China’s Coming People Power – Arthur Waldron
As the Communist Party’s congress begins in Beijing, the media are full of speculation — not about potential reforms but about power. The question: Who will succeed Hu Jintao as nominal leader of China if he steps down on turning 70 in 2010?
A scholar-official from the Ming or Qing dynasties would understand the situation exactly. Classical historiography calls succession the guoben , or root of the state: the designation of the prince who will succeed as emperor upon his father’s death.
……Today only the people can anoint a leader and government that will enjoy real power in China, and that can happen only through an open political process. Beijing’s power has been slipping since the provinces received new autonomy after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. Now the “governance without politics” that has existed since strongman Deng Xiaoping died in 1997 is approaching its limits.
The end may come from above, conceivably by a well-planned transition but more likely when a would-be leader tries to break an elite deadlock by turning to the people. Or it may come from below, as increasing dissatisfaction with poverty, corruption and violence leads to change at the top or to regions taking over self-government.
Party rule from Beijing is increasingly an elaborately staged play. Its intricacies will doubtless continue to engage the attention of China-watchers. But they should not forget the people, crowding ever more noisily outside the theater. One way or another, we will hear from them — and we must be ready.