On 29 November last year, Party Secretary Xi Jinping evoked The China Dream during a visit to "The Road Toward Renewal" exhibition in Beijing.. The phrase went viral on China’s Twitter-style weibo and drew a spate of emotional patriotic outpouring from overseas Chinese.
Since then, commentators have been trying to interpret Xi’s vision, ranging from a mundane call for solving China’s problems, to a sublime renaissance comparable to ancient glories of the Middle Kingdom or Europe’s Age of Enlightenment. Click here In any case, Xi was speaking of a “China Dream” for the nation collectively, not a “Chinese Dream” in the sense of good life of the “American Dream”.
of a legitimacy crisis, the yearnings for epochal change have been in the air
amongst the top leadership. Since Xi took office as Party Secretary, he has
launched a high-profile battle against official corruption and extravagance,
calling for closer bond between the Party and the people, and upholding the
rule of law and ideals enshrined in China’s Constitution. Click here
Some cold water was poured on Xi’s reformist rhetoric by an article in the New York Times. Xi’s fight against corruption and inequalities is pitted against opposition from vested interests. His demand for constitutional checks is contrasted with his warning about the collapse of the former USSR. His call for political liberalization is cited with his approbation of Mao’s revolutionary socialism. Reading the article, one can be forgiven for thinking that Xi's reformist stance resembles "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."
The confusion and myth are largely
a product of binary thinking - either giving up single party leadership or
sclerosis, either Western democracy or risk of a "French Revolution",
either forward to the future or retreat to Maoism.
In fact, the apparent contradictions are signs of a continuing quest for China’s unique model of democracy. There is a conviction that there is no one-size-fits-all formula, least of all a quick-fix that mandated glasnost and perestroika within 500 days which precipitated the collapse of the former USSR.
Indeed, in enlightened Party intellectual debate, the original Paris Commune is considered a form of local democracy ("we the people") and Mao's revolutionary "mass line" as embracing the will of the “grassroots” (or the 99%) against social injustice.
Not many in China believe that the country's future lies in copying Western multi-party “confrontational” democracy, with all its recent fault-lines. But how to make the Party truly represent and accountable to the people within a one-party state continues to test the ingenuity of the leadership.
For starters, however, China is likely to change the household registration (hukou) system (which marginalizes migrant workers) as well as to promote civil society to monitor local governance. These reforms and others are proposed in a recent 468-page World Bank report jointly undertaken with the Development Research Centre of the State Council. Click here
Another pointer to feasible change was a succinct, down-to-earth, 10-year roadmap for China’s social and political development provided by Professor Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Science. This includes a more centralized (and less locally biased) judiciary, abolition of certain authoritarian organs such as “labour educated camps”, and more governance transparency, including declaration of officials’ private assets. Indeed, some of these measures are brewing, if not already being experimented with.
However, as China vows to realize a middle-income society by 2030, it is timely to revitalize the Party by invoking a grand renewal reminiscent of what captivated the entire people at the founding of the People’s Republic. In a thought-provoking book “The Transformation of Chinese Socialism”, Ms Lin Jun evokes the vision of “xiaokang (middle-income) socialism” with empowered local citizenry. Amongst other thoughts, she explains how “community, security, integrity, and democracy” can be intertwined to empower local citizenry, including the non-profit and voluntary sectors, in creating a harmonious and “caring economy”. Her thoughts resonate with a popular nostalgia for ideals of the Communist Revolution “where its government was clean, its army was the model of serving the people, its working men and women were dignified, and its life was meaningful without commodification and consumerism.”
Moreover, in the age of scarcity and environmental strains, it is possible to envision an epochal transition from an “industrial” to an “ecological civilization”, in the words of Pan Yue, China’s Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Click here, where minimalism is preferred over surfeit, and less can be more.
Indeed, local citizenry has recently been allowed to grow and even succeed in reversing major municipal projects on environmental grounds. Citizenry empowerment in the workplace is also quietly promoted as in the case of Foxconn, Apple’s Taiwanese manufacturer. The company is now allowed to bring in US-based Fair Labour Association to train its 1.2 million workers in China in voting for representatives on 18,000 union committees.
It has often been said that with the One Child Policy, China will get old before getting rich, as the pool of low-wage workers is being exhausted. However, thanks to an annual output of seven million university graduates, China will have 195 million of them by 2020, more than the entire U.S workforce. In a survey in May 2012, KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm, expects that over the next four years China will rival with the United States in innovative technologies, particularly in cloud computing and mobile telephony. Likewise, Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, anticipates the rise of a “Silicon China” Click here. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, China tops the world in 2011 in patent applications, the first time in a century for a developing country Click here. By all accounts, therefore, China should be on track to overcoming the Middle Income Trap in transit to a higher-income country.
This prognosis is supported by a presentation of Professor Angang Hu of Tsinghua University. He finds that driven by total factor productivity growth, innovation and human capital accumulation, by 2020 China will, by whatever measurements, surpass the United States as the largest economy, growing to 2.2 to 2.5 times the U.S. GDP by 2030. By that time, China is slated to have the largest consumer market, the largest urbanization, and the largest infrastructural system, coupled with the largest pool of innovative human capital, a green country, and a more equal and equitable society.
Nevertheless, there remain many institutional bottlenecks and other challenges like resource scarcity, demography and vested interests that can derail Professor Hu’s optimistic trajectory. What is even more crucial, however, is whether China could craft a path-breaking new “social contract” that can harness a democratically organised citizenry to aid, monitor, participate in and hold accountable a clean and effective state that delivers the greatest public goods for the greatest proportion of the people.
Notwithstanding the odds, a visionary China Dream never fails to inspire and rally dedicated or ambitious aspirants. According to the People’s Daily, a 27-year old double-major from Yale University is giving up a lucrative career overseas to work as a lowly-paid official in a remote village in Hunan Province. As a Chinese, he vows to give his share to help fellow villagers to realize the dream for a better life for themselves and their off-springs. Click here
The hearts and minds of the whole nation are now being touched by Xi’s “China Dream”, and the inspiring vision, imprecise though it is, does not look wholly unattainable.
Alexi de Tocquerville’s“The Ancien Regime and the Revolution” is a critique on how liberal and egalitarian revolutionary ideals could become corrupted and forgotten afterwards. The classic tome has been reported to be doing the rounds amongst China’s top leaders and is now a best-seller in China Click here. When asked by Richard Nixon, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was reported to have said that the implication of the French revolution was too soon to tell. Perhaps he was right all along.