Chinese information and control efforts have been eclipsed by the emergence of a new coronavirus. Beijing is cracking down on foreign critics of its country’s handling of the pandemic, punishing doctors and dissidents who dare criticize the government’s response to the outbreak. By turning the screw on reporting on the mainland, China has also made concerted efforts to control its global image. Given the country’s historical youth heritage, it is difficult to find young revolutionaries today in mainland China, let alone Hong Kong.
Paradoxically, the most revolutionary of them are those who oppose the government because they consider it weak. Those who criticize the state directly tend to be younger, more educated, and more likely to live and study abroad. Powerful actors in China resist criticism from abroad, with the Great Firewall preventing most people outside China from receiving information and criticism, while the Chinese Communist Party devotes vast resources to censoring social media at home and spreading its propaganda there. Companies that want to do business in China must silence their employees, even if they are silenced by edicts from Beijing. It is bad enough when companies comply with censorship restrictions when operating outside China, but it is much worse when they impose censorship on employees and customers around the world. Two years ago, the US company LinkedIn was found to censor critical posts about China on its global network, even though the posts were written by and only for people on Chinese territory. The Chinese government has recently harassed and detained activists and dissidents who have left the country and put pressure on foreign companies and organizations to apply China’s censorship standards within its borders. Moreover, there is now Xi Jinping’s China, where the Communist Party has renewed its long-standing struggle to protect its legitimacy by restricting discussion of Mao. There is an anti-corruption campaign promoting “cleaning up China’s version of crony capitalism. When the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, Mao believed this overshadowed his achievements. The soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev angered Mao by criticizing Stalin, whom Mao regarded as one of the greatest figures in communist history. At first, Mao hoped to find a way to drive China’s transformation in line with his ideals and breathe a new social order into the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. In 1953, he returned to Beijing to assert his right to lead a Communist nation as the leader of China, the world’s second-largest economy and most powerful nation. Both goals were intertwined, because Mao believed that his superior leadership would best guarantee the success of his revolution. In 1968 and 1969 it became clear that he could not achieve the second goal without attaining his authority and power. It was also obvious that the first, more fundamental objective was not achieved. As a result, Beijing faced the challenge of managing a vast and complex economy without political freedom, which enabled public participation and debate. In order to achieve its goal of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and finally emancipating themselves from it, the Chinese Communist Party panicked. Instead of representing the people of the country, it was unable to submit to public control.
China’s leaders, knowing that the party’s legitimacy depends largely on a growing economy in the absence of elections, worry that slower economic growth will increase the need to say more about how the public is governed. China’s reform and opening process is taking place while the political system remains virtually untouched. Some have called for a more democratic, open and participatory system of government. Nevertheless, it seems that the People’s Republic of China cannot ultimately withstand the victory of liberalism and democracy. As a result, the rigid policies that the CCP leadership followed during Deng’s time were set by Deng himself, not his successor Mao Zedong, or even Xi Jinping. This means that the political system and society of the People’s Republic of China are structurally unstable and prone to crisis. As a result, Chinese-style socialism is viewed primarily as a bad ideology that does not represent an alternative path or model of modernity, as the communist leadership has proposed. China’s scholars can only imagine two alternatives to socialism, one in the form of democracy and the other, communism, but these can never be the alternative to the model of modernity.