The Xi Era Demands New Ways of Understanding ChinaRoundup
tags: Communism, China, Xi Jinping, Chinese history
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chancellor’s Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink (Columbia Global Reports, 2020).
It is always worth trying to get as rounded a sense as possible of the many parts of the world that are flattened by soundbite-driven coverage. In some cases, the need to get beyond simplistic stereotypes takes on a special urgency. The People’s Republic of China is such a place. In spite of how often the PRC has made global headlines in recent years, many people still have only a superficial sense of the varied lives and views of its inhabitants. Similarly, there is often little understanding (including on the left) of the Chinese Communist Party, a complex organization whose centenary was marked with great pomp and circumstance last year in Beijing. The CCP, which has been in power for more than seventy years, remains one of the biggest political organizations in the world, and more than ever before, its policies have planet-wide ripple effects. It is crucial to figure out how to make sense of that organization and its leader, Xi Jinping, who has a long list of titles but still derives his power most of all from the one he acquired in November 2012: General Secretary of the CCP.
Nine years ago, an issue of Dissent on “China’s 99%” offered a bottom-up view of the people of the People’s Republic through articles on feminism, labor struggles, youth viewpoints, and varieties of nationalism. At that point, there were only beginning signs of the sort of strongman nationalist leader that Xi would become. And in the ensuing years, the broader international political and economic order has experienced seismic shifts, especially after two years of a global pandemic. As a result, this new special section engages with a broad spectrum of issues, many of them global in nature, and many to do with the politics of the Xi era. The goal of the section is not just to give readers updates on issues of perennial interest but also analytical tools to think about a PRC that is more complex than it is often portrayed. They also show that, while Xi may be ratcheting up mechanisms of control, many continue, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, to find cracks through which light can get in.
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