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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Fragile Chinese Communist Party

In our piece “Why Are the Chinese So Afraid of Liu Xia-bao” Yuri YarimAgaev and I argued that the Chinese one-party monopoly is much more fragile than people think. The granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, we argued, was a serious blow that could lead to ripple effects by emboldening others to speak out. This has already begun: Although the event has attracted remarkably little attention, more than five hundred prominent Chinese, almost all of them party members, signed an open letter demanding the end of censorship of the media and internet as a violation of Article 35 of the Chinese constitution. Many of the signers are retired party officials, whose positions are sufficiently elevated that they can be reprimanded only by the Politburo itself. Even more sensational, among the initiators of the open letter are the former head of Mao’s chancellery, the former editor of the People’s Daily, the former head of the central propaganda department, and the former president of the Beijing University for Politics and Law. More people signed their open letter than signed Liu Xia-bao’s Charter 08. At a minimum, this open letter tells us that there are indeed splits between reformers and hardliners in the leadership of the Chinese communist party, which faces a substantial turnover in leadership. If this is the case, China could be nearing a milestone similar to the USSR in March of 1985 when the Soviet Communist Party elected its first reform General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev.

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