Mao Inc. China's Terribly Successful Communist Party Turns 90
Part 3: Record Figures for Red China Inc.
It is certainly true that China's impressive economic figures can outshine everything else. Hardly a day goes by in which Red China Inc. does not report new record figures. And the more helplessly world leaders, from US President Barack Obama to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, struggle to reform their traditional market economies, to free the United States of its debts and to keep Europe liquid, the more enviously the West eyes China's rapid growth.
At first glance, China's recipes for success should not be effective: five-year plans, manipulated exchange rates, no private ownership of land. But these factors represent only one side of things in the giant country. The other is an unbridled capitalism that the party manages in a thoroughly non-ideological way that includes investments in the future. For example, Beijing has increased its research and development spending by an average of 21 percent a year since 2000 (as compared with 4 percent a year for the United States). "Socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics" -- the term alone underscores the Communist Party's flexibility. And what exactly the "Chinese characteristics" are remains vague -- and expandable as needed.
"Zou Chuqu," or "swarm out," is the slogan the party uses to encourage the economy to acquire know-how and buy up companies abroad. The policy represents the best of both worlds, as Chinese business executives go on shopping sprees armed with loans from state banks. And in the giant country itself, the party plays the "barbarians" off against one another. Like a powerful groundskeeper, it assigns foreign companies to local partners, with which they are to modernize China's industry.
A Party as 'Omnipresent as God'
In the process, the party never budges a centimeter from its sole claim to political leadership. China, says party leader Hu, is and remains a "democratic dictatorship of the people." The party's octopus arms encompass far more than government functions. Through its "organization department," the Communist Party controls virtually every important position in the country. In the words of a Beijing professor, the party is as "omnipresent as God." It controls the army, the intelligence service, the press, the courts and the state-owned companies, placing them in a more privileged position as they compete with private enterprise.
A look at license-plate numbers reveals the true hierarchy in a city like Shanghai, where the local party chairman's plate number is 00001, while the mayor and deputy party chairman has 00002. Other insignias of power are even more telling. All 300 high-ranking party officials have a special telephone called the "red machine," with which the members of this top echelon can communicate with one another on a secret, secure line.
"If Vladimir Lenin were reincarnated in 21st-century Beijing and managed to avert his eyes from the city's glittering skyscrapers and conspicuous consumption, he would instantly recognize in the ruling Chinese Communist Party a replica of the system he designed nearly a century ago for the victors of the Bolshevik Revolution," Australian communism expert Richard McGregor wrote earlier this year in the US journal Foreign Policy.
However, comparisons with the extinct Soviet Union are as unwanted in Beijing as references to the current turmoil in the Arab world. The calls on the Internet for a Chinese " jasmine revolution" have made the country's normally self-confident leaders so nervous that they have banned the use of the term on the Internet.
'Seventy Percent Positive'
Hardly anyone is as familiar with the Communist Party's sensitivities as Professor Xie Chuntao, who teaches at the Beijing Cadre School. He looks thoughtful as he sips his cappuccino in a café in Xidan, a popular watering hole for the capital's smart set. He answers "13 Questions for the Party" in his new book. Xie admits that the Communist Party does not have a handle on important social issues.
Nepotism is Xie's biggest concern. The central bank recently revealed an astonishing number when it claimed that corrupt officials had illegally moved 800 billion yuan (about 85 billion) abroad in the last two decades. Xie also worries about the growing lifestyle differences between rich and poor and between the urban and rural populations, as well as the dramatic aging of society. The privileges enjoyed by the children of senior party officials are also not a taboo subject for Xie. "The cadres I teach want me to address everything openly," he says. "They are familiar with the problems."
And the solutions? The shrewd intellectual struggles with the question. "There is no corruption in Singapore," he says. "That should be our role model."
Would that include Singapore's elections, which include opposition parties?
The professor says he can imagine this happening in the long term. In fact, he has already sent his daughter to Singapore to study. And as far as further economic development is concerned, the advice of Western experts is more than welcome. "I try to get the best professors from Harvard and Yale as guest lecturers."
However, the views of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and artist Ai Weiwei are non-negotiable for the cadre educator. "Those who attack the party so directly and want a completely different system are placing themselves outside of society." According to Xie, the Communist Party must remain responsible for the interpretation of history. And no one should be allowed to challenge the image of the Great Chairman. In his view, Chinese reformer Deng Xiaoping's assessment of the dictator and revolutionary should remain valid for all time: "Seventy percent positive."
A Journey into Chinese Communist History
Two excursions to different regions of China are like two journeys through time into the historic heart of Chinese communism.
The first stop is at the Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai, a city of 23 million. The museum is housed in a brick building in a former working-class neighborhood of a city once subjugated by foreign powers. It offers a look back at the 1920s, when Shanghai was the epitome of excess, a paradise for trading companies from the West but a hell for most local residents, a place where life was shaped by child labor, prostitution, gang crime and opium dens.
Mao Zedong, the eldest son of a relatively affluent farming family, a rebel against authority, came to Shanghai in July 1921 to secretly launch the Communist Party, together with 12 others. The main exhibit at the museum, a room filled with "faithful reproductions" of the revolutionaries, suggests that Mao was already their leader at the time. He is the only one standing at the table, a shining light, a Jesus among his disciples. In truth, however, the ambitious delegate from Hunan was more of a tagalong at the beginning, although that would soon change when he retreated to the mountains and, using a combination of his charisma and tangible threats, led the farmers in uprisings.