From its genesis until its overthrow on February 12, 1912, imperial China was driven throughout its history by a permanent tension between the despotic state’s boundless hostility toward society and the violent anti-state sentiments of society. The result of this uncompromising and—at times— merciless antagonism between the omnipotent state and the ruthlessly oppressed society was a political culture in which absolute power alternated between the terribly powerful bureaucracy and the frightfully brutalized people.
Having been declared divine by a selected minority of “mandarins” in a culture that did not possess the theological notion of a supreme being, the rule of the emperor and his hypocritical elite could never be legitimized by any “Heavenly Mandate.” Thus having been condemned to hover between the reality of illegitimacy and a lie, imperial China had subsisted for four millennia as its own caricature.The empire may have seemed outwardly strong, but the succession of national humiliations from the mid-17th century on in the hands of European as well as Asian powers revealed its fundamental internal weaknesses. The primitive state of imperial China’s political institutions, economy, scientific knowledge, military technology, fine arts, and even philosophy rendered the many superficial attempts at modernization by the traditionalists and the Westernizers alike doomed to certain failure.
Ultimately, the sudden collapse of imperial China was the result of the universal bankruptcy of a parochial civilization. Stripped of its splendid isolation, Confucianism was unable to provide a convincing alternative to Western ideas of political and economic freedoms. The ensuing short-lived republic, the period of warlordism, and the anti-Japanese united front of the Nationalists and the Communists were again only immensely feeble attempts at simulating Western modernization while preserving China’s uniquely Asian identity. The establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, was essentially a rescue mission by Mao Tse-tung and his comrades to provide this moribund civilization with a historical reprieve. Indeed, Mao’s autocracy was a relentless struggle against Western modernization in the name of an absurdly archaic, idiotic, and incompetent communist development in overdrive.
Following the death of Mao and the downfall of his wife Chiang Ch’ing and her three lieutenants, Teng Hsiao-p’ing introduced an economic reform program under the slogan of “The Four Modernizations.” This latest attempt to preserve the single-party dictatorship of the Communist Party of China had produced the usual outcome—namely, the propping up of the autocracy by relentlessly promoting economic growth. Among the many myths surrounding the “Chinese miracle” and the legitimacy of the one-party autocracy through prosperity, the most fallacious relates to how unified and stable are the leaderships of the party, the central and local governments, and the military. True, on the surface, the People’s Republic of China appears to be a normal nation-state. Yet, alarmingly close to this tranquil surface, society is in a volcanic turmoil. For the autocracy, economic modernization must be balanced by ruthless political oppression.
For society, total political control by the party, the state, and local authorities is increasingly unacceptable. Opinion surveys regularly conducted by universities and the printed media found that almost fifty percent of the Chinese are unhappy with their existing living conditions. While giant state-owned and state-controlled enterprises in industries that the party and the military considers “strategic” prosper, private and joint public-private entities are steadily subjected to official meddling and harassment.
Corruption, as old as the Chinese civilization itself, demoralizes and dehumanizes the entire population. As a result, almost two-thirds of middle-class and rich Chinese have already left the country, or are in the process of emigrating to the West. Unabated unrests in countless cities, villages, and even entire cantons and regions prove that the hybrid system of political autocracy and limited economic liberalization does not work anymore.
This latest attempt to resurrect the ancient civilization will also end in utter failure. Signals foretelling this bleak outcome are many: a recent substantial decrease of the GDP; a thirty percent drop in Chinese exports that resulted in a massive trade deficit throughout the first half of this year; a spectacularly failed stimulus package that promptly fueled inflation; huge misallocations of state investments for poorly planned and corruption-riddled mega-projects; the coming insolvency of the financial sector; the unsustainable indebtedness of the local governments; and a self-inflicted and looming demographic catastrophe. Forced modernizations, based on the seemingly limitless resources of an omnipotent state, have an unequivocally lousy record. Autocracies that claim to rule with the enthusiastic support of their subjects can only be likened to the prostitutes who, according to Saint Augustine, “live as though they could be loved.”
Especially, the type of communism associated chiefly with the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, cannot adapt to reality because it strives to apply the principles of political and economic freedoms in reverse. Instead of being empowered to lead by elections that are free, members of a small minority, claiming intellectual and moral superiority over the people, usurp absolute power for the sake of establishing heaven for themselves on earth.
In this context, the rapid pace of China’s military buildup is particularly alarming. Having failed to save its ancient civilization and establish a stable nation-state, the current and the soon-to-be leaders of the People’s Republic of China seem to have decided to pursue a “flight forward” strategy. Apparently, they believe that by building an empire they would be able to provide a new lease of existence to their autocracy.
More likely, however, is the scenario under which they would end up with a monster state in which racism would masquerade as nationalism and militarism would become the scourge of mankind. Regardless of any likely outcome, the future collapse of the People’s Republic of China is not open to question.