China’s ‘Bad Emperor’ Problem
Published on: May 28, 2012
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  • Ambarish

    Excellent hypothesis. But my only question is, how has the Chinese “state” (including the pre-communist one) managed to avoid a successful rebellion for more time than probably any other ruling elite in the world? And has the social contract in China changed to such an extent that ordinary citizens actually don’t care about the rule of law and individual freedoms as long as state agencies behave in a roughly predictable manner and (as recent history seems to suggest), opportunities for economic growth are made available to a large section of the citizenry?

    • Grimm

      “But my only question is, how has the Chinese “state” (including the pre-communist one) managed to avoid a successful rebellion for more time than probably any other ruling elite in the world?”

      Gun control, just like Hitler did before exterminating the Jews.

      That’s why the 2nd Amendment is part and parcel of the American attempt to avoid dictatorships. Although it is still collapsing due to the erosion of moral restraints.

      “But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone. (atheist Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)

  • Ambarish

    Ofcourse the two requirements re predictable state behavior and growth opportunities that I states above in my earlier comment are part of what many of us consider the rule of law but arguably, they are not its central pillar.

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  • Anthony

    “For more than 2000 years, the Chinese political system has been built around a highly sophisticated centralized bureaucracy….” Francis Fukuyama is intimating that 21st century challenges may entail innovative imposition or modification of governing model going forward (interlocking formal institutions buttressed by real rule of law). Now, are Chinese social arrangements (a country with very old traditions) amendable to ideas proffered by author?

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  • gao

    Chinese “bad emperor” problem is partially solved by cabinet/party rule (i.e. collective) organization. 1975 was the last breath of the one-man-rule essence.

    Chinese are well aware that their political plague has evolved over the arbitration, but the old problem of checking the power remains.

    • Mastro

      There is a serious problem with “rule by cabinet” its relatively easy for faceless (or near faceless) bureaucrats to become corrupt- frankly no one is looking. The group might keep individuals from going overboard- but over 20-30 years (hmm- about now) a slow creep from a “harmless” bribe can grow into institutionalized kleptocracy.

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  • The perpetual longing in New Zealand is for a benevolent dictator; aka of course as a “good emperor”. NZ had such a man, immensely popular in his day – Sir Robert Muldoon. Our benevolent dictator can now be seen in hindsight as a “bad emperor”. His populist socialism led to financial meltdown with high inflation and the desperation of a wage/price freeze. The problem then, is who exactly determines what policies – popular or otherwise, are in the country’s best long term interest. Ask the Greeks…

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  • Frank

    @Ambarish May 28, 2012 at 7:43 pm:

    “…how has the Chinese “state” (including the pre-communist one) managed to avoid a successful rebellion for more time than probably any other ruling elite in the world?”

    You obviously don’t read history. Taiping Rebellion? How about the unrest that led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, the following Warlord period, and the civil war between the Communists and Kuomintang that started in 1927 and didn’t end until 1948?

  • Hugo de Toronja

    Mr. Fukuyama writes, “I could not possibly understand contemporary China without appreciating what a total disaster the Cultural Revolution was…”

    Although it’s hazardous to make generalizations about 1 billion people, I think popular expressions of mainstream Chinese culture clearly suggest that one of the most successful survival techniques upon which the Chinese masses have traditionally relied is a robust ability to forget the horrors of the past and move forward without the entanglements of remorse and regret.

    We’ll likely *never* know just how disastrous the Cultural Revolution was, although memoirs and other forms of anecdotal testimony make it obvious that it was very, very bad, indeed.

    The downside of willful regret-free amnesia is, of course, that it doesn’t allow a society to fully correct the errors of the past, and it does nothing to lessen or mitigate their resultant trauma, which can fester, in China, for generations, the awful pain being handed down wordlessly, but in its entirety, from one generation to the next.

    Which is why, I think, China’s greatest changes have tended to be sudden, vast, and enormously cataclysmic.

    And this is what most worries me about the current Chinese government’s unwillingness to move decisively toward creating a political culture that’s at least marginally more transparent and participatory.

    The Chinese people have suffered enough in the past 200 years. They deserve more stability and fewer surprises.

  • aol
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  • ltlee1

    One can easily write a similar article about US foreign adventure show John’s mistakes repeated by Bush Jr repeated by Obama.

    Has history really ended? Has any country really solved the problem of “bad emporer”?

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  • Excellent summary. The CCP is scared something like the Cultural Revolution could happen again. But they won’t clear the air with the Chinese people more generally. This is like Krushchev’s limited admission of Stalin’s crimes, but not Gorbachev’s more general glasnost. The Chinese are determined not to go down that road.

    BTW, Hitler was not elected; the Nazi party never won a majority in German national elections. They had to form a coalition, then stage an internal coup. Other fascist parties in Europe in the 20s and 30s did the same. Come to think of it, so did Lenin, head of a tiny radical party!

  • Matt

    I think Fukuyama actually identified a different, larger problem: in order to maintain power, the Chinese Communist Party perpetuates the myth of Mao and the revolution, yet the current leadership knows that Mao’s cultural revolution was one of the worst things ever to happen to China. A government that operates in denial of its own history is doomed either to fall or to end up repeating that history. They need to come clean with their own people.

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  • Wahaha


    The answer is information.

    Look at the time of 50s and 60s, all of them had tight control of information. The same for north korea.

    But government must have some control of information, otherwise government wont be able to carry out long-term plan because most of media and journalists are mouth-bigger-than-butt morons.

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