A Reformist Chinese Leader? Stop Fooling Yourself

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, who in February warned that Xi Jinping should not seen in binary, reformist-versus-conservative terms, argues at TIME World that other Chinese leaders have also disappointed those hoping for political reform. He points to changing global perceptions of China and the ongoing crackdown on anti-corruption activists as examples of the new and the familiar in recent China news.

It is not just the crackdown that is depressingly familiar, but also the references to dashed hopes about Xi. When Hu came to power, there was the same cycle of expressions of hope that he would prove more tolerant of dissent and more determined to rein in official corruption than his predecessor, , had been, followed soon by stories of that optimism proving unfounded.

[…] To historians of the pre-1949 period, like me, there is an added twist to this interplay between novelty and familiarity in recent headlines. Decades before Deng dreamed of leading a party that would take China out of a period of chaos, and modernize it, and raise its global stature by building up the economy, Nationalist Party leader had the same aspiration. Chiang too inspired hopes in some quarters that he would be both a great liberalizer and a great modernizer. And he too in turn did things that made many feel they had misread him, as he proved unwilling or unable to rein in corruption and nepotism within the National Party, seemed much readier to tinker with the economy than shift China from a single party to a multiparty state, and showed the same kind of intolerance to an earlier era’s dissidents that Xi is showing to civil-society activists now. [Source]