Bruce Dickson, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, discussed how the Chinese Communist Party remains in power and how Chinese society reacts to the regime at a lecture at the School of Social Work Monday. The discussion was part of the Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies’s Occasional Lecture Series. 

The CCP is the ruling political party of modern China, with more than 86 million members. Ever since it was founded in 1921, the CCP has maintained a political monopoly, also controlling China’s economy, court system, media, military, educational institutions and civic life.

According to Dickson, who recently wrote “The Dictator’s Dilemma: The Chinese Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival,” many scholars predicted that the CCP would lose its power after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 and collapse of other communist regimes worldwide. To their surprise, the CCP remains in power today due to several strategies including manipulation of popular fear and instability, Dickinson said. 

Dickson said there was a higher number of people who saw multiple political parties, diverse social groups and public demonstrations as causes of higher instability in China from 2010 to 2014.

“It turns out that the fear of instability that the Party promotes resonates with many people in the (Chinese) society,” Dickson said. “People support the Party’s global nipping in the bud so (multiple political parties, diversity and demonstrations) don’t present a bigger conflict and instability.”

Dickson added that this trend might be the result of political propaganda, as the CCP created an environment in which quelling political protests is good for creating a stable society.

In addition to the CCP’s various power-preserving strategies, Dickson said China’s recent economic boom legitimizes the Party and has thus encouraged government officials to promote economic growth until about two years ago.

“Probably the most frequently repeated mantra about the Party’s legitimacy is based largely on economic development,” Dickson said. “This is often seen as why the Party needs to create at least an eight percent growth rate … local officials were encouraged to promote growth well beyond that.”

Dickson said the CCP uses various tactics such as online censorship to repress and generate resentment in the general public, but many still do not resent such policies. For example, almost half of those surveyed said that it does not matter whether there is censorship, and only about 40 percent responded that censorship angers them, according to Dickson. 

Dickson added that the Chinese people also view the CCP as democratic due to the fact that the Party perceivably works for the people, a view which the view people worldwide see the regime. 

“As long as the state’s doing things on their behalf, governing in their interest, people see this as democratic,” Dickson said.

However, Dickson said the majority of the public believes that government officials are usually corrupt, with figures higher in 2014 than in 2010.

Dickson concluded by saying that the Chinese society is “fed up” with the Party and ready for changes in the regime, but not everyone is “articulate or forceful” enough to bring about the changes.

Business graduate student Matthew Schlenker said he attended the lecture because he wanted to learn more about China, especially because he used to live and teach in China before attending the University of Michigan.

“I didn’t really have the opportunity to spend much time learning about China during my first year here at Ross,” Schlenker said, “ I always enjoy learning more about the country.”


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