Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over

Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over
Authorities conduct security scans at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on March 10, 2022. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
James Gorrie
9/12/2023
Updated:
9/14/2023
0:00
Commentary

As China’s economy continues to rapidly decline, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is relying on the “Big Lie” to both shape reality and deflect it.

But it won’t be enough to do either, and Xi Jinping knows this. According to some reports, Mr. Xi has been reprimanded by Party elders over the state of the economy and the bad press China is getting in the world. Others think that Mr. Xi’s position in the Party is at risk.

Both may be true. Regardless, the sole leader of communist China understands that no level of state propaganda is sufficient to mask the massive and widening gap between the average citizen’s economic reality and the wealthy members of the CCP. Not publishing the latest unemployment numbers among young people doesn’t make the dire reality of tens of millions go away.

Instead, it invites the scorn of the Chinese people against the Party, and rightfully so. China is now experiencing the worst economic conditions in decades, with no happy ending in sight.

Power, Not Economic Growth, Is Top Priority

Nor, Mr. Xi realizes, will the growing economic disparity be narrowed by the recent policy changes that transfer even more wealth and power to the CCP. The Party’s priority is, and always has been, to hold onto power in all its forms, expand it, and control every aspect of Chinese life. The Party leadership has used foreign investment and free enterprise within China to increase power, not diffuse it.

That’s a critical difference that the West never grasped.

That’s also why the days of a rising middle class, rock-star tech gurus, and financial wizards criticizing the Party and its leadership are over. Mr. Xi knows that too many people with economic autonomy pose too much of a threat to his authority and risk to one-party, one-man rule in China. Thus, wealth and power continue to be transferred from the citizens to the state and, ultimately, to the Party.

So, too, are the days of the Party’s legitimacy based on economic growth over.

How do we know this?

A Chinese vendor sells sneakers and shoes in the street in front of a sign showing Chinese leader Xi Jinping with "China Dream" written on it, in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China, on April 9, 2017. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
A Chinese vendor sells sneakers and shoes in the street in front of a sign showing Chinese leader Xi Jinping with "China Dream" written on it, in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China, on April 9, 2017. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Xi’s messaging now focuses on “common prosperity” instead of private enterprise.

Necessary-But-Ineffective Lies

Nonetheless, the CCP sees the necessity of telling and selling whoppers regarding the economy with schizophrenic messaging. On the one hand, the CCP’s propaganda tries to convince the people that their personal financial and economic situations aren’t as bad as they truly are. On the other, the Party blames the Western nations for the worsening economic conditions in China.
Consequently, the Party is engaging in massive propaganda and loyalty-building efforts at all levels of Chinese society, including within the Party itself, to reignite or force belief in and loyalty to the Party and Mr. Xi because both are rapidly diminishing.

A Confidence Crisis in the Party and the People

Signs of the collapse of the CCP’s economy aren’t hard to see; they’re everywhere. The aforementioned atrocious unemployment is just one of many. The real estate development crash marked by the Evergrande bankruptcy, as big as it was, also remains a huge red flag.

Manufacturing activity is also down dramatically, which began with the CCP’s zero-COVID policy in 2020. That resulted in lost work and earnings for tens of millions of workers in China’s most dynamic manufacturing sectors and regional hubs. China’s manufacturing sector and employment levels have never really recovered.

A Chinese paramilitary soldier secures an entrance to Jingxi Hotel, where the CCP elites are holding its fourth plenary session in Beijing on Oct. 28, 2019. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)
A Chinese paramilitary soldier secures an entrance to Jingxi Hotel, where the CCP elites are holding its fourth plenary session in Beijing on Oct. 28, 2019. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)
Another is the fall in consumer confidence and spending, which, of course, go hand in hand. Consumer demand is already well below where it needs to be to drive the growth Mr. Xi desperately needs to see. Formerly crowded stores, malls, and other well-known shopping areas and business hubs are now empty compared to just a few years ago. Many are shutting down altogether. The foreseeable future doesn’t give any reason for optimism.
China’s online community, known as “netizens,” openly criticizes and blames the CCP and Mr. Xi for the worsening conditions in the country. In addition to the other negative economic signs mentioned above, workers in various industries are protesting because they’re owed several months’ worth of back wages. Thus, netizens can accurately attribute plenty of undeniable economic failures to the CCP, whether or not the Party admits it.
As a result, the rate of protests in the first half of 2023 is reportedly nearly double the total protests in all of 2022.

‘Religion of Communism’: Xi’s Refuge

It’s been said that “religion is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Failed dictatorships can also be found in that dubious refuge. Because the CCP can no longer point to prosperity from economic growth and development to justify the Party’s rule over the country, like Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1960s, Mr. Xi has resorted to the pseudo-religious cult of personality to bolster his support and justify his reign. Again, like Mao, Mr. Xi and his “thought” is the focus of the new state religion.

This wasn’t necessary when the economy was booming or when the CCP was run by a committee. But when one man runs everything, personal insecurity and political paranoia become his closest companions.

As a result, the rhetoric coming from Mr. Xi himself has radically changed. He now speaks of the need for people to prepare themselves for “sacrifice” rather than economic growth. Mr. Xi knows that “the China Miracle” is indeed over.

The Ghost of Mao Returns With a Vengeance

When the CCP comprehensively failed the country as it did under Mao’s rule, the founder of communist China launched the Cultural Revolution as a means of holding onto power by turning the people against each other, purging his enemies from the Party, and blaming external ideas and actors for the failure of his policies.
Mr. Xi is working from the same playbook with some upgrades. His tyranny benefits from various technological advancements, giving the CCP the means for total digital and physical dominance of the people.

Unlike Mao, however, it isn’t unreasonable to think that Mr. Xi’s call for the people to prepare for “sacrifice” isn’t likely a code for the Chinese to fight each other, but rather, for military action outside of the mainland.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
James R. Gorrie is the author of “The China Crisis” (Wiley, 2013) and writes on his blog, TheBananaRepublican.com. He is based in Southern California.
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