But doesn’t repression work in China?

And what that means for the Communist Party’s hold on power

Reviewing Sushan Shirk’s Fragile Superpower, TCA Srinivasa-raghavan mentions the familiar argument about the lack of political safety valves in China. (linkthanks Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan)

…the Chinese leadership no longer has to fear the foreign devil who speaks English; it has to fear the average Chinaman who does so. (Shirk) also shows how there is no shortage in the variety of unrests in China: you name a type of discontent, and it is there. But unlike India, China has not had the sense to develop political outlets for the head of steam that is building up. The only way it knows of dealing with mass discontent is repression. [Business Standard]

That may be so, but it is by no means clear that repression won’t work in China. Mao Zedong’s depradations apart, even the Tiananmen Square massacre does not register in the public mind.

The problem may lie in the eyes of the beholder. Repression, for American and Indian commentators, is either repugnant or counter-productive or both. Despite speaking English, the Chinese mind may not think likewise. If so, assessments of China’s fragility may be overstated.

7 thoughts on “But doesn’t repression work in China?”

  1. Good piece.

    I agree that China isn’t anywhere near as fragile as the west and India would like to believe. Repressive regimes have held out for centuries, history say. And regimnes where repression isnt even seen as repression (some totalaterian religious ideologies come to mind), the chances of it lasting ever longer can’t be dismissed.

  2. Were I a politburo big wig in China, I would be very concerned about the inevitable economic downturn, which would be a first for the average Chinese since the advent of market reforms in that country.

  3. Despite speaking English, the Chinese mind may not think likewise.

    The Communist Party is just the new avatar of the Emperor. Chinese history is one long list of dynasties – with few interruptions – unlike chaotic Indian history. The idea that China is just waiting to explode politically is wishful thinking.

  4. Somebody said recently that China needs a revolution every two centuries because of the nature of its political and social structure. Maybe the groundwork for the next revolution is already being laid by the discontent that is being experienced in China.

  5. Nitin,
    While repression no doubt exists in china, I think it is as of now on the course to become what maybe called a liberal dictatorship. The economic and (most) social freedoms are being expanded – and since the state is backing off there are progressively less collective decisions to be made.

    What China is doing right now – and which I believe it will ultimately fail at nonetheless – is questioning the legitimacy of the concept of democracy itself. If there is a small-government, whoever runs it and whether he is elected or not becomes slightly little less relevant. After all a predictable set of rules are being followed which is something approaching ,but not exactly, the rule of law.

    @sud
    repressive regimes have held out for centuries, but they didn’t have free countries around them then. For China to become a democracy – it should not take more than a few decades at most.

  6. Chinese people does not mind to have a banch of technocrat ruler. Yes, they are not communist in real term, only wearing commusnist coat to give a alternative look. People are happy with the economic progress and better life. They want to be in same class of USA and Japan in term of economic prosperity. As long as communist can give it and communist succesfully divert public attention towards nationalism from real issues the present dictatorship will continue. Thing may change only either due quarell among the top leadership, or sudden downward movement of prosperity due to various factor, like climate change, global economy, etc.

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