Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, writes in the Far Eastern Economic Review:
The CCP’s success in both modernizing China and maintaining its monopoly on power, received wisdom holds, comes from the lessons Beijing drew from the upheavals of 1989, abroad and at home. The system had to be reformed, but in the reverse order from the one Gorbachev attempted: economic reforms first, political ones later, or else everything risked unravelling. But in fact political reforms were actually never on the agenda. The real lesson drawn by the CCP from the events of 1989 was much more far-reaching: In order to survive and keep power, the Party concluded, it needed to adapt and respond to social change. Unceasingly.
Indeed, in the eyes of Beijing’s rulers, the reason why the protests had spiralled out of control was that the Party had failed to prevent an array of social demands—from curbing inflation to fighting corruption and lifting unnecessary restrictions on private life and social mobility—from coalescing into broad disaffection with the Party and then into a political movement. Since that time, the Party has made its central task not just economic development, but identifying and responding to social demands before they have a chance to morph into demands for political reform and democratization.
By following this principle, the CCP has become what could be best described as the first Darwinian Leninist Party in history, one that sees constant adaptation as the key to survival.