In America, when we think of Chinese totalitarianism, we think about the iconic image of the man and the tank at Tiananmen in 1989. We applaud and respect this man, as many still do in China. At the same time, some wonder why the people don’t rise up now in the name of democracy.
Besides the CCP’s willingness to make arrests like that of Ai Weiwei in 2011, there are several reasons why the Chinese people have not risen up against their government. Here are a couple of them.
Fatigue from continual revolution. It’s one of the common themes of Chinese history, noted by so many historians that it almost does not bear repeating. China and Chinese people are inclined to revolutionize, to change the whole system in a day, to overturn the current leadership to create a better, new China. But time and time again, they need to be reminded that Rome (and Beijing) weren’t built in a day. A generation after the Cultural Revolution, radicalism is too fresh a reminder of the horrors of those ten years. Many Chinese are willing to pay the price for normalcy and stability, and avoid drastic political movements.
Indifference of the CCP. If you say you’re going to die for democracy, then you’re going to need to prove it. Mao once said “China has too many people, if someone is going to commit suicide, then let them do it”. The Communist Party is actually better off if there are martyrs; it means that the most radical dissidents remove themselves from society. The amount that the CCP cares about the life of a martyr for democracy is small.
Liu Xiaobo, 2010 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is currently a political prisoner of the CCP. He argued in his essay “That holy word: Revolution” that “The least costly way to democratization and modernization is self-reform of the Communist Party”. I believe him.
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