More than four decades ago, Deng Xiaoping ordered the open door policy to revive the Chinese economy. The initiative was called the Second Revolution. The question, in light of recent developments, is whether President Xi Jinping is leading China in its third revolution.
The Second Revolution brought a lot of good. Deng, companion of the Long March of the great helmsman Mao Zedong, had witnessed the trials and tribulations of the communist movement in China. The road traveled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its first half century has been paved with painful sacrifices. The Long March killed some 70,000 people. The Great Leap Forward resulted in as many as 45 million deaths from forced labor, starvation and execution, and some 20 million more died during the Cultural Revolution.
Recognizing all the actions that led to these sacrifices and their failure to achieve the promised well-being for all – as was also the case with the Soviet Union – Deng chose, when he became Supreme Leader in 1978, to let “some people get rich first”. By this he moved away from the Marxist approach, which in turn led China to enter the World Trade Organization and trade with other nations on an equal footing, s’ thus embarking on an unstoppable journey to wealth.
By the time Xi took power in 2013, China had become a land of billionaires. By 2015, just 37 years after Deng launched the open door policy, some 850 million people had passed the poverty line of $ 1.90 per day, according to the World Bank, and the remaining 98.99 million. had done so at the end of 2020. By this time, China had also become the second richest nation, with 387 billionaires, each with a wealth of between $ 1.55 billion and $ 65.6 billion. Over the next 12 months, 239 more citizens joined the billionaire league.
Much to Xi’s chagrin, the Second Revolution also produced some hateful things to the Communist goal, such as a growing rift between rich and poor in the country, undermining the goal of creating a classless society.
Xi took over the leadership with some stubborn ideas. To achieve them, he had the constitution amended to remove the term limit and let the president remain in power for life. No other leader since Mao has had this privilege. Xi aims to succeed where Mao and other communist leaders failed and to make the Middle Empire the eternal capital of communism.
The Soviet Union, which Communists everywhere had drawn inspiration from, collapsed in its 74th year, with all of its vassal states in Eastern Europe. Preventing this story from repeating itself and ensuring that the communist system of government becomes the world order is Xi’s goal, now that China is in its 72nd year of communist rule.
So, lately Xi has taken a few steps. These include an injunction on online gaming platforms to ban children from playing video games for more than an hour a day three times a week.
It may seem trivial, but it is clear-sighted. More than 70 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people have access to the Internet. This is a major concern for the CCP as it suspects that its citizens with Internet access might be proud of the Chinese nation, but not necessarily of the Communist Party that runs the country. Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, gives this credibility to fear. Hong Kong residents generally have no resentment towards the Chinese nation and people. But a significant number of them are against the Communist regime, and pro-democracy activists there have ingeniously used the Internet to mobilize people against the CCP and its local leaders.
Meanwhile, despite the political agenda hidden in the regulation of video games, many parents in China and elsewhere, who find distracting children from video games a headache, might even admire such control. They might want similar restrictions in other areas of life. People bewildered by those protesting the Covid-19 vaccination in some democratic countries in the name of freedom of choice might wonder what is wrong with China restricting freedom for the greater good.
This is a widespread thought even among today’s young Chinese generation, who seek wealth. They ask what is wrong if human rights and personal freedoms are put aside and the government leaves its hands free, even dictatorial, as long as people can enjoy the wealth they create.
In other words, they will accept a benevolent dictatorship of any political shade rather than a freewheeling democracy. Such arguments are abundant in Age of Ambition, Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in New China by Evan Osnos.
Deng has inspired such sentiment and logic as his open door initiative has achieved mind-boggling results, especially in relation to the situation in India and America.
India became an independent nation and the world’s largest democracy two years before the Communists took control of China. But even today, millions of Indians continue to languish in abject poverty. In America, the richest nation in the world and the second largest democracy, some 34 million people live below the poverty line. These realities beg the question. What should be the new world order in the 21st century – democracy or totalitarianism?
This is a question Singapore has answered with what you might call a “guided democracy” or a “regulated” dictatorship. South Korea and Taiwan responded with a dictatorship to achieve economic prosperity before granting people the right to vote and elect their government.
This is also the question that a large number of urban students and young professionals asked author Osnos during his stay in China from 2005 to 2013 as editor-in-chief of The New Yorker. They asked him: why should we choose democracy if we can still have a good life without democracy?
A new challenge like the Tiananmen uprising, or the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong – now maintained by a combination of Covid-19 protocols and a Beijing-legislated national security law – is gaining new vigor, is the least of concerns of Xi.
Instead, he’s more concerned about the few people who control the growing abundance of wealth and the people – especially young people who will find new ways to break through protective firewalls – with unrestricted access to the internet, which could lead to the propagation of anarchist ideas. via social networks and gaming platforms. Above all, the CCP is paranoid about foreign forces seeking an opportunity to thwart the socialist system of government that the Middle Empire nurtures as a model for a new world order.
The question arises: Xi, with his program of building a socialism with Chinese characteristics that everyone can imitate, has he decided to ring the cat that Deng let roam free? Could it be the emergence of a dictator trying to bring the country back to the Marxist path or to decide the general welfare of society?
Whatever their plan, the younger generation of Chinese, who were recently in a frenzy to buy the all-new Apple iPhone-13, may not necessarily be too worried about it. One of the young thinkers Osnos spoke to said: In the 1990s it seemed like government was not good, and good government was needed to run the nation. But the problem was, “we didn’t know what good government would be; so we let the Communist Party stay in place.
This column first appeared in the print edition on October 7, 2021 under the title “Xi’s China and the Third Revolution”. Viswa Nathan, Hong Kong – The Turbulent Times author, was previously editor of the Hongkong Standard and traveling editor of the Manila Times