The Chinese are apparently conditioned to be acquiescent. The Communist Party of China (CCP) tells the people what work they can do and interprets history as a tool to design nationalism and patriotism. With a membership of 89.45 million, how does it manage to rule 1.3 billion people?

Having been ruled by emperors for 2000 years, maybe the Chinese are accustomed to it; now the CCP could be another dynasty with a different name. China grew economically and geographically when ruled by the Mongols and the Manchus. Modern China under Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping has been rising aggressively. Do we see any similarities between the Mings, Qings and Pings? Now, Xi Jinping has cleared the path to continue as emperor, indefinitely.

Absolute control

CCP control over governance is absolute, having penetrated into villages with one official for a thousand population. All government departments have a party branch, and the secretary dictates policies. Provincial governors are appointed by the party and party secretaries wield great power in governance, often intervening in decision-making. The ‘Tiao Tiao Kuai Kuai’ system is popular: by this horizontal party supervision is shown to be more important than vertical government supervision. Even the right to represent the working class in the resolution of disputes is retained by the CCP.

More than 30 million people died in the great famine of 1959-61. Local leaders exaggerated grain production figures to project a communist Utopia and forcibly procured grains to show large turnover. Communist propaganda led the people to dream of surplus produce and they even ate up the grain seeds. Millions died of starvation but party control was so strong that peasants were not allowed to even dream of a protest. Most city residents were not even aware of it.

Currently, communist governments exist only in China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba and Laos. Many other countries went through a democratic transition. Will there ever be such a transition in China? Some leaders worry about it because:

• The Soviet Union collapsed after 74 years of communist rule. The CCP will complete 74 years in power in 2023.

• Urbanisation, increased literacy and social media may popularise democratic values.

• Increase in per capita incomes, growth of the private sector and a burgeoning middle class are catalysts for a transition.

• Taiwan and Hong Kong reflect Chinese democratic aspirations.

Possibility of change

China came closest to a democratic transition in the late 1980s, when Taiwan, South Korea and the Soviet Union went through the same. Many moderate senior leaders tried to bring in reforms which were forcibly suppressed by Deng Xiaoping and the PLA and the leadership which came to power since then.

CCP Document No 9, 2013, the ‘Communiqué on Current State of the Ideological Sphere’, forbade propagating viewpoints that challenged CCP rule. Theseincluded ideas such as:

• Western constitutional democracy is attempting to deny the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

• ‘Universal values’ ridicules the ideological and theoretical basis for party rule.

• ‘Civil society’ deconstructs the social base for party rule.

• ‘Neo liberalism’ derides state control of the economy.

• ‘Western news views’ challenge the party’s control over media.

• ‘Historical nihilism’, which denies the history of CCP and new China.

As the likelihood of democratic dreams fulminating is greatest from the rising middle class, the party has entered into a ‘social contract’ with them.

They are appeased for not insisting on political reforms. The middle class works with the party, with many of them joining the party. Private entrepreneurs provide material advantages to official patrons and exploit the leverage .

The CCP’s most powerful tool for control, the ‘hukou household registration system’, classifies all citizens as agricultural or non-agricultural. State welfare programmes distinctly favoured non-agricultural hukou holders as the party thought they were more likely to protest.

Non-agricultural hukou holders were not allowed to move to cities or obtain residency permits and found it difficult to progress socially and economically.

The question now is whether the Chinese people will remain subjugated forever? Will an ageing population, an adverse Gini coefficient, and awareness arising out of globalisation prod the people to demand a role in governance?

The CCP dynasty under ‘Emperor’ Xi is very powerful but can we forget the collapse of the Roman and Mongol empires?

The writer is faculty member of the National Defence College, New Delhi