The Chinese Regime Is in a Legitimation Crisis

At root, the Chinese Communist Party is illegitimate, so it is in a lasting and insuperable legitimation crisis.
The Chinese Regime Is in a Legitimation Crisis
Scores of exiled Tibetans, Hongkongers, Chinese dissidents, and others burn down the flags of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and present a black coffin for the CCP in protest of its brutal rule in China in front of China's consulate general in New York City, on July 1, 2021, its 100th anniversary. (Huang Xiaotang/The Epoch Times)
Bradley A. Thayer

The lasting economic downturn in China and the myriad social problems the Chinese regime confronts cannot be papered over by Xi Jinping’s prominence at the BRICS meeting or other international fora. The Chinese regime’s problems are multiple but the result of a fundamental cause. At root, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is illegitimate, so it is in a lasting and insuperable legitimation crisis.

The CCP is an illegitimate polity for China as perceived by the diaspora, free intellectuals and media, and the clear majority of the Chinese people. This central reason is that its ideology, Marxism-Leninism, is divorced from China’s history, civilization, and political culture—the framework for the legitimacy of a regime, which strengthens and validates it. The cause of the illegitimacy is the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the Chinese regime. The ideology is a bankrupt one that advances a failed model of totalitarian control over the Chinese people and which is divorced from the traditional Chinese governing principles. This ideological tension has the potential to cause a legitimation crisis in China.

The legitimation crisis has the potential to cause the CCP’s overthrow. As a product of Western intellectual thought, the CCP lacks even the legitimacy of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), who were foreign, Manchu rather than Han, but who ruled according to China’s dynastic ideology, which is at the root of China’s permanent ideology. Thus, they were able to maintain power despite their foreign nature, prodigious unrest, and foreign interventions.

The CCP’s purported legitimacy is rooted in economic growth. But the days of economic growth are past. China’s official growth targets have been trending lower over the past decade as policymakers sought to control the country’s growing debt burden and stimulate domestic consumption. This depressed level of targeted growth demonstrates that Mr. Xi is failing in his effort to restore pre-pandemic levels of growth even as he is successful in further centralizing his power.

A man works at a construction site of a residential skyscraper in Shanghai on Nov. 29, 2016. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)
A man works at a construction site of a residential skyscraper in Shanghai on Nov. 29, 2016. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)

The CCP’s illegitimacy also generates great insecurity for Mr. Xi and the current leadership and opens an avenue to the CCP’s fall. Xi’s employment of the greatness of Han civilization while simultaneously contending that an imported Western ideology—communism—is necessary to rule China is contradictory and incoherent. In the CCP’s version of history, the “century of humiliation” from the First Opium War to the CCP’s victory in 1949 was a horrible aberration. Now, under the CCP and Mr. Xi, in particular, China is poised to regain the position it had always enjoyed. This conveys the historical inevitability of China’s emergence as a superpower and its inevitable victory over the United States.

The narrative that the CCP and Mr. Xi advance is significant because it informs the world how they perceive themselves and expect to be perceived—as an eternal hegemonic power and acknowledged as such by all other states.

While the differences between Mr. Xi and Hitler are great and manifold, they share a common tie. Whatever Hitler’s motivations, he did advance the nearly paradoxical point that the Germans are superior and yet everywhere downtrodden. Mr. Xi’s message is the same. He has a sense of inferiority as he constantly informs the Chinese people that they are great under the CCP and yet have always been taken advantage of by Europeans, Manchus, Mongols, Japanese, and Americans.

That reveals a great insecurity in Mr. Xi’s and the Chinese regime’s conception of China. Certainly powerful, but not powerful enough, and indeed, not good enough to supplant the West. The CCP’s genesis was Lenin; it was nurtured by Stalin and the Communist International (Comintern) and later supported by the West, first as a balancer to Soviet power and then as a source of manufacturing and investment.

The Chinese people have recognized that to accept communism in China requires the rejection of China’s political principles of unity, dynastic government, avoidance of chaos, and respect for the people as a foundation for China’s polity. A Chinese polity requires the acceptance of the traditional political system and the rejection of imported ideologies.

The fact that Mr. Xi, as the leader of the CCP, and the Party as a whole embrace a Western ideology means that they are simultaneously incoherent and profoundly insecure regarding their legitimacy. Mr. Xi’s rule in China has proven that communism does not have the solution to creating a modern and just polity. Grafting a Western import to define and govern China was certain to generate ideological and political incoherence for the people.

The query of Chinese intellectuals in the diaspora should be why the Party does not listen to the people, and Chinese political philosophy and Mencius require “good rulers listen to the people, bad rulers do not.” Mr. Xi is advancing a totalitarian government with an ever-stronger tyrannical state. There will be no listening to the people, and consequently, the Party will abandon the people. Moreover, there will be no “socialism with a human face” as with the Prague Spring in 1968 or a more tolerant interpretation of communism. As the “Book of History” says, “Heaven hears and sees as the people hear and see,” and “Heaven sees as my people see; Heaven hears as my people hear.”

Therefore, it is incumbent on the diaspora and Taiwan to demonstrate to the Chinese people that communism is a fetter of China’s greatness; it is a brake that will keep it from achieving China’s potential. Only by overthrowing communism will China be able to realize the greatness of its civilization and be a positive force in global politics.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Bradley A. Thayer is a Founding Member of the Committee on Present Danger China and the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat and the coauthor with James Fanell of Embracing Communist China: America’s Greatest Strategic Failure.