Professor Rana Mitter and Professor Arne Westad (chair)
Wednesday 12th October 2011, 6.30-8pm Room U8, Tower 1
Why has the Chinese Communist party survived nine decades, and what are the dangers that face it? The lecture will examine the party's tumultuous past and look at ways in which its former nemesis, the Nationalist party, may provide lessons for what to do - and not to do - as the CCP seeks another century in power.
By Maxime Lauzon-Lacroix
Professor Rana Mitter presented and Professor Arne Westad –who chaired the event- discussed the future of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Professor Mitter looked back at two important events in Chinese modern history: the 1911 revolution, which marked the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and the revolution of 1927, which consolidated the rule of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party (or Guomindang). These events and their legacy are highly relevant to the understanding of current Chinese politics.
Professor Mitter began his lecture by drawing attention to the Chinese leadership's sense of unease with the centennial anniversary of the 1911 revolution – an opera in Beijing on the life of revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen had even been put off stage a few days before Professor Mitter's talk. The authorities' discomfort, he explained, derived from fundamental questions related to the modernisation of the Chinese polity and economy. Raised in 1911, these questions had yet to be answered completely, and thus could potentially destabilise the regime. Similarly, the ongoing historiographical debate surrounding the revolution reflected the dissatisfaction of many Chinese historians with what was left of the ideas, the 'spirit' of 1911.
Focusing on 1927, Professor Mitter argued that the CCP's recent inclusion of the Guomindang into a more positive historical narrative was not solely motivated by the issue of the mainland's reunification with Taiwan, but had also a lot to do with the Chinese leadership's efforts to understand Nationalist China. He emphasised many often overlooked similarities shared by the CCP and the Guomindang: both parties were committed to welfare programs, presented themselves as champions of anti-imperialism, strived to preserve China's stability and relied on strength to assert their rule – in short, they were competing models. Additionally, he remarked that at present, the CCP had to face challenges similar to those the Guomindang had struggled with during the 1920s and 1930s: growing economic disparity and corruption within the party's leadership, for instance. Following Professor Mitter's logic, if the two parties were so much alike, then understanding what had caused the Guomindang's demise on the mainland was paramount for the CCP. More specifically, if the Nationalist Party had failed because of its own inherent flaws, then the CCP might be at risk; if it had failed because of external shock (in the Guomindang's case, the Japanese invasion), then, as long as the Popular Republic of China did not suffer a misfortune of that scale, the CCP might be able to carry on.
The CCP today enjoys an important advantage over the Nationalist era Guomindang: state capacity, which rests on China's vigorous economy and explains in part why a majority of Chinese accept the CCP's rule as legitimate. Even so, the legacies of 1911 and 1927 make it explicit that this rule still heavily depends on force and censorship – tools that weak parties and states rely on. It might work for a while, warned Professor Mitter, but it will not last forever.
Maxime Lauzon-Lacroix is a student of the LSE-PKU Double Degree in International Affairs
Rana Mitter is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford and a presenter for BBC radio.
Professor Arne Westad is co-director at LSE IDEAS
Room U8, Tower 1, London School of Economics. Map