From the June 27, 2011 edition of The Washington Post:
Southwestern Chinese city leading red revival - The Washington PostWith the approach of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China on July 1, the country is being swept up in a wave of orchestrated revolutionary nostalgia. Nowhere is that more so than in Chongqing, this southwestern Chinese mega-city of 32 million people that has become the capital of the “red culture” revival...
The red culture campaign revival is the pet project of the local Communist Party secretary, Bo Xilai, a former commerce minister and son of Bo Yibo, a Mao contemporary who was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. In 2007, Bo was appointed to the top job in Chongqing, a sprawling provincial-sized city of almost 32,000 square miles — about the size of South Carolina — that before 1949 served as the wartime capital for the anti-Communist Nationalist (or KMT) regime.
If this movement is more than a passing commemoration of an historic anniversary, it would not be the first such movement to emerge since Deng Xiaoping launched his reform drive in 1978 that led to China's vast economic resurgence. In an atmosphere following the Tiananmen Square massacre and disintegration of the Soviet Union and East Bloc communist regimes, there was a movement within China's Communist Party that aimed to reverse China's economic liberalization. Deng Xiaoping and his successor Jiang Zemin maintained the path of reform.
The nascent "red revival" movement could also prove to be little more than a transitory fad. However, under some circumstances, it could gain broader force. Some possible candidates would include the following risks:
- China's economic reforms fizzle (possibly due to one or more regional real estate bubbles collapsing, difficulties in transitioning from a manufacturing/investment-driven economic model to one that includes a larger consumer component, a U.S. debt crisis, resource scarcity, etc.).
- It is unable to accommodate the growing expectations of improved living conditions for its population (especially the growing number of college graduates who are facing a challenging employment landscape) leading to a destabilizing gap between the public's expectations and governance results (labor unrest is one symptom of some issues in that area).
- It has a rocky transition in trying to address the social needs associated with a growing older population.
- It mishandles attempts at political reforms (likely to be modest and generally at the local/regional level early on where experiments have been ongoing, but with mixed results) or its current single-party framework becomes so rigid that it can no longer adapt to internal and external dynamism.
- It encounters geopolitical challenges that arise from some of the disputes that exist e.g., in the South China Sea, that damage its regional position. In that context, regional disengagement or even abdication by the U.S. could prove destabilizing.
Countries that have encountered domestic challenges have sometimes become more aggressive on the international front in a bid to rally popular support. Under such a scenario, China would become more assertive in some of the regional disputes that presently exist. It could even attempt to exercise its growing power to press a resolution in its favor. Its neighbors and also the United States have critical interests at stake, so there would be some risk that things could escalate if they are not managed carefully.
In addition, nationalism and power, and ideology can become a potent mix. Hence, a crisis could provide the kind of simple narrative that could produce exactly the kind of cocktail of nationalism, power, and ideology boosts the regional red revival movement into a much broader setting. Right now, that is probably not the most likely outcome. With sound leadership (in China, its neighbors, and the U.S.), such an outcome need not be an assured one.
The challenges and opportunities facing China are complex and overlapping. In the decades ahead, a lot will depend on whether China is able to sustain economic growth that is sufficient to provide for the growing expectations of its population that will, in part, arise from that growth. Social harmony will remain a paramount concern for China's government in the years ahead. Political adaptation that allows for greater flexibility/range of strategic options will also become increasingly important even if the model remains single party dominated for the forseeable future, with the Communist Party not government diversifying.
A lot will also depend on China's interactions with its neighbors and the world's other great powers, including but not limited to the United States. The region's balance of power, its economic/institutional framework, its history, and how the countries interact with one another/roles they assume will influence the course of events both within China's boundaries and beyond them.