The Paradox of Prosperity
Only 20 years ago, China was a long way from being a global superpower. After the protests in Tiananmen Square led to a massacre in 1989, its economic reforms were under threat from conservatives and it faced international isolation. Then in early 1992, like an emperor undertaking a progress, the late Deng Xiaoping set out on a “southern tour” of the most reform-minded provinces. An astonishing endorsement of reform, it was a masterstroke from the man who made modern China. The economy has barely looked back since.
Compared with the rich world’s recent rocky times, China’s progress has been relentless. Yet not far beneath the surface, society is churning. Recent village unrest in Wukan in Guangdong, one province that Deng toured all those years ago; ethnic strife this week in Tibetan areas of Sichuan; the gnawing fear of a house-price crash: all are signs of the centrifugal forces making the Communist Party’s job so hard.
The party’s instinct, born out of all those years of success, is to tighten its grip. So dissidents such as Yu Jie, who alleges he was tortured by security agents and has just left China for America, are harassed. Yet that reflex will make the party’s job harder. It needs instead to master the art of letting go.