On the Governance of China
written by A. L. Hart Havens on December 1, 2021
It has now been two full years since the first news of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak emerged in western media outlets, and the severity of the ensuing ordeal suggests that we may be currently living through the most pivotal era in all of human history.
On the occasion of this morbid anniversary and in view of the upcoming overlap of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics with Chinese New Year, all eyes will definitely be on China in early February. And with 2021 marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, this marks an ideal time to devote some attention to the Chinese central government.
On this note, Joe Biden’s recent announcement of an Indo-Pacific security alliance, which seeks to contain Chinese influence by arming Australia with nuclear submarines, has unsurprisingly garnered strong praise from the mainstream news media.
Clearly oblivious to the extreme irony of enlisting the help of the Australian government in defense of freedom and human rights, neoconservative foreign-policy hawks and interventionist politicians of both parties in the United States, many of whom have called for heavy sanctions on China and even a boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, were utterly delighted by the formation of this US-UK-Australia axis of virtue.
But rather than assessing the merit of the disparate opinions surrounding the politically-charged topic of the Chinese government’s purported influence throughout the world, this article seeks to offer unbiased insight into the governance of the world’s most populous country — and one that may also be destined to become the world’s preeminent superpower, for better or worse.
Further, in order to avoid venturing deeply into the realm of speculation, this article deliberately refrains from commenting on the frequently-espoused theory that the outward hostilities between the US and Chinese governments amount to merely smoke and mirrors and that the two countries are in actuality working in unison at the highest level with the aim of ushering in a single world government.
Readers will be presented with a basic overview of the power structure and inner workings of the Chinese government as well as some thought-provoking ideas on whether life in China is better suited for leftist or conservative expats. The article’s title invokes the English-language translation of Xi Jinping’s three-volume book entitled The Governance of China.
The Chinese Civil War
The first decade of the 22-year Chinese Civil War began in 1927 when an insurgency emanating from the newly born People’s Liberation Army gave rise to a power struggle between the Chinese communists and the governing Kuomintang nationalists. This period also witnessed the legendary Long March (1934/1935), which saw large communist armies led by Mao Zedong removing themselves from harm’s way by relocating to the west and the north of the country.
Then, in 1937 the civil war was abruptly interrupted by a Japanese invasion that succeeded in rapidly occupying a large amount of Chinese territory. This effectively turned the inner-Chinese conflict into a three-way power struggle that eventually evolved to become part of the broader conflict of World War 2, which saw the Chinese nationalists aligned with the United States, the Chinese communists with the Soviet Union, and the Japanese imperialists with Germany.
The Japanese retreat from Chinese territory in 1945 immediately reignited the two-sided Chinese Civil War, and after four more years of fighting, the communist side had emerged victorious with the nationalists fleeing to the island of Taiwan.
The government of the People’s Republic of China, which was proclaimed by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949, has held power in China ever since. The iron-fisted rule of this government has undoubtedly brought forth great suffering with collectivist programs like the Great Leap Forward and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but it has also given rise to China’s ascent to a nuclear-armed, space-faring military and economic superpower.
The Chinese Communist Party
The Chinese Communist Party, colloquially known as the CCP, was founded in 1921 and has been the sole governing party of China since 1949. Although there are eight legally permitted minor political parties (such as the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese), these are subordinate to the CCP and have no governing power.
It may strike many people as odd to learn that the CCP is quite selective and does not make it particularly easy for prospective applicants to join. This can be seen in the fact that only 10% of applicants are accepted in a given year, and new CCP members are required to successfully complete a closely-monitored probationary year in order to achieve full party membership.
Compared to previous decades, the Chinese Communist Party now places a very heavy emphasis on candidates’ educational degrees, technical skills, and professional qualifications in addition to their adherence to party doctrine and ideology.
Additionally, the CCP’s 95 million members account for a mere 6% of China’s 1.5 billion inhabitants, which is a fairly low percentage compared to the membership of the ruling parties of other communist countries.
Full members of the Chinese Communist Party are highly regarded in society and enjoy certain benefits such as the right to participate in political meetings and to submit proposals in the party’s official journals. In spite of these privileges, however, run-of-the-mill CCP members clearly have no influence on central government policymaking.
The Central Committee
The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party comprises 205 full members (and 171 alternates), who are selected by the national congress every five years. Members typically include regional CCP leaders, provincial governors, high-ranking military officers, and heads of other government institutions.
The central committee encompasses the Organization Department of the Chinese Communist Party, responsible for personnel staffing and corruption prevention within the CCP, as well as the Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party, responsible for the control and dissemination of approved information to the public. It should be emphasized that while these two departments are assigned important implementation and enforcement duties, they do not hold any policymaking powers.
Although the central committee is vested with tremendous power on paper, in practice it serves largely as a forum for the discussion of government policies and the adoption of formal resolutions and declarations announced to the public. In addition to carrying out various other high-level formalities, this 205-person committee is tasked primarily with rubber-stamping government policy decisions made by its more powerful subsets.
The central committee contains a politburo consisting of 25 high-ranking party officials responsible for overseeing the Chinese Communist Party. Although politburo members are officially elected by the central committee, it is widely believed that these elections are actually based on a selection of candidates made by current and retired politburo members in meetings held behind closed doors. The central committee’s 25-member politburo is regarded to be the second-most powerful organization within the Chinese government.
Politburos were very common among communist countries of the past century, with the Soviet Politburo having garnered considerable attention from western news media throughout the Cold War. Even Afghanistan briefly had a politburo in the 1980s while partially under Soviet occupation. However, only five countries today have a politburo — China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam.
The Standing Committee
While the politburos of other communist countries past and present have served as the predominant decision-making authority in government, the real political power within the Chinese government is held by a seven-man standing committee within the 25-member politburo. And it is this Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party where the de facto highest authority in the Chinese central government lies.
Although the general secretary is typically regarded to be China’s head of state, it should be noted that the Chinese government does not operate on the principle of autocracy, meaning that the governing power in China is not entrusted to one single person (unlike in most other rigidly organized societies). Rather, the seven-man standing committee establishes China’s laws and policies via collective decision-making.
Similar to the system of appointing politburo members, the seven members of the standing committee are selected in an opaque and secretive process that is thought to involve the consultation of current members and retired elders. There is a fairly high rate of turnover, as the unofficial rules require candidates to be at least 50 but no older than 67.
The standing committee’s current seats are held by Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, and Han Zheng. Xi Jinping, who holds the title of General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, is China’s highest-ranking and most well-known government official.
On November 11, 2021, the Chinese government passed a landmark resolution officially declaring Xi Jinping a key figure in the CCP’s 100-year history, thus elevating him to the same political status that only two other men have ever achieved — Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. This resolution will effectively enable Jinping, now 68, to bypass the age limitations and retain his position as China’s most powerful statesman for years to come.
It is not clear how disagreements among the seven members are resolved, and very little is known about the rules and structure of standing committee meetings. This is unsurprising of course and fits with the Chinese government’s policy of carefully crafted outward messaging that emphasizes speaking to the public with one single unified voice. It is also unclear to what extent Xi Jinping’s recently elevated status will enable him to assert greater influence over the standing committee’s decision-making processes.
The history of the People’s Republic of China can be divided into five separate generations of paramount leaders, an unofficial title given to the Chinese government’s de facto head of state. It is notable that the paramount leader does not always hold the position of general secretary. The five paramount leaders are Mao Zedong (1949-1976), Deng Xiaoping (1978-1989), Jiang Zemin (1989-2004), Hu Jintao (2004-2012), and Xi Jinping (2012-present).
Life in China – More Suitable for Leftists or Conservatives?
While some readers may scoff at the premise of the question posed in this section’s heading, it is at least worth considering as interesting food for thought in light of the rapid deterioration of living conditions in the countries of the formerly free world. An argument can certainly be made that life in China is currently and/or soon will be more tolerable than life in the United States, Canada, or Australia.
Unfortunately, it may indeed reach a point in the foreseeable future where libertarian-minded individuals will be forced to substitute a principled philosophical approach for a self-preserving practical approach, which may involve choosing the least objectionable of a handful of overt dictatorships covering the entire face of the earth.
With regard to the idea of relocating to China, the Chinese government is not known to be accommodating in offering easy and convenient residency options. This of course should not come as a surprise from a government that seeks to maintain tight control over its territory and institutions. However, there are plenty of westerners who have acquired residency permits by virtue of obtaining gainful employment or starting companies in China.
Liberated Services has numerous trusted contacts who have spent years or even decades in China, and there is an overwhelming consensus about the many positive aspects of life in China. Most of these individuals are US or Canadian citizens who hold socially conservative and more-or-less capitalist economic worldviews.
This may come as a major surprise to some readers, as it’s the left-wing academics and political agitators in western countries who openly idolize communism, Mao, and the Chinese government. The idea that conservatives could enjoy or even tolerate living in communist China would seem irreconcilable with the way in which China is portrayed in the western news media.
The explanation is a quite simple one, however, and it is that the admirers of communism in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe are blinded by their own ignorance and superficial adherence to left-wing political dogma. It is abundantly clear that these people have zero understanding of the reality of Chinese attitudes and institutions and would utterly loathe living in China.
Now, the Chinese government’s voicing of support for the rioting across the United States in 2020 should be viewed in the context of a tit-for-tat response to the US government’s support for the forces fomenting unrest in Hong Kong and should definitely not be understood to mean that the Chinese government actually supports the principles behind the left-wing political causes promoting mob violence and racial tensions in the United States.
In fact, the Chinese government’s seemingly clear preference for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in last year’s election was certainly not attributable to any sympathy for Biden’s socialist campaign platform, but rather to its belief that the weakening and/or destabilization of the United States under a reckless, corruptible, and incompetent Biden presidency would work to China’s geopolitical advantage.
Anyone who genuinely wishes to understand the political culture of China and is willing to look past the superficial labels of communism, socialism, and marxism will clearly see that today’s Chinese government is infinitely far from being a champion of woke, left-wing politics or western-style political correctness.
The erroneous association of Chinese communism with western notions of income equity, welfare entitlements, und universal basic income is a fallacy that would undoubtedly lead to a tremendous rude awakening for a Portlandian or Austinite social justice warrior venturing into the land of Mao.
In view of the restrictions on free speech prevailing in China, it should be noted that the limitations mainly apply to criticism of the government and to the promotion of culturally degenerate behaviors. In fact, many conservative viewpoints that could quickly get a person ostracized, fired, or even arrested these days in North America, Western Europe, and Oceania can be expressed openly in China without any fear of incurring social or legal repercussions.
And despite the Chinese government’s overt monitoring of private conversations (as opposed to the covert monitoring carried out by western governments), our contacts explained that they feel much more at ease speaking freely and honestly in China than they do in the United States or Canada on most issues.
With regard to economics, it should be emphasized that the Chinese government’s adherence to communism is largely in name only — similar to the US and Canadian governments’ rhetoric about free markets. In reality, China has a very strong capitalist work ethic that has led to steady growth and outstanding productivity and, as opposed to western countries, the Chinese government does not incentivize laziness with government handouts.
Other redeeming aspects of life in China are the very low rates of both petty and violent crime and a genuine admiration of North Americans and Europeans that can be seen among other things in a strong preference among Chinese women for western men.
On the ever-present issue of vaccinations, it should be pointed out that China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm coronavirus jabs were developed using a traditional vaccine-development method based on an inactivated virus rather than on messenger RNA or viral vectors.
And in the face of a now-conceivable scenario of virtually inescapable semiannual booster shots, the traditional vaccine could be viewed as the preferable option. Interestingly, a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries honor and administer the Chinese-developed vaccines.
In spite of the aforementioned aspects of life in China, many of which can be viewed as positive, it should be emphasized that China is obviously not a free country from a libertarian viewpoint (or by any other reasonable measure) and we’re certainly not encouraging people to move there at this time.
Alongside the Chinese government’s willingness to resort to totalitarian measures whenever and wherever it pleases, other commonly cited drawbacks of life in China include severe air pollution, low hygiene standards in food preparation, the suppression of organized religion, and heavy restrictions on cryptocurrency transactions and trading.
As pertains to the worldwide coronavirus hysteria, the Chinese government’s ruthlessly enforced lockdowns and quarantines are absolutely indefensible from a civil liberties perspective, with the recent Shanghai Disneyland incident serving as a prime example.
However, the extreme measures taken by Chinese authorities are usually brief in duration and target very specific regions deemed to have uncontained coronavirus outbreaks. The measures are then lifted immediately once the situation in a particular area is under control. While this is certainly far from ideal, the Chinese approach stands in stark contrast to the protracted lockdowns witnessed in Australia and other western countries.
As pertains to the much-lamented treatment of the Uyghurs and Tibetans as well as China’s posturing toward Taiwan and Hong Kong, it should be emphasized that these regional issues have absolutely no impact on the quality of life in China for western expats who refrain from publicly denouncing the Chinese government.
In spite of this, we can only speculate on how American, Canadian, and Australian expats would fare in the event of a hot war between China and the United States, although this would also constitute a legitimate concern for Chinese citizens residing in the United States and other NATO countries.
In closing, while this article hopefully succeeded in providing intriguing insight into the workings and attitudes of the Chinese government and a balanced assessment of the prospect of living in China as a western expat, it should be emphasized that China, while arguably preferable to western countries in many regards, is simply not a reasonable residency or citizenship option for most people.