China’s single-party regime is in danger as Xi Jinping, the current president of China, seeks to return to the Mao era style of personalistic rule.
Chairman Mao (Mao Zedong) was head of the Chinese Communist Party and held an iron first on China and its people from the Communist Revolution of China in 1949 until his death in 1976. After his death, a man by the name of Deng Xiaoping took up the position of president of China. However, things were going to be a bit different under his regime. Although China was still under authoritarian rule, there began a shift towards a single-party regime rather than a personalistic regime under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping.
Deng spearheaded major reforms that abandoned orthodox communist ideologies. In addition to this, his adoption of neoliberalist policies allowed China to shift from command economy, in which the central government decides everything, to an economic model of state-capitalism. Eventually, this led to more and more Chinese being lifted out of poverty. Along with this was democratic movements that began to stir in China; an indication of the possible fulfillment of Lipset’s theory of modernization. The theory states that as a country’s economic growth rises, so do its prospects for democratization (Lipset 1959). Unfortunately for pro-democracy activists, this did not end up happening as much hope for the democratization of China was squashed on June 4th 1989 during the Tiananmen Square massacre. Nowadays, the Chinese Communist Party legitimizes its reign through economic development as it has lifted millions of Chinese people out of poverty. As the Chinese economy’s exponential growth slows down, the possibility of the CCP’s legitimacy may be threatened, only time will tell.
The most important change implemented by Deng Xiaoping in terms of the change from a personalistic regime to a single-party regime is the “fixed terms of office, term limits, and a mandatory retirement age” which were meant to create a check on dictatorial power, and decentralize authority. Following the tradition since Deng Xiaoping, Xi was to have chosen a successor in training by the end of his first term. However, by the end of his first five year term in 2017, he did not do that. Additionally, at the start of his second and final term, his influence swayed the National People’s Congress (China’s legislature) to change the state constitution and abolish the two-year term limit; essentially this indicates Xi’s plans to continue leading after 2023. In other words, an attack on the constitution in order to consolidate power (Arana 2021). Although a single-party regime, there still existed differences within the party; factional politics exist within the party, most notably the Shanghai Gang and the Chinese Communist Youth League. In other words, Xi Jinping is dragging China’s single-party regime that had relative competition and differences towards a personalistic regime that runs the risk of having “yes men.”
Shanghai being the most liberal of all Chinese cities due the influences of the west and its status as China’s international economic hub, gives Xi Jinping the most resistance in his quest to consolidate his power. COVID-19 has given the central government, and most importantly, Xi Jinping the excuse to impose extremely authoritarian measures upon its citizens. Recently, another wave of COVID has hit China and Shanghai’s 26 million residents have been hit the hardest. The lockdown lasted for 2 months from late March to early June as citizens suffered and some lost their lives. One could say that the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Xi Jinping and the CCP as they took this opportunity to expand their power infinitely. The Shanghai lockdown can be seen as a stress test of social control; the central government led by Xi can control a glamorous, complex and “western” city like Shanghai, then it is more likely than not that they would be able to control any city in China.
During the first waves of Covid, Shanghai was able to deviate from the national policies that forced many cities into mass lockdowns due to its status as the largest urban economy of China. It was originally allowed to lockdown blocks of the city and section-off Covid infected areas. However, the central government, under the thumb of President Xi, eventually overruled the Shanghai leadership. The Shanghai lockdown is an indicator of China’s future under Xi Jinping; a future of a Mao-like strongman and a reversal of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms that occurred after 1978.
Arana, Ignacio. 2021. “Bukele and His Next Constitutional Assault (Links to an external site.). ” Latinoamérica 21. June 15.
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. (Links to an external site.)“Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy. Download “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.”American Political Science (Links to an external site.)Review 53(1): pp. 69-105.