The Elusive Chinese Dream

Roundup
tags: China, Xi Jinping, Communist Party



Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, and the author, most recently, of “China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

In 1989, Chinese cities were rocked by huge protests, most notably the Tiananmen Square crackdown, while in Europe, the Berlin Wall fell and talk of a global Marxist-Leninist extinction began. Many observers, both in China and abroad, assumed that the Chinese Communist Party was on its last legs.

How wrong we were. A quarter-century later, the party — the world’s largest political organization, with 86 million members — seems as robust as ever. China’s geopolitical clout is greater than it has ever been in modern times, and the size of its economy has just surpassed that of the United States.


The party has, in President Xi Jinping, a strong leader who often strikes a supremely self-confident tone. He makes bold claims to islands in the East and South China Seas that neighboring countries insist are theirs. He chides Mikhail S. Gorbachev for having failed to be “manly” enough to hold the Soviet empire together. And he encourages the state media to promulgate the idea that the “Chinese dream” — a grand process of national resurgence that will return China to the position of global centrality it enjoyed before a “century of humiliation” at the hands of the West, and Japan, between 1842 and 1949 — is about to be realized. And he insists that, when it is, this will satisfy not just his aspirations but those of “each Chinese person.”

Mr. Xi’s self-assurance is not surprising, but his words and deeds betray a deep vein of insecurity. The talk of 1.3 billion people dreaming the same “Chinese dream” can’t hide the fact that China’s leaders continue to be plagued by nightmares not unlike those that haunted them in 1989...




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