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The CPC, a hydra with 70 million heads?

Otto Kölbl

In our media, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is often described as a monolithic being, incapable of any self-reflection or evolution, with its own emotions and fears. Nobody seems to be able to see it as it is: an organization of tens of millions of human beings, each of which has his or her own ideas, emotions and vision of the future of the country and the world.

Plenary session of the Chinese National Assembly, which has become a symbol of the power of the Chinese Communist Party. Photo: npc.gov, Wang Xinqing.

Plenary session of the Chinese National Assembly, which has become a symbol of the power of the Communist Party of China. Photo: npc.gov, Wang Xinqing.

In particular, an organization can not have any "existential fears". But precisely this emotion is very often attributed to the CPC, for example when talking about political reforms. This is certainly an important source of errors in most reflections about the future of China.

Our media like to point out that any serious political reform is impossible in China because it would imply questioning the power monopoly of the CPC and therefore some kind of "collective suicide". However, this analysis does not withstand a serious analysis.

In the former Soviet Union, the communist regime did not break down after a period of sustained development and economic growth perceived as positive by the huge majority of the population, but after a period of economic stagnation and of fossilization of its structures. Despite that, after the reforms, virtually all the democratically elected leaders of its successor states were former high-ranking members of the communist party.

If the Communist Party of China broke down right now, some of its leaders would certainly have accept a degradation of their position, or even some kind of early retirement. On the other hand, an equal number of members could hope for a faster promotion than what they can hope for in the present system.

Another argument of our media is that the members of the CPC benefit from the power monopoly of the CPC, and that such opportunities would be over in case of real reforms. This is also quite difficult to justify if we look a the Soviet experience. There is nothing like the breakdown of a communist regime to make fast money. In the case of East Germany, it's the Western capitalists who helped themselves, in the case of Russia, it's the national oligarchs. In my eyes there is no doubt that in case of a breakdown of the communist regime in China, the Chinese would manage to prevent the national wealth to get into foreign hands. Therefore, it's the present high-ranking officials who would get hold of whatever there is to catch.

We should also relativize the terrifying aspect of this "hydra" on the population in general. It takes much more than a CPC to terrorize 1.3 billion Chinese. If one day more than half of the Chinese will be fed up with the power monopoly of the communist regime, they will sweep it from power with their left hand; they will not even need our help for that.

However, as long as the CPC and the country under its administration develops in the way they want, they will think twice before they overthrow it for an uncertain future. These last years, I have talked with many Chinese about the political future of their country. Among them, there were some party members, but also some people extremely critical towards the regime to the point that they would like it to disappear as fast as possible.

However, the great majority among them were of course critical towards the CPC, but did not want it to be overthrown in the near future. Quite often, they were as critical towards the Western media as towards the CPC. Many of them have got the impression that the West does not like the fact that China is becoming a world power and would do everything they can in order to put an end to this "threat", for example by repeating the Soviet experience.

This does not mean that this (probable) majority among the population wants the CPC to cling eternally to its power monopoly. Virtually everybody agrees on the fact that the present regime must be progressively more submitted to democratic control. In a first step, this will probably take place within the framework of the present regime.

However, even people who are part of the regime mention the possibility that in the medium term the political scene will be reformed to the point where it will accept a multiparty democracy. This topic is openly discussed in China, especially among students and academics, but also within the regime itself.

By negating this phenomenon and by sticking to their Hollywood scenarios, our media completely miss an important development and discredit themselves in the eyes of the Chinese public opinion. That our media try to defend their ideals is ok. However, in order to have a positive influence in China, they must first inform correctly about the most recent developments in China. For this, it is essential that the foreign correspondents build up a relation based on trust and mutual respect with the local population, and that they learn to take them seriously. It is sad to see that during the last years, our media have done everything it takes to destroy the little trust that was left and any possibility to rebuild a new relationship based on these terms.