China is a member of E7, an active member of international organisations, country owning nuclear weapon and a country with great economic prospects. Nevertheless, despite its successful foreign policy, the country has some major disadvantages and difficulties in domestic policy. China is ruled by the Communist Party; there is no democracy and thus there are no elections in China. Its citizens are limited in many spheres of their lives. Numerous protests to change the political authorities are held annually in China but they have little impact. Since 1978 after the end of Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government has changed significantly. Since CCP has changed its ideology, goals, structure, and type of membership, it considers itself legitimate (especially in comparison with the Chinese government ruled by Mao Zedong). Nevertheless, the public perception is different (although it also evolved): the public does not consider Chinese government legitimate but it is not united enough to express its opinion. To obtain a comprehensive answer to the issue in question, it is crucial to analyse Cultural Revolution in China, the transformation of Chinese government since 1978 until modernity, the concept of legitimacy and its connection to Chinese government and Chinese perception of the Chinese government’s legitimacy.
Cultural Revolution in China
Despite the pleasant name, the Cultural Revolution is a tragic time in Chinese history that has had a great influence on the transformation of Chinese government and its legitimacy. The Cultural Revolution started in 1966 and ended in 1976, but it had its roots in 1958 with the Great Leap Forward (Jian, Song, & Zhou, 2015). At the time, 90% of Chinese economy was grounded on agriculture so the Chinese government decided to rapidly transform its economy into an industrial one (Teiwes & Sun, 2014). As a result, millions of people died (from 20 million to 40 million; there is no precise data) because of famine (White, 2014). Another background factor that fostered the emergence of Cultural Revolution was the diplomatic scandal with Russia so the international union of communist countries dissolved (Wang, Xu, & Jonas, 2013). Hence, these two important events indirectly influenced the emergence of Cultural Revolution.
The first stage of Cultural Revolution was the most dramatic one. Mao Zedong, fearing that he can lose his position as the head of the country, started fighting against the opposition or anyone who may join it in the future (Xizhe, 2015). The first stage of revolution lasted from 1966 to 1969 (Schoenhals, 2015). During this time, the main enemy of Mao Zedong was intelligentsia though many people in CCP also were intellectuals (Russo, 2013). All the writers, musicians, artists, professors and even students were treated as a threat to the rule of Mao Zedong (Dirlik, 2012). According to estimates, about 54,000 Chinese were repressed during those 4 years (Meng & Zhao, 2013).
During the second stage of Cultural Revolution that lasted from 1969 to 1973, the main target of Mao Zedong was the army and certain people from the Party (Wilkinson, 2012). Since army is partially a guarantor of efficient ruling, Mao Zedong decided to make the army fully accountable to him (Burns, 2016). In case he detected any militants that had a point of view opposite from his, they were repressed. In addition, any member of the CCP who did not agree with Mao Zedong died under unknown circumstances (Kraus, 2012).
The third stage lasted from 1973 to 1976 and can be characterised by economic recession and further repressions (Jian et al., 2015). Any members of the Party that called for economic development were repressed. The Chinese were left without any material encouragements and were forced to work more than usual (Wang et al., 2013). In their turn, members of the Party were given much more privileges than before (Burns, 2016). Hence, the Chinese government considerably changed its ideology through the last stage and one of the main ideas was slowing down the economic development of the country.
Therefore, the Cultural Revolution changed China and its government significantly. The pride of nation – its intelligentsia was destroyed. All of the members of the party that thought and cared about the economic development of the state also paid with their political careers and sometimes their lives. Unstable political situation and worsened economic conditions led to further change of Chinese government and its legitimacy from the perspective of the Chinese Communist Party and ordinary people living in China, especially after 1978.
Transformation of Chinese Government since 1978 until Modernity
Some major transformations were made in Chinese government, due to which it still functions efficiently and its legitimacy is much higher than it was before 1978. The first transformation worth mentioning is the cult of personality being replaced by collective ruling (Shu-Min, 2013). Chinese Communist Party fearing the emergence of another leader like Mao Zedong who would be uncontrollable for the party, decided to make the party stronger than a single person (Burns, 2016). Hence, the first difference is that from 1978 the majority of the party was more powerful than the person ruling it.
The economic preference turned out to be more important for the Party than ideological principles. One of the major aims of CCP after 1978 was economic development of the country (Wang, 2014). The party fostered the emergence of small enterprises and did it well turning the Chinese economy into one of the leading ones in the world (Bondes & Heep, 2013). Communist societies are usually characterised by economic recessions due to the lack of innovations and modernisations. Nevertheless, the Chinese decided to implement all modernisations and financially fostered Chinese entrepreneurs implementing innovations in their companies.
The internal organisation of the Party has significantly changed. First of all, there was a different principle for choosing new candidates. They were chosen by the principle of “Four Transformations” (Shih, Adolph, & Liu, 2012). Since 1978, the Chinese Communist Party was searching for younger, vocationally qualified, well-educated, and revolutionised people that would be very beneficial for the party (Shu-Min, 2013). In addition, the structure of the Party was changed significantly. The equity was more spread in the party and it was much easier to become its member than it was before (Wang, 2014). The work of the party was also well-organised. Thus, one of the main reasons why the party started functioning in a different way is the change of its internal structure.
The law system was renewed. The Chinese government after 1978 decided to renew the law system in the country to provide stability. The policy of CCP was supposed to create the appropriate law system and accordingly the law enforcement to reduce the crime rate, improve control of the masses, fight the corruption, and provide political stability (Burns, 2016). The policy of Mao Zedong was characterised by total chaos so the Chinese government decided to change it and went in the opposite direction after Zedong’s death (Russo, 2013). On the other hand, Chinese government refused any external control of its activity, so it cannot be called legitimate for many reasons (King, Pan, & Roberts, 2017).
Therefore, the major aim of the Chinese Party has become providing economic stability through political stability. Although the ideological party was maintained, it was partially replaced by economic factor that became a priority for the Chinese government. Obviously, the Chinese government has evolved much since 1978 but the question arises “Has the legitimacy of the Chinese government evolved as well?”
Legitimacy: Concept and Connection to Chinese Government
Legitimacy is the ability of a political regime to achieve public recognition and justification of the chosen political course, its political decisions, personnel, or functional changes in the structures of power (Backer, 2012). There is a difference between being legitimate and being legal. Legal powers are those that are chosen without the violation of the law functioning in the country while legitimate power is the one supported by people living in that country (Chu, 2013). It means that many authoritative leaders were legal since they came to power according to existing laws and yet were not legitimate since citizens of the country were against such leaders (Zeng, 2014). The same approach can be applied to the Chinese government. Both Mao Zedong from 1949 to 1976 and the Chinese government from 1978 until modernity were legal powers but not both of them were legitimate (Zeng, 2015).
From the point of view of Chinese Communist Party, the legitimacy of the Chinese government has evolved significantly since 1978. First, due to the fact that almost every member of Chinese society having a strong desire and appropriate education can become a member of the Communist Party of China, the CCP considers that the Chinese people support it (Xu & Albert, 2017). Second, due to the fact that economic welfare of the Chinese is at a relatively high level, the CCP considers that it has a high support from the Chinese population (Zeng, 2014). In recent years, China became one of most economically developed countries in the world, although its GDP per person is still low due to a very high population (Chu, 2013). Third, there are internal elections in the Party and each position in the CCP is limited with time, so that no one stays long enough to usurp the power (Backer, 2012). The CCP gave the main power of the country not to a certain individual that people can dislike or even openly hate because of certain problems in the country but instead made the party the source of power. It means that the population’s attention towards it is scattered (King, Pan, & Roberts, 2013). There are no strict ideology features and actions that can be applied to the whole party, so it is easier for the party to restrain dissatisfaction if it emerges. Therefore, CCP considers itself much more legitimate that Mao Zedong was though it understands that in the modern world where the democratic values and the globalisation are very widespread, it becomes more and more difficult for the party to maintain its legitimacy.
Chinese Perception of Chinese Government Legitimacy
The public opinion differs from CCP’s opinion. The great number of protests held in different parts of China on different issues is the best indicator that the Chinese government is still not legitimate (Weiss, 2013). Although in comparison with the power of Mao Zedong the legitimacy of Chinese government has evolved and increased, is it still far from normal (Xizhe, 2015).
There have been rural, labour, pro-democracy, ethnic, online, and nationalist protests, as well as petitioning and other forms of protests in China since 1978, especially in 2000s due to the fact that globalisation fosters the emergence of protests (people have something to compare their lives with: if they see that the level of life somewhere is better they tend to demand the same from their government) (Butollo & ten Brink, 2012). In 65% of cases, the protests that take place in China are rural protests (Rowen, 2016). Farmers and people living in rural areas are deprived of governmental attention since they are not a serious threat (Butollo & ten Brink, 2012). Chinese residents of rural areas definitely do not support the Party, so in their opinion it is not a legitimate power. According to estimates, annually Chinese authorities expropriate the land of 4 million Chinese residents (Rowen, 2016). If rural citizens of China could manage to unite, they would become a serious threat for the Chinese government.
It is not a secret that China artificially devalues its currency rate to attract more investors and foreign companies. China has become such a developed country due to being a perfect country for placing foreign companies’ factories (also due to low salaries) (Chen, 2012). Nevertheless, recently the Chinese have become very dissatisfied with such low salaries, especially the migrants. Chinese government fearing the outflow of foreign investment does not increase the salaries, so that numerous strikes are held annually in different parts of the country (Chen, 2012).
Pro-democracy protests are the most important in defining whether the government is legitimate or not. 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and 2011 pro-democracy protests are the most vivid examples (Weiss, 2013). In 1989, many students demanded transparency of the governmental actions, reforms, and the transition to democracy. Nevertheless, demands were not taken into consideration and thousands of Chinese who participated in the protest were killed (Weiss, 2013). In 2011, many lawyers, students, journalists and other representatives of Chinese intelligentsia took part in a demonstration conducted at the same time in different major cities of China but also were unsuccessful (Chen, 2012).
Internet is the thing that united people. Despite the fact that all social networks and other Internet resources are provided with censorship in China, some people still manage to express their opinion on the Internet an even find supporters (Zheng, 2013). Due to the large territory, many villages are cut off from cities and it is difficult to unite all people that do not support the Chinese government (Bamman, O’Connor, & Smith, 2012). Nevertheless, Internet provides a chance to do it. Furthermore, the censorship on the Internet is another indicator of how the public perceives Chinese government as a not legitimate one (King et al., 2017). The authorities that are supported by the public are not afraid of protests while the Chinese government does its best to limit the Chinese people in communication, especially on certain topics.
Hence, there is a great difference between the opinion of public community and CCP on whether the Chinese government’s legitimacy has evolved since 1978 or not. Both categories answer “yes” but to a certain degree. According to CCP, the legitimacy has changed significantly. It can be explained by the fact that the Chinese government before 1978 had a different ideology, ideas, goals and even different types of members in comparison with the modern Chinese government. That is the reason why CCP considers its authority to be much more legitimate. Furthermore, the fact that there are no major protests in China only supports their opinion.
Public opinion is different due to the fact that people compare it not with the Chinese government before 1978, but with the governments of other countries. Chinese people are very restricted in many spheres of their lives, there is no freedom of speech and the state interferes with the life of every citizen too much. Due to globalisation, the opportunity to travel abroad and communicate with foreigners showed Chinese citizens that people in other countries elect their representatives who are accountable to them. It means that Chinese people become more and more aware of what is going on in their own country. If in 1980s the legitimacy of Chinese government was higher than before, now it is decreasing due to the inevitable globalisation.
The events of “Cultural Revolution” were very devastating for China, especially for the intelligentsia that was harmed the most. It was very hard for China to recover after the revolution but the death of Mao Zedong had relatively positive consequences: the Chinese government has evolved. Here are some major changes: no single person ruling the country, the economic development became top priority, less attention to ideology, a more developed legislative system and a new type of politicians (educated youth). Taking into consideration those changes, CCP considers itself legitimate since it compares the modern Chinese government with the government of Mao Zedong that was much worse in terms of legitimacy. Nevertheless, the public perception is different. Taking into consideration the numerous of protests (rural, labour, pro-democracy, etc.) held in different parts of China that ended with arrests, murders or dismissal, it becomes obvious that the Chinese public does not treat the Chinese government as legitimate since it compares it with foreign democratic governments, although it is more legitimate than the government of Mao Zedong. The major problem of the Chinese citizens is that they are disintegrated due to successful actions of the Chinese government.