Friday, February 04, 2011

Is Beijing The Next Cairo?

With regime change in the air in Egypt, a question that many people around the world are asking is whether the same kind of revolution is possible in the China of today. Based on our interactions with people from all walks of life over the past few years, I would have to say that the answer is negative. As I have repeatedly put it to my Chinese interlocutors...I just don't see that picture of Mao coming down in our lifetimes.

What are my arguments for the staying power of the Chinese Communist Party? All around us, from Beijing to the countryside, we have spent time with folks who are consumed with grabbing a piece of the increasing prosperity that is one of the defining characteristics of modern China. There are professors who are increasingly interfacing with their colleagues around the world. There are students who are obtaining higher education levels than could even have been contemplated just a couple of decades ago. There are migrants from the countryside who are finding work not only in factories, but also on the black market, as drivers of illegal cars and purveyors of pirated electronics.

To be sure, all of these groups have their beefs with the Chinese government and with societal development in general. Professors are often poorly paid and moonlight as teachers at multiple institutions, unequipped to produce original research on topics of their own choosing. There are students who after graduation become part of the "ant tribe." There are workers who find themselves at the mercy of corrupt businessmen and government officials.

So, yes, there is discontent bubbling just below the surface of the "harmonious society." And, yes, it is possible that some triggering event could unite all of these disparate walks of life into a single movement. And, yes, it would be sexy to predict that the regime will topple within some specified time frame. (I mean, imagine if you were the guy who got it right! You'd be the genius Chinatologist!)

In the end, though, I'm betting that there will be plenty more pictures of the Ballas in front of that gigantic portrait. We'll be getting older, but the Chairman will not have changed a bit...

~Steve

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