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Article Review on "The Coming Chinese Collapse": A Failed Forecast; By Davis Vavachan

Image Courtesy: The Economist

Article 02/2023

Jack A. Goldstone, The Coming Chinese Collapse (Slate Group, LLC)

The Forecast

In the article "The Coming Chinese Collapse" the academician and sociologist Jack A. Goldstone predict the collapse of China in 15 years (by 2010) which was published in the 1995 by Foreign Policy summer edition. Through the article, Goldstone makes a forecast that the growth in the Chinese economy won't be enough to save the rule of the Communist Party of China and there may be a terminal crisis in China in 10 to 15 years, that is by 2005 or 2010. The prediction or forecast took place in 1995 when the Chinese economy started to improve again after the short crisis from 1989 to 1991. It was the period when Socialist Market Economy was being followed in China. It was also the time when the Chinese economy was being opened under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping which gave China a modernization push and paved the base for the growing powerful nation that we see today in 2022.

The Structure of Analysis by Gladstone

The author Jack. A Goldstone who is also a sociologist by profession tries to analyse the coming Chinese collapse from a mixture of analyses which includes, basic economic aspects of the Chinese state and society, Historical data that talks about past dynasties and their falls which is followed by the flaws of Communist Party of China in solving the issues faced by the Chinese society which includes every aspect of existence.

Goldstone starts the discussion with the population growth and declining ability of agriculture and state-owned industries to expand employment. This is followed by the discussion of how the reforms Deng Xiaoping brought about after the death of Mao are going to backfire by pointing out the dynastic history of China. In this part, the author explains how different dynasties ruled China and how they failed due to institutional and systematic failures. Through this explanation, the author tries to convey that "How the Chinese Communist Party and its Dynastic politics" is not going to last long due to the same shortcomings that were seen in the past dynasties who ruled China. In this section, the author equates the Communist Party and the Chinese state with the historical dynasties of China.

This explanation is followed by the analysis of Political Vulnerabilities faced by China in 1995, which mainly talks about the structural and institutional weakness of the party and criticizes the reforms taken by Deng Xiaoping and tries to characterize Mao as a traditional leader and the same time tries to explain that Deng is going backward from the ideology of sociology. Through the explanation in this section, the author also tries to harp on the lack of unity in the party and portrays the Communist Party of China as an ill-suited system to govern China.

This is followed by pointing out various other vulnerabilities of the Communist system of China, like the rift between the Communist party and the elites, also the author tries to convey how the Peoples' Liberation Army of China is through the dilemma of their existence as they are asking the question of what is their main job, is it to protect the party against internal opposition? Or is it to protect the Chinese people? through this, the author also tries to explain how the Chinese Communist party is losing control of its Armed force. It also explains how the party is losing its control of Chinese society.

In the last parts of the article, the author explains the coming collapse of China and explains that Deng Xiaoping's death will be a major one to cause this instability. Moreover, Gladstone re-emphasizes the repetition of historical patterns, that is the collapse of Communist China will be like one of the dynastic failures of the past. The author also tries to suggest institutional changes to that of liberal democracy to save China from collapsing like the way USSR collapsed. Gladstone concludes the terminal crisis of China in 10 to 15 years by explaining the aspects of population problems, economic adjustments caused by the population growth, the party factions which arise from those adjustments, and finally the unwillingness of the Chinese leadership to grant democratic reforms.

Shortcomings of the analysis

The analysis made by Gladstone was a noticeable work during 1995 but it had some shortcomings in the long run as the Communist Party of China and China as a state rule by the Communist Party continues its growth and strength and plays a major role in every aspect of world politics.

The economic reshaping which was brought by Deng Xiaoping is major proof that the political and social pressures of China can be eased, for the question of if China will face the fate of the soviet-union, can be said without any hesitation that is not right as the state structure and political structure of the two states were completely different other than the similarity both had in the sphere of ideology. Moreover, the economic strength that China started to gain after the 1980s is seen as the result of why China became the second largest economy in the world by 2015 and which was widely shared among the population resulting in lifting 800 million people from poverty.

The other argument regarding economic and political conflicts due to population pressure and the declining ability of agriculture and state-owned industries to expand can be seen and proved wrong by the last 25 years of Chinese state existence which made sure that despite opening the Chinese economy to the entire world and bringing in new technologies for mass production of various items which have a huge market in the world, the main strength of the Chinese economy is their human labour-intensive mass production of materials which gives the Chinese population the security of employment. It can be also pointed out that the main reason why the majority of the Chinese population got out of poverty is due to the reforms that were made in the agricultural sector in China.

The analysis made by the author by taking into consideration the historical aspects of the Chinese state and how dynasties like the Ming and Manchu dynasty tried to stop rebellions by efficient addition of land and expansion should be taken into consideration from a critical point of view. It can be counter-argued that this analysis has numerous flaws as in modern-day China the efficient agricultural policies taken by the communist party and the state have given new structure and economic prosperity to the people who are dependent on agriculture. Moreover, the policy of abolition of the landlord system by the Communist government under Mao Zedong through the process of the land reform movement in 1950 give new options for the reclamation and resettlement of peasants with economic prosperity.

The analysis made by the author by taking into consideration the historical aspects of the Chinese state by trying to reflect the rebellions taken during the 1850s before the establishment of the Communist state should be analysed to bring out the major flaws in the analysis. The point of rich landlords, and merchants and the dependence of the ruling regime on bureaucracy and the military is the major wrong analysis in this article. As the author tries to reflect on these historical patterns for the coming conflicts in China it can be criticized due to its one-sided analysis of the history. It can be seen from the start of communist rule in China that the warlord and landlord system was abolished, and the Chinese economy was integrated into the ideology of the state which was controlled by the communist party. Moreover, the bureaucracy and military especially were directly controlled by the communist party from its inception is the major point which tells us that the ruling regime of the Communist party is not dependent on its military or any other state system by it is the other way round where the military and the entire functioning bodies of the communist state is loyal to the party and is being tightly controlled systematically and ideologically by the party through the bodies like central military commission or National People's Congress.

In a subtitle of the article Political Vulnerabilities today the author explains how the measures taken by Mao were not correct and how they affected the Chinese and tries to explain the rift between the party leaders and how it affects the strength of the party. The analysis made by the author is right in where it says about the backfiring of a few initiatives taken by Mao, but it should be noted that the analysis of Deng Xiaoping going back completely from the ideology of Maoism and Socialism and brings a new form of structure to Communist China is not right. The only aim of Deng Xiaoping was to renew the economic initiatives of China by looking into the future by holding strong to the ideals and ideology of the communist party. Deng's rallying cry became the "Four Modernizations," articulated by Zhou Enlai in 1975, which entailed the development of industry, agriculture, defence, and science and technology. He set the course of reform by dismantling the communes set up under Mao and replacing them with the Household Responsibility System (HRS), within which each household must be held accountable to the state for only what it agrees to produce and is free to keep surplus output for private use. In addition to this program, which was an incentive for households to produce more, Deng encouraged farmers to engage in private entrepreneurship and side-line businesses to supplement their incomes. This was just a reform done by Deng to make sure that the Chinese state should start walking on the modern path to compete with world powers and he also envisioned the relevance of the Communist Party can be protected only with the introduction of modern aspects and changes according to the modern time which brought about the idea of Socialist Market Economy which is seen as the base of modern-day powerful China.

The analysis by the author regarding the unity of the party is not accurate as in China we see today the party takes decisions through collective discussion which happens inside the party which gives the Communist party of China a direction to work for the future of the state and the people. The criticism of the author of Deng trying to revamp the party should be taken into consideration as these points can be proved wrong by looking into the way Deng tries to solve the crisis of Tiananmen Square. Although it can say as an anti-democratic move by the communist state, it should be seen from the view of the strength of the party to solve the issue as it had the strength to undermine the power and control of the communist party and the control of the party on the state and society.

The last two analyses in this section according to the author firstly is that the party leadership today is ill-suited for pursuing a strong and radical course, but this point of party leadership being unsuited for 1995 is the estimation and short-sightedness of the author about the next generation of leaders who are going to come or who are in the reign of the communist party who made the party and state strong by taking it forward through innumerable difficulties in the present century. Secondly, the author also points out one major argument of the rift between the party leaders and other elites as one of the major vulnerabilities of the regime, but it should be noted that China always had this rift between its elite group as the communist party always took the stand to stay during socialism and Maoism. It can be also said that these strong decisions taken by the communist party have also resulted in the institutionalization of the communist party at the political level at the elite level since the 1980s. Andrew Nathan identified the institutionalization of power transitions as one of the main reasons behind China's authoritarian resiliency. This institutionalization is considered the major strength of the party in China which gives the party strong control not only in the state but in every sphere of economy, society, and military to keep the Chinese state as one single organism to excellence which we witness in today's China.

The analysis of the People's Liberation Army by Gladstone can be criticized due to its inaccuracy as the author tries to show that there is an existential question in the Chinese army whether it is working as a protecting force of China against external threats or to protect the party against internal opposition, or it exists to protect the Chinese people. It is enshrined in the motto of the People's liberation army that it is to "serve the people". Moreover, the Former paramount leader Hu Jintao stated the missions of the PLA as the insurance of CCP leadership, The protection of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, internal security, and national development of the People's Republic of China, Safeguarding the country's interest and the maintenance and safeguarding of world peace. The author limited himself to the specific events of the 1980s other than seeing the larger picture of the Chinese military which has the same existence as the Chinese state. The people's liberation army was born along with the communist party of China which makes it one of the main organs of the larger single organism of the communist party and the Chinese state.

In the last part of the article titled Moving Towards Chaos Gladstone makes the last few analyses of why there will be a terminal for the Chinese state ruled by the Communist Party. The author tries to point out the high chances are existing in China for a 1911-style revolution that took down the Qing dynasty. According to Gladstone, Deng's death will lead a way to this situation in China and this will lead to the total collapse of China by 2010. But the points made by Gladstone to support his argument for this collapse lack strong support theoretically and in the practical sense of how communist China was formed in 1949. Although the 1911 revolution under Sun Yat Sen brought down the Qing dynasty it didn't succeed in unifying the country into the current-day Chinese state. It was the 1911 revolution that saw the steps for a revolution under Mao which brought that unity and the concept of the Chinese state and culminated in the process of a successful revolution. Moreover, the 1911 revolution was a loose one that not only failed in unifying the country but gave room to the warlord to control certain regions of China on the other hand the revolution of 1949 had a total reshaping of the Chinese state.

If we analyse the argument of Deng's death and power struggles in the party it should be noted that it is an analysis that lacks a vision of the long term from the author's side. According to the communist party China's style, Deng and his seniors had already picked his successor and was Zhao Ziyang, although he was replaced by Shanghai Party Secretary Jiang Zemin as the next leader. Deng's final political legacy was to designate a young Hu Jintao as Jiang's successor, which started the tradition of a retired top leader appointing the successor of the current leader. The rise of Xi Jinping as Hu Jintao's successor was also Jiang's decision. This kind of structure followed by the communist party is institutionalized internally which makes the party strong and formidable in its strength and functioning. The author also tries to harp on the fact that the historical dynastic failures can be repeated for the collapse of the Chinese communist party dynasty but the arguments of fiscal delicacy at the centre, conflicts among the elites, and the rise of banditry cannot be drawn parallel to the post-1949 communist state collapse. as these are arguments which are only valid to the functioning of an imperial dynasty which did not have any firm state structure and was controlled by external actors. The author also tries to give suggestions on how the Chinese state can be saved in the future to be exact by 2010 from collapsing. It can be seen that valuable suggestions are not possible in China and they can't be worked in a communist state. Moreover, we can see that despite not having these institutions the Chinese state has its functioning bodies which are working perfectly for the last 73 years of Chinese state formation which is taking China into the stage of world powers with the title of world's strongest economy. Gladstone also search for options for the aversion of the collapse of China can be but it should be kept in mind that despite going through various struggles and crisis the communist party and the Chinese state stand strong in world politics.

Reasons for the failure of forecast/prediction

The forecast by Gladstone had some truths about the Communist Party and the Chinese state but it was insufficient for a prediction of a Collapse of China after 10 to 15 years. In the conduct of the research, the researcher/author could have known the influence of Deng Xiaoping on the Chinese Communist Party and China, but it was an estimation from Gladstone to conclude that the Chinese Communist Party and China as the country will face a collapse after the death of Deng Xiaoping. Moreover, the economic situation and the problems caused due to the introduction of the new economic system after the death of Mao could have created some effects inside China and this would have been a fact that the author found out which was used for his forecast but it was not strong to predict the terminal crisis China will face by 2005 or 2010. The point regarding the changes that were being brought about in China after the death of Mao should have been analysed more to understand that it was not going to affect the basic ideology and existence of the Communist Party and the People's Republic of China as the reformation was only meant for the growth of Chinas as a powerful state and strong economy to compete with other major powers in the world. The argument about the Chinese army in a dilemma would have been right as many Chinese army unit heads had made comments about the actions taken in the Tiananmen square incident which was not in line with the Communist party but Gladstone wouldn't have had the source to the inner circle of Chinese military command to come in too strong conclusion that Chinese Military was not in line with Communist Party which made the argument on Chinese army cannot be persuaded by the Communist party leaders a failure. It can be also pointed out that the author couldn't have had any source to know about the appointment of future leaders by the existing leaders like Deng Xiaoping which would have helped Gladstone to analyse the strength and weaknesses of the leaders who are going to be appointed to understand if the collapse of party or state will be happening.

In conclusion, it can be said that the main reason why the forecast was a failure was Gladstone used historical aspects of dynastic rule and facts from the past failures of the Chinese Communist party and its leaders to predict a collapse that will happen after 10 to 15 years which proved wrong as the CCP entrenched itself deeply in every sphere of existence of Chinese State and China accelerated in every aspect of its functioning specifically in the economic sphere at a historically unprecedented rate.

(Davis Vavachan is pursuing his M.A International Relations (Multilateral Diplomacy) from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and was a research intern at the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S). His areas of interest include Peace and Conflict Resolution and Indo-Pacific Geo-politics. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the views of C3S.)

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