Hoping for a Gorbachev in Today’s China

By He Qinglian Created: February 6, 2013

At a recent meeting of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, Communist Party leader Xi Jinping stressed that anti-corruption efforts need to target both “flies” and “tigers,” referring to lower and senior level officials. He does not seem to have real political reform in mind, though.
Observers have long concluded from the new Chinese Communist Party leader’s “tour to the south” late last year that “Xi Jinping is following Deng Xiaoping’s heritage.” However, the official media report on Xi’s “southern tour” speech was abridged.
Xi’s complete speech surfaced online recently, and disappointed many reformists. One noteworthy comment that Xi made regards the collapse of the Soviet Union. Xi said, “In the end, Gorbachev whispered a few words and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union collapsed. A huge Party was gone, just like that. The Soviet Union had more Party members than us [the Communist Party of China]. However, no one was a real man to take a stand and fight.”
The phrase “no one was a real man” was coined by Lady Huarui, a poet and concubine of an emperor who lost his empire after the fall of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 907-960). When Xi Jinping used this phrase to describe the fall of the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union as an “annihilated nation,” he clearly sensed the weight on his shoulders.
I, however, am not at all disappointed by Xi’s complete southern tour speech. In my article titled “Xi Jinping: The Guardian of a Red Regime,” I already concluded that Xi is not a person with an ambiguous attitude. What he talks about is exactly what he wants to do. Whether it can be accomplished is another matter. Xi always has a clear understanding of his role. Moreover, the veteran cadres of the Communist Party of China (CPC) would not have chosen Xi as the person to safeguard the “red regime.”
But the problem is that the Chinese regime is already in such a degenerated state that the only possible outcome is total collapse. Even if all seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee were “real men,” nobody can prevent the inevitable collapse of the regime. The fate of either the Soviet Communist Party or the CPC is not determined by any single Party leader, but by the general public. Now, the Chinese regime is simply refusing to recognize the fact that it has thrown away its good name, replaced trust between people with suspicion, and given up all its own trustworthiness. This is also known as the “The Five Ends.”  
On Dec. 25, 2011, CPC mouthpiece Xinhua published an article titled “Reasons for and Revelations From the Collapse of the Soviet Union,” which shows the CPC’s view on the Soviet Union’s collapse. The author of the article, Wan Chengcai, raised eight questions. Apart from a neutral question on the “important reason for the collapse,” all other questions were raised from the perspective of the CPC’s single-Party rule. For example: Who benefited and who lost out from the collapse? What are the major impacts on the world from the collapse? What should China learn from the collapse? How should one evaluate Mikhail Gorbachev, who initiated the political reform?
Vladimir Putin already gave a two-folded answer to these questions. He said, “anyone who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart; anyone who wants it restored has no brains.” On the one hand, Putin was sad because the Soviet Union went from a superpower to a second-tier country. On the other hand, Putin considered it the right move to end the dictatorship in the Soviet Union. However, the Chinese media intentionally paraphrased this so all Putin purportedly said was that he felt sad about the collapse of the Communist Party.
In fact, the root causes behind the collapse of the Soviet Union have long been attributed to three factors. First, corruption by the political elite had contributed to the growing social division and unrest, alienating the common people and intellectuals, who lost faith in the Soviet Communist Party. Just before the collapse, workers organized a nationwide strike to protest bureaucratic embezzlement. Second, to maintain its status as a superpower, the Soviet Communist Party engaged in an arms race with the United States, which caused a financial crisis. Third, Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev initiated a series of “new thoughts” reforms, that resulted in an end to the dictatorship in socialist countries in Eastern Europe.
Let’s compare the CPC’s current situation with that of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.
Let’s start by looking at the international environment. Compared with the Soviet Communist Party, the CPC is undoubtedly luckier. In the 1980s, the totalitarian regimes in Soviet Eastern Europe had “angered both men and gods.” Pope John Paul II and the President Ronald Reagan led the war to end communism, uphold justice, and safeguard beliefs. President Reagan’s famous speech to “Tear Down This Wall” was broadcast worldwide, and moved me to tears. The then Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev simply followed the desires of the people and accepted democracy. The Velvet Revolution, which took place in Eastern Europe, opened the doors for democracy, and brought an end to the Cold War. Mikhail Gorbachev became the 20th century’s hero of great wisdom, and he will forever be admired by freedom-loving people.
The world has changed a great deal since then. While China was rising in the first decade of the 21st century, Europe was declining. The formation of the European Union was merely a weak attempt at restoring the glory of Germany and France as world superpowers. Another superpower, the United States, was financially handcuffed by the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq, and the financial crisis in 2008, with debts reaching up to the stratosphere and widespread disgruntlement from citizens with U.S. participation in any kind of war. When the Jasmine Revolution struck North-East Africa, Europe and the United States could barely offer any assistance, not to mention resolving chaos in Syria. Under such circumstances, keeping an eye on the human rights situations in China was merely an international obligation for the U.S. and European nations. They do not have the will nor the resources to become the driving force of democracy as they did in the third wave of democratization.
However, the favorable international environment will not decrease the domestic pressure Xi Jinping is facing. Apart from vowing “not to become Gorbachev,” Xi is in a very difficult situation.
First, the corruption amid the elite circle of the CPC is much worse than that of the Soviet Union, Mobutu, and Gaddafi. This can easily be seen from reports by the regime’s own media, let alone reports by The New York Times and Bloomberg. The embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars by a village-level official is not rare. Chinese Internet portal QQ published an article titled “Corruption History of the Soviet Union in the 1970s,” which exposed the corruption of the Soviet Union. It is nothing compared with the corruption of the CPC officials. The so-called “special supply” for the Soviet officials was just importing goods, such as wine, clothes, cameras, and perfume, from the U.S. and European nations. Meanwhile, the CPC officials had reached the state of “luxury goods coming from bribery and no need to spend salary” as early as the 1990s. What the Soviet officials cannot even imagine is the international spread of CPC officials. Millions of Party members have become “naked officials” by moving their family members abroad. The only “special supply” they need is clean water, clean air, and safe food.
Second, the Soviet economic system had abundant domestic resources and a low unemployment rate. But today’s China is plagued by a lack of natural resources and a high unemployment rate. Over 100 million farmers do not have land. Tens of millions of city dwellers are unemployed. The profits from the economic reform have been depleted during the 10-year rule of Hu and Wen.
Just as I wrote in my 2004 article, “The Current and Future State of China’s Authoritarian Regime,” there are four basic requirements for a society to sustain itself: the ecological system as the basis; the moral system as the median among different social entities; basic living rights measured by the unemployment rate; a political system that maintains the normal operations of a society. Currently, the ecological system, moral system, and the basic living rights have already collapsed or are close to collapse. The only thing left is the political dictatorship.
Under such circumstances, only the CPC’s political gangsters would reject political reform. Even the intellectuals, who fear violence the most, are wishing for reform to abandon the one-Party system and avoid a violent revolution.
The person who acts as China’s Gorbachev will become the “good man,” respected and admired by the entire world.

This translation first appeared here, reproduced with minor changes.