Remember the naughty ’90s? If you’re Chinese, they were a time of breakneck economic growth and a liberalizing political environment under President Jiang Zemin. No wonder Xi Jinping’s Administration, which is overseeing slow growth with more authoritarian tactics, is cracking down on celebrations of Zemin. The FT reports:
Chinese authorities fretting about potentially “subversive” civil society groups — such as rights lawyers and labour activists — have a new red flag: the upcoming birthday of former president Jiang Zemin.
“We all wanted to do something like a birthday party,” says Wu Qiang, a former lecturer in politics at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. But he and other self-styled “toadies” — a reference to Mr Jiang’s supposedly froglike appearance — decided celebrations could be dangerous after visits from police who also warned against alluding to him online.
Although frail as he turns 90 on Wednesday, the former president is regarded as a political threat by incumbent Xi Jinping who, ahead of a second term in office, is preparing for a large turnover of senior officials late next year.
That, together with a desire to quash nostalgia for the more liberal 1990s, has prompted the crackdown. “Xi wants to promote his own people,” says Willy Lam at Hong Kong’s Chinese University. “He has pulled out all the stops to prevent Jiang and members of his clique from interfering.”
For the first few years of Xi Jinping’s reign, there was a great deal of enthusiasm about the prospect that he would liberalize the economy. Anyone who still thinks that in 2016 is living on a different planet. China has gotten much less hospitable to diversity—of viewpoints, nationality, business plans, and more. Meanwhile, Xi has doubled down on underperforming sectors of the economy out of fear that mass unemployment could cause instability.
Over at Bloomberg View, Tyler Cowen raises the possibility that China’s period of such fast growth (and the world’s) may turn out to be a blip:
What’s also striking about the 19th century is that some countries, such as China and India, didn’t keep up. Indeed, their economies actually shrank for sustained periods of time. They had some bad luck, pursued bad policies and suffered under colonial and imperial oppression. Foreign rulers often were more interested in control than in producing public goods for the citizenry.
In the next generation, the emerging economies may return to these 19th century patterns. Either they will learn to build slowly and steadily, or quite possibly they will go into reverse.
If that’s what Xi Jinping also sees ahead, then it makes sense that he wants to suppress displays of nostalgia for the 1990s. The fun times are over and they probably aren’t coming back. Better not to pretend otherwise.