Stability is the watchword, and a good part of the bred-in-the-bone reason can be traced directly to the Cultural Revolution, that devastating decade (1966–1976) when political madness manufactured social turmoil and delivered personal torment, when self-inflicted national mutilation turned the entire country inward against itself, pitting students against teachers, children against parents and friend against friend. To understand
Initiated by Mao Zedong in the twilight of his mercurial career, the Cultural Revolution was his sad and vainglorious attempt to re-revolutionize
An entire generation was lost. It is impossible to overstate the hovering presence of the Cultural Revolution- the accusations, denunciations, castigations, humiliations. I have not met a single educated person over 50 years old who was not emotionally scarred by the experience.
Most Westerners assume that if one rejects communist-style central planning, then one must espouse Westernstyle democracy. Such reasoning seems naÃ¯ve to many Chinese, even to those who seek fundamental change in the political system. Many Chinese intellectuals believe, quite in accord with government policy, that collective rights are more important than individual rights, and that improving the standard of living for all citizens is a superior good to allowing greater freedom of speech for some citizens.
Thus, the fourth and final theme needed to understand
Nothing good can happen without stability. No economic growth. No social progress. Stability is essential. This is what one continually hears in
“Class struggle,” the classic epitome of Marxist ideology and frenzied goal of Mao Zedong’s politics, has returned as a core concern of
Thirty years ago, when Mao’s death mercifully ended the Cultural Revolution, there were no classes in
Not so today. Although
In terms of wealth,
Thus the first new “class struggle” is a subtle campaign to recognize the persistence of classes as an inextinguishable reality (at least for the foreseeable future). Happily, this “struggle” has been won by the pragmatists, for whom the preservation of stability is a priority.
A second use of “class struggle” deals with how to handle the severe inequalities in
Building a “moderately well-off society” is President Hu Jintao’s overarching goal, which is expressed by his slogan of building a “Harmonious Society.” Harmony is needed because there are now classes, which naturally generate disharmony-after all, if China’s social classes were already living in harmony, there would be no reason to set building harmony as a national goal.
American leaders need to appreciate the motivation of
Speaking after the devastating
When China increased restrictions on media and dissidents in 2008, it was not, as some claimed, using the Olympics as an excuse to crack down but rather sensing concern that increasing economic volatility, which was causing serious unemployment (especially among migrant workers), could spur political turmoil. If stability was at stake, it wouldn’t matter what the world thought.
I recently asked the first female president of the Chinese Writer’s Association, Tie Ning, about censorship in
“Bystanders see a more complete picture and can be more objective.”
“But only the foot knows if the shoe really fits.”
For President Hu, as for all of
“The past 30 years of reform and opening-up have told us that
It may seem simplistic to reduce one’s analysis of an entire nation to four basic themes. Nonetheless, characterizing contemporary
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an international investment banker and corporate strategist, is the author of How China’s Leaders Think: The Inside Story of 30 Years of Reform and What This Means for the Future, forthcoming from John Wiley & Sons. This is the final of a fourpart series on “Understanding China.”