While the economy in China remains strong, it is not booming like it was a few years ago. Economic growth is heading down, the demographics promise a nation that will look like Europe by the 2030s, and repression is still entrenched.
Part of the repression is found in university classrooms where Chinese authorities have clamped down on academic inquiry and freedom of expression. A Chinese law professor reports that instructors are forbidden from discussing universal values, civil society, citizen rights, judicial independence, freedom of the press, past mistakes of the communist party and the privileged capitalist class.
The ban on discussion for these subjects appears to have extended past the classroom. Chinese censors are forbidding discussion of these seven subjects as “dangerous” Western values. Bloggers who write about it are being shut down, and the media is forbidden from discussing the topic.
What makes it difficult for Chinese critics of the government is that the ban has not been openly published. It must make its rounds in an informal way that allows for considerable confusion and distortion.
What is clear is that the Chinese are getting a little antsy about their economic situation. They realize how precarious their situation is. Over a billion Chinese are expecting increasing living standards. It is well known that one of the preconditions for a revolution are rising expectations that are not met.
The Chinese government appears ready to make further economic liberalizations. As it has tried for 30 years, those policies will not include political reforms. The Chinese continue to believe that they can create an affluent society under authoritarian rule. Their model is a Singapore-style economy, but even Singapore gives greater freedoms than the nominal Chinese communists do.
That pretension of communism is what makes China very interesting. The Chinese government doesn’t want any discussion of past mistakes of communism. Allowing that means the government must face open criticism, but they are straddling an awkward line. While defending communism from criticism, they also don’t want criticism of capitalism’s excesses. That is why they are also forbidding discussion of capitalism’s privileged class.
Now why would so-called communists not want to go after the super-rich capitalists? That is because China is full of super-rich capitalists who just happen to be closely tied to delusional Maoists who think communist China still exists in a capitalist economy.
That declining birth rate and aging population may be a demographic time bomb, but there is another bomb ticking in Chinese society. They are conducting one of the greatest illusions in history. Two competing and completely diverse ideologies exist in China. One, capitalism, is the de facto economy. The other, communism, is what the Chinese leadership pretends still exists.
In a way, Chinese society has become a Potemkin village. It stands behind a facade of great economic activity, but the truth of that prosperity remains hidden by official statistics and the failures denied. Propping all this up is a creaky communist political structure.
Tick. Tick. Tick go the time bombs. As China struggles in a race to become wealthy before it becomes old, so is China trying to pretend that it is still a communist society. Like the emperor with no clothes, no one believes that anymore but everyone pretends they do. It isn’t going to be pretty when that charade finally ends.