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China's Empty Emperors

How did you spend your summer vacation?

If you are an elder of China's Communist Party, you went to the seaside resort of Beidaihe in August and, in secret, selected a new crop of leaders to rule over a quarter of humanity.

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Not a peep, let alone a vote, came from the 1.2 billion Chinese people.

But that's what the party elders do every five years before their Congress. The 16th Party Congress will be held Nov. 8.

Foreign China-watchers, meanwhile, try to figure out who's in, who's out, missing a larger point of just how ungovernable China is becoming.

China's market economy, dubbed "dot.communism," is racing ahead of the corrupt – and idea-bankrupt – rule of the Communist Party. Desperate to keep legitimacy, the party now admits "capitalists" into its ranks. All the better to co-opt another potential challenger to a one-party state.

But worker protests are rising, income inequality is soaring, and pollution is abominable. That's an explosive mix, with the Chinese people all too willing to blame corrupt officials.

China needs a political release valve quickly, which only a democracy can provide.

Party leaders can't afford simply to shuffle their chairs on this Titanic.