period is longer than the 27 years of Mao’s rule.

American supporters of engagement with China, including the architect of the policy, Henry Kissinger, agree and have expressed the hope that an increasingly prosperous China will move toward democracy and peaceful coexistence.

Those hopes, as James Mann argued in his 2007 book The China Fantasy, have not been and seem unlikely to be realized.

Other China scholars like Arthur Waldron and Gordon Chang have predicted that China’s Communist party rulers will be swept from power. . . . Regime members, like French aristocrats, no longer believe in their own ideology but cling to power. The Chinese people have come to expect rapidly rising living standards, and may abandon the regime if it doesn’t produce.

Regime elites must be careful, like Deng in 1989, or the rulers will lose everything and chaos will be unleashed on China.

Well, let’s hope we avoid a rerun of the Taiping Rebellion.