Isabel Hilton: Will China Implode?

Isabel Hilton writes on The Daily Beast that the recent unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang marks an empire in crisis:

There is a story that the Chinese government likes to tell: that China is the world’s oldest continuous, unchanging civilization (the dates vary, according to the exuberance of the moment, from 2,000 to a mythical 5,000 years). This unique history, the story continues, will determine China’s future. In this narrative of Chinese exceptionalism, the leadership remains immune to demands for democracy or any resemblance to other developed countries. The government hopes that this story will prove persuasive enough for the Communist Party to keep the Mandate of Heaven and avoid challenges to its exclusive right to rule for the foreseeable future.

It’s a curious story for a Communist Party and very different to the earlier myths of origin. Where once it promoted class struggle and revolution, today’s party invokes history and tradition in support of its right to rule. In its latest identification with the imperial orders of the past, the regime is even restoring Confucianism as the core state narrative.

[…] In a globalized world, China’s troubles are everybody’s troubles and the U.S. has little interest in seeing them grow. But China’s solutions, to date, are unlikely to help. The revolt of the minorities is only a symptom of a wider political malaise. Even taken together, their numbers, compared to the overwhelming majority of Han Chinese, are small. But the indignation and resentment that burst into view in Xinjiang in Tibet are also visible, for a wide variety of reasons, in the Han population. As Xu Zhiyong, one of the founders of the OCI put it in a withering public statement of protest at the centre’s closure:

“It’s not us causing trouble, and the tens of thousands of mass incidents every year aren’t caused by us …. On the contrary, we strive to bring into line the contradictions caused by corrupt officials, we advocate absolute nonviolence and we hope we can ameliorate some of the endless hate and conflicts in our society… do not let this country once more be dragged by those in power to a place where we are dead but not buried…”


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