A professor who’s set to launch a new book about Chinese politics led a discussion Thursday, explaining the evolution of the Chinese Communist Party’s regime and its impact on the future of the country’s democracy.
Bruce Dickson, a professor of political science and international affairs, discussed CCP politics and its history of oppression and control as part of a glance at his upcoming book, “The Party and the People: Chinese Politics in the 21st Century.” Alyssa Ayres, the dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs, moderated the event, which was hosted by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies.
Dickson said the CCP is centralized under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership and governs national politics, local government and private companies where CCP members are considered “supreme” across all institutions.
“It monitors society through a network of party cells, where party members are organized into small groups based on where they live and where they work,” he said. “These cells provide the eyes and ears of the party to monitor what’s taking place within society, within workplaces and within residential areas.”
He said his book focuses on how the party maintains control through a system of repression, which resulted in the crackdown of democracy in Hong Kong and is often retold through the persecution ethnic minorities face in China.
Dickson said even though nobody holds the authoritarian regime of the CCP accountable, the party still manages to respond to public needs to maintain its power and status as China’s ruling party. He said the CCP has addressed concerns about unpaid wages and workplace safety, pushing local officials to prioritize them in exchange for potential party promotions and diverting nationwide protests that demand reforms, which the party seeks to avoid.
“There’s no question that the party uses repression in its approach to proceed those means more so under Xi Jinping, but it also uses other tools to get popular support like responding to public opinion in varying degrees,” Dickson said.
Dickson said China has diverted the need for Western democracy because of the CCP’s balance between repression and response to public needs. He said while countries are expected to adopt a democratic form of governance as their economy grows, China has been an exception to that rule.
But as the CCP has improved the economic standards of living without surrendering party control, Dickson said Chinese citizens have started to suspect a transition toward democratic reform.
“They don’t define democracy as trust in elections, human law and civil rights and civil liberties,” he said. “They see it in terms of policies that benefit societies and improve public welfare.”
Dickson said failures in democracies like the United States with the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol and the instability of other democratic governments, like the United Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic, add to China’s hesitancy to commit to a democratic transition. Dickson said China is unlikely to adopt democracy because of the CCP’s involvement in building the economy and guaranteeing higher living standards for its people.
Dickson added that a regime change in China wouldn’t guarantee democracy in the country because the fall of authoritarian regimes in countries like Egypt and those in Eastern European didn’t lead to democratization.
“The promise or the hope that the end of authoritarian rule will lead to democracy just doesn’t bear out in examples of other countries,” he said.