Jeffrey Wasserstrom: Why Bad News Elsewhere Is Good News for China

tags: Jeffrey Wasserstrom, China, Time Magazine



Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chancellor’s Professor of History at UC Irvine and the author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, an updated edition of which has just been published.

China’s appearance in international headlines thus far in 2013 has often been because of quality of life issues. The year began with reports of unusually high smog levels in Beijing and images of massive numbers of dead pigs clogging Shanghai waterways. Next came stories of a run on milk-powder supplies in Hong Kong, triggered by ongoing fears over tainted baby formula on the mainland. And now comes a study suggesting that simply breathing the foul air of northern China can shorten your life expectancy by more than five years. Given the extent to which China’s leaders have based their legitimacy on the notion that they are making life better and better for ordinary Chinese people, it’s worth asking whether this rash of bad news could have an impact on a different sort of life-expectancy issue: that of China’s Communist Party.

This organization’s ability to stay alive and kicking more than two decades after the Berlin Wall’s collapse — and then the implosion of the Soviet Union, which allegedly signaled the start of a global postcommunist era — has long been a source of intense speculation and fascination. Could it be that the party’s ability to live on borrowed time is finally running out? If the only sort of bad news that mattered were the domestic kind, it would be tempting to say: Yes. In fact, though, another kind of bad news, which perversely tends to be good news for China’s leaders, has also been abundant this year. I mean news of chaos and misgovernment in other countries....



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