Up until now, China’s leadership has surprised many of its critics with its ability to adapt to changed circumstances and manage in a very technocratic way all kinds of complicated questions. Yet a report in the New York Times explains how even the most senior members of China’s elite are worried and perplexed by the difficulties their country faces:
A heavyweight crowd gathered last October for a banquet in Beijing’s tallest skyscraper. The son of Mao Zedong’s immediate successor was there, as was the daughter of the country’s No. 2 military official for nearly three decades, along with the half sister of China’s president-in-waiting, and many more[…]Most surprising, though, was the reason for the meeting. A small coterie of children of China’s founding elites who favor deeper political and economic change had come to debate the need for a new direction under the next generation of Communist Party leaders, who are set to take power in a once-a-decade changeover set to begin this year. Many had met the previous August, and would meet again in February.The private gatherings are a telling indicator of how even some in the elite are worried about the course the Communist Party is charting for China’s future. And to advocates of political change, they offer hope that influential party members support the idea that tomorrow’s China should give citizens more power to choose their leaders and seek redress for grievances, two longtime complaints about the current system.But the problem is that even as the tiny band of political reformers is attracting more influential adherents, it is splintered into factions that cannot agree on what “reform” would be, much less how to achieve it. The fundamental shifts that are crucial to their demands — a legal system beyond Communist Party control as well as elections with real rules and real choices among candidates — are seen even among the most radical as distant dreams, at best part of a second phase of reform.
Americans may not understand the deep fear that makes many Chinese conservative when faced with the possibility of change. China has seen many enthusiastic revolutions aiming to create a better society, and most of them have ended in terror and blood.That is why many people in China, and also in the West, hope against all hope that China’s leadership will find a way to make gradual changes. But it isn’t easy. Those who envy China and think the Chinese have discovered the secret of an efficient planned economy don’t get just how complicated and difficult China’s situation really is. Those Chinese who understand their system best are the most concerned; a country that spends more on internal security than external defense knows where the real dangers lie.