The giant with terra cotta feet
As July marked the one hundredth anniversary of the CCP, Alex Story examines its performance over the past fifty years
In marking the one hundredth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the common western assessment of its performance in recent years might be summarised as, “70 per cent good; 30 per cent bad”.
The “Good” is widely seen as China’s four decades of growth and re-emergence on the world stage. Since Deng Xiaoping’s rise to power in the late 1970s, 800 million people have been raised out of poverty. This is “the biggest and longest-run economic boom in history” according to a July 2021 Financial Times editorial.
The “30 per cent bad” involves deductions for a leadership that is too keen to centralise power and for notable unpleasantness, particularly in the north-western region of Xinjiang.
The average Chinese citizen in 2020 is 20 per cent poorer now than his 1950s American equal
Nothing however could take the gloss off the aggregate Gross Domestic Product statistics. In this respect, much western commentary adopts the same priorities as that of Xi Jinping, who as the unelected president for life to 1.4 billion people, claims that Chinese Marxism works and that the CCP is “the correct party.”
Judging the CCP on the basis of GDP growth since 1979 ignores the woeful performance throughout the previous 30 years of Communist rule. Further, Chinese official data is known for being untrustworthy. In moments of candour, even Li Keqiang, the current Premier, reminds us that GDP data is “man-made” – and therefore adjustable.
To take account of the unreliability of Chinese official data, and to judge the CCP’s “success” over the last few decades on its own terms, it is important firstly to use independent GDP data and to put the supposed miracle firmly in its proper context.
Using data from The Conference Board, a US-based economic research organisation, as well as revised Chinese economic growth data based on a 2014 paper by Harry X. Wu of Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University, we have a clearer view of China’s development since 1949. In doing so, a very different reality emerges.
Based on purchasing power parity GDP per capita, the average Chinese citizen, at $688, was half as wealthy as his South Korean counterpart and around 45 per cent less well off than his Taiwanese cousin at the onset of the Korean War in 1950.
By 2020, the average Chinese citizen found himself around 60 per cent poorer than his South Korean equivalent and merely a quarter as wealthy as his Taiwanese relative, a fall in comparative wealth of about half, to $14,000 in relative terms.
The average Chinese citizen in 2020 is 20 per cent poorer now than his 1950s American equal.
The price paid in lives destroyed partially or fully for this decidedly damp “economic miracle” has been immense.
In the 70 years of “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist” rule, to use Xi’s inelegant phraseology, hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been murdered, starved, sterilised, imprisoned, sold and brutalised.
The 1950s Great Leap Forward, an orgy of death and nihilistic destruction, was swiftly followed in the 1960s by an even more violent and ugly Cultural Revolution.
Confronted by the failures of the Chinese people to make Communism work, the CCP pushed its destructive philosophy one step further by introducing its Malthusian “One Child Policy” in 1979.
This led to the state control of the mother’s womb and the rise in infanticide, child abandonment, abductions and a surge of coerced and often late-terms abortions, the latter numbering in their tens of millions, many of which were reportedly done without anaesthesia “causing what women describe as pain so unbearable it is like having one’s heart cut out.”
The upshot is a staggering, long lasting and potentially fatal gender imbalance as the birth rate collapsed. Thirty years after the implementation of the policy “10 per cent of females” have been calculated to be missing from the population.
The corollary was an excess of 15 per cent of young men. They will die with no hope of ever having a family.
Further, in a paper entitled “How will History Judge China’s One Child Policy?” written in 2013, the authors write that while the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were “grave mistakes that both cost tens of millions of lives”, the harm done was relatively short lived.
The one child policy, they add, however, “will surpass them in impact”.
In their seminal book Empty Planet published in 2020, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson point to a “fertility rates of 1.05” adding that it could be much lower.
They suggest a Chinese population of “just 560 million by the end of the century” – an astonishing two thirds collapse.
The policy was in place until 2016. This was the same year that the Chinese Communist Party, through its mouthpiece newspaper, the People’s Daily, claimed that “400 million births had been prevented”.
Feng Wang and Andrew Mason, writing for the United Nations, contested the number as being a tad high, estimating that the measure probably only prevented something closer “to 200 million”. Both agreed though that the measure “contributed to increasing per capita GDP”.
Whether the Chinese Communist Party’s figures are accurate, and they seldom are, or whether our pernickety researchers are closer to the truth, or indeed if the truth is somewhere in the middle, the scale is grotesque.
What is telling is that the Communist Party felt the achievement praiseworthy enough to broadcast to the rest of the world that its One Child Policy suppressed more births than there are now Americans alive.
The historian, Niall Ferguson, writing in Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe, reminds us that often “we struggle to conceptualise” the scale of disasters, paraphrasing an aphorism often attributed to Stalin to conclude that “a million deaths are always a million tragedies.”
The greatest act of resistance to the CCP’s rule is to stop reproducing. This the Chinese people are doing
Communist China, one year younger today than when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, is full of personal tragedies, many of which will be internalised and pinned by the Chinese on those responsible – regardless of what GDP per capita data tells our economist caste.
The CCP’s recent announcement that it will allow couples to have three children should be seen for what it is: a belated admission of failure.
The changes don’t address the key problem: the womb remains the prerogative of the Communist Party and therefore government property.
The greatest act of resistance to the CCP’s rule is to stop reproducing. This the Chinese people are doing.
President Xi talks about “national rejuvenation”. Instead, as de facto president for life, he is more likely to witness his dreams turn to dust as China’s ageing population starts to collapse.
In the words of economist John Mauldin, “China got old before it got rich”. Putting abstractions over life will be the CCP’s gravest mistake.
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