Stephen Platt and Jeffrey Wasserstrom: China's Long History of Defying the Doomsayers

Stephen Platt is the author of Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War. Jeffrey Wasserstrom is the author of China in the 21st Century and co-editor of Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land.

Thirty-six years after "Great Helmsman" Mao Zedong died of a heart attack, leaving his country briefly rudderless during a time of crisis and uncertainty, the Chinese ship of state is still sailing. But is it still seaworthy? Observers are energetically debating whether the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, which has endured so much, can endure. After all, the government today bases its legitimacy on economic growth, which may well be slowing. We can't predict the future, but we can examine the past, and Chinese history suggests that, even if the Communist Party does face a legitimacy crisis, it would not be out of character for it to survive this particular storm.

The China-watchers who insist the country faces a crippling legitimacy crisis include, perhaps most famously, Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, as well as political scientist Minxin Pei. As they see it, there are simply too many contradictions inherent in the Chinese model for it to survive.

Henry Kissinger and When China Rules the World author Martin Jacques, by contrast, have argued that, for better or worse, the Party is in good shape. And Beijing-based philosopher Daniel A. Bell, praising the China model in the New York Times op-ed pages and elsewhere, is even more optimistic. He portrays the Chinese model as steady and efficient, guided by Confucian values. Such boosters typically concede that China's government could use some sprucing up -- a reform here and there -- but maintain that it's basically sound, and in better shape than many others....

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