The purge of provincial party chief Bo Xilai is seen as China’s most serious political crisis in decades. But this view assumes the people are dissatisfied with the regime. In fact, the large majority of Chinese people support the single-party state structure. Still, dangers lurk.
Alexander F. Yuan/AP
The purge of Chongqing’s party chief, Bo Xilai, is China’s most serious political crisis in recent decades. What seemed like a relatively stable system of political transition – two five-year terms for top leaders – has been thrown into chaos.
Or so we are told. Such predictions about the collapse of China’s political system have been constantly repeated since the suppression of the pro-democracy uprisings in 1989. But the system didn’t collapse then, and it won’t collapse now.
The key reason such dire predictions are taken seriously – especially in the West – is that non-democratic regimes are seen to lack legitimacy. A political regime that is morally justified in the eyes of the people must be chosen by the people. In the case of China, the political leadership is a self-selected elite. Such mode of rule is fragile, as the Arab Spring has shown.
But this view assumes the people are dissatisfied with the regime. In fact, the large majority of Chinese people support the single-party state structure. Since the 1990s, scholars in the West and China have carried out many large-scale surveys into the legitimacy of Chinese political power, and by now they have virtually arrived at a consensus: The degree of legitimacy of the Chinese political system is very high. Surveys have been modified to prevent people from telling lies, and the results are always the same. To the extent there is dissatisfaction, it is largely directed at the lower levels of government. The central government is viewed as the most legitimate part of the Chinese political apparatus.
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