Party Time

A ceremony marking the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is held at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, July 1, 2021. Photo credit: Xinhua/Lan Hongguang

CENTENARIES SHOULD BE celebrated—that of the Party’s founding deserves to be much as any other. The parties, with a small p, pizzazz and propaganda are well underway. History, like all good history, is being reshaped for the future.

This Bystander doubts that Mao Zedong and his small band of revolutionary brothers could have conceived on July 1, 1921 how China would look 100 years later. Their struggle was to take power, which would take most of the following three decades heavily marked by international and civil war.

Yet the Great Helmsman would have cause to be satisfied. The Party has kept its leading role even as other communist governments collapsed. It has proved resilient and adaptable in the face of significant periods of political, social and economic turmoil, setbacks and missteps. Most of all, it is led by a general-secretary (chairman to be, perhaps) who shares Mao’s nationalism and ability to impose his vision, personality and will on the Party with an iron hand that is as ruthless as it is purposeful.

The Party faces a challenging first decade of its second century externally and internally. The demographic dividend, which propelled China’s enabling wealth since Deng Xiaoping’s opening up of the economy to reverse the deprivations of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, turns into a demographic deficit just when the country has to clear the middle-income gap to become an advanced economy. It has unfinished business over Taiwan to attend to in some fashion. It has to adapt to being a world power, with the choices on deploying military might to support its national interests that will force on it.

Most of all, it has to continue to deliver a better life for its citizens to justify and sustain its monopoly on political power.

Authoritarianism’s ‘most compelling success story’ may well continue to defy predictions of its decline, let alone death. By the time of the next big centenary celebration — of the Party’s victory in the Civil War in 1949 — it will be clearer how deep into its second century the Party’s absolute control has run and if the by-then nonagenarian Xi Jinping has secured his legacy to match or supplant Mao’s.

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