Most of the commentary these days on China does not seem to grasp the depth of what is happening there politically. Having spent time on the ground there and speaking to dozens of Chinese about what happened during the Cultural Revolution, I have some sense that truly major things can happen in China and they remain “behind the bamboo curtain.” At least 10 million people were killed in China during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and the outside world did not have any sense of the scale of what was happening.
The effort by President Xi Jinping to consolidate control over every aspect of Chinese society is clearly on par with the ideological campaigns that took place during the Cultural Revolution and others during the years of Mao. We haven’t seen anything like this since Mao died in 1976.
One piece of evidence that just emerged came from an unlikely source, a magazine called NewsChina. I read it every month and have largely discounted it as being an organ of the Chinese government. But this article is very powerful. It is written in a very sophisticated way because it simply reports the facts and lets the reader draw conclusions. It makes it abundantly clear that there is a real struggle taking place for control of the People’s Liberation Army. President Xi is trying to force it to change its stripes and modernize itself. The president is not just campaigning against corruption and democratic stirrings. He is seizing power on a scale not seen since Mao. Whenever struggles of this magnitude occur in China, the outcome is uncertain.
These struggles did not use to matter when China was isolated from the rest of the world. But now that it is the world’s second largest economy, we all are feeling the shockwaves caused by the economic slowdown there, which in many ways is being caused by the political struggle. This is unchartered territory. The world has become interdependent with China and we don’t really understand what is happening there. It could make for a wild ride.