Friday, November 2, 2012

Chinese No Longer Bow to Autocratic Rule

November 2, 2012

The time of autocratic rule has passed for China's Communist Party. At one time it was understood that the people would obey, and everyone would get rich in return. But economic success will no longer suffice. Now the Chinese are demanding freedom and security too.

There wasn't a word to be found in China last week about the story that had splashed across headlines for several days everywhere else in the world. Not a single mention was afforded the $2.7 billion (€2 billion) that the New York Times reported has been amassed by the family of outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during his time in office.

But there was a brief blurb in the "Quotable" section on page two of the state-run China Daily News that quoted Ma Yun, chairman of the China's largest e-commerce company, the Alibaba Group, saying: "A person should never try to possess both money and political power. ... The two things, when brought together, are like detonating dynamite."

Ma was reportedly commenting on a book named after a 19th century business tycoon, if anyone wants to believe that. In reality, the quotation highlights how even journalists bullied by the state are finding ways to skirt censorship and speak the truth -- and get the last word in on a prime minister they have had to praise for 10 long years before he retires.

It also shows how difficult it will be for the new leadership to continue ruling China as its predecessors have done. On Nov. 8, two days after the United States presidential election, the 18th national congress of the Communist Party begins. The fourth generation, to which Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao belong, will be succeeded by the fifth generation of new Prime Minister Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping.

According to the party's plan, the change of power will remain within the unspoken contract that Mao Zedong made with the people over 60 years ago, and his successor Deng Xiaoping rewrote 20 years ago: We rule, you obey -- and we'll all get rich together, some sooner than others. In 10 years the sixth generation will take over, and in 20 years, the seventh generation will do the same.