China is full of contradictions. Its massive size, its rich history, and the weight of its growth could not have avoided generating adversity. While the ruling class has been able to manage the challenges, it now finds itself faced with a choice that can no longer be deferred. Persistent growth without tending to the collateral effects can lead to those effects spiraling out of control. In past articles we have illustrated the complexity and danger of the situation, but if there are critically important choices looming on the horizon, it must be said that China also has the resources to make them. The last decades have been spent grooming a more prepared and sophisticated leadership; economics is no longer the “bourgeois science” of Maoist times, it is a discipline to be studied and treated with respect. The whole society is now more cultured, wealthy, and prepared. If the resources are there, the challenge now is to use them wisely. In this dilemma – involvement or marginalization of the greatest talents – lies the heart of China’s immediate future.
There are two paths to choose from, but they will converge in the long run: either a political opening, or the representation of civil society without partisan stigma, and the first option will bring about the second. Like in 1978, when the political apparatus decided to grant their economic counterpart an equal chance (obtaining astounding success), today it can include the new generations, whose abilities go beyond the traditional mold of the party. It would be an operation with long-term goals that does not necessarily require a radical reform of the current political system.
The latter path presents a challenge so full of implications that the CCP right now is unwilling to undertake and would be unable to manage, but a few social classes are nevertheless emerging on their own. They are the urban youth who have studied abroad and at home, and are experts in English and modern methods of communication. They are nationalistic in nature but are also open to outside influences, and are able to identify China’s strengths and also their own. Many success stories are born from the conjugation of those two goals.
With the advent of Jang Zemin and the “Three Represents,” the Chinese ruling class accepted China’s new requirements into the folds of the Party: the entrepreneurs, the intellectuals, and the patriots. The organization thus broke from a rigid conformism to find new lifeblood and to offer a political beachhead for new emerging issues.
It is more than just a theoretical exercise, and the reciprocal advantages are clear. Chinese society has changed, celebrating growth and stability. To maintain this dual advantage it will need to broaden its areas of responsibility. Leading a country with a monopoly on power is only possible with poor, uneducated, and backwards subjects. When that society does improve, sooner or later it will demand representation and their fair share. To prevent the educated youth and young talents from falling into ultra-nationalism or even joining the opposition, Beijing needs to recruit them. Chinese history teaches us that the process may be slow and unplanned, with unexpected accelerations. The next People’s Congress, to be held in October, will be the first occasion to manage an unprecedented situation, and prevent it from spinning out of control.