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A Story of Success and Resilience
In 95 years of self-improvement and reform, the Communist Party of China has accumulated ample experience in governance and social construction
By Jon R. Taylor | NO. 28 JULY 14, 2016

In April, customers do shopping in a cross-border commodity experience shop in the free trade zone (FTZ) in Fujian Province, which sells imported goods with lower or zero tariffs. Besides Fujian, Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangdong Province also have FTZs (XINHUA)

This July marks the 95th Anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC). For almost a century, the CPC has brought about dramatic changes to the world's most populous country. Founded in July 1921, the CPC has rightly trumpeted China's notable progress in their quest to rejuvenate the Chinese nation. Sadly, with the exception of China scholars and specialists, the event went mostly unnoticed in much of the West. It is unfortunate that the anniversary received scant coverage, given the Party's remarkable history, success, and resilience.

What the Western news media's non-reporting missed was an undeniably compelling story that spans nearly a century. Starting from its humble beginnings in a Shanghai Shikumen house with a handful of members to its current status as the world's largest political party, the past 95 years have placed the Party at the center of major events in modern Chinese history—from the end of imperial rule to the uniting of the Chinese people in the fight against Japanese imperialism to the overthrow of the reactionary rule of the Kuomintang to the establishment of the People's Republic of China to the lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of poverty to the ushering of the nation onto the global stage as a major player to the transformation of the country into the world's second-largest economy.

With all due respect to those who regularly predict that the CPC—and China—is going to collapse and be replaced by Western-style liberal democracy, that belief misses what exactly the CPC is—and is not. The CPC does not function like a Western political party, given that the usual elements of open politicking, partisan electioneering, and fundraising tend to be missing from Party office competition. This is not to say there are no fierce competition for positions, personality conflicts, and policy differences among Party members and Party leadership. Of course there are competition, conflicts, and differences. Even the CPC has differences of opinion and personal conflicts. However, the difference is that the Party functions not only as a mass political party, but also as part political movement, part social institution, part think tank, part governing software. In this respect, it is problematic to view the CPC within the context of political science's common comparative definition of a Western-style political party. Instead, the CPC needs to be viewed holistically—through its history, its personnel, its successes and, yes, its failures. While it may be difficult for some Westerners to accept, there are substantial merits to China's consultative party system led by the CPC—an arrangement that can and has forged consensus and unity of purpose for beneficial long-term goals. While Western liberal democracy is often considered to be chaotic because of continual conflicts of interest that are settled openly, many sections of Chinese society approve of the non-ideological way in which the Party weighs up actions on reform, development and stability.

For nearly a century, the CPC has successfully removed China from the yoke of foreign domination, completed a social and political revolution, and through market reforms shepherded China to historic levels of economic development. While the CPC has made outstanding achievements during the past 95 years since its establishment and has been a successful steward of the country's rapid economic growth and accelerated modernization, the Party must skillfully confront both domestic and international challenges that may threaten China's goal of becoming and remaining one of the world's strongest and most prosperous nations. The Party's ability to manage and solve these issues will largely determine the CPC's future prospects.

Under the leadership of the Party, China has evolved from a primarily rural and impoverished nation to the world's second largest economy. Nearly 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty. China has become a leader in science, technology and innovation. It has become a major contributor to a peaceful international order. It has undergone almost four decades of reform and transformation since 1978. So much for the collapse that one author predicted over 15 years ago.

In fact, the CPC has regularly demonstrated an ability to adapt itself to the times. From the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 to agrarian reforms in the 1950s to reform and opening up in the late 1970s to the current economic structural reforms, the Party appears to be in the process of adapting itself once again. Measures designed to expand supply-side reform, aggressively fight corruption, transform government services, deepen administrative structural reform, strengthen government credibility, and implement and establish a rule of law government represent a resilience that demonstrates the Party's ability to adjust to the new challenges of the early 21st century—a resilience that the communist parties in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did not show, which contributed to their failure as ruling parties.

A nation of 1.3 billion people requires both the Party and government to pay attention to continuous and rapid changes, both at home and abroad. This notion of "paying attention" fosters a culture of continuous improvement that is aimed at optimizing and modernizing the Party's national governance system. In other words, the Party recognizes that it must continuously pursue comprehensively deepening reform if is to maintain its primacy as the ruling party. Despite an economic downturn, China's economy continues to grow faster than that of any other major country in the world. The recent notion that the CPC has somehow lost the Chinese people's confidence in its leadership simply does not square with reality.

The CPC has come a long way since its humble birth in Shanghai in 1921. In less than 100 years, the Party has withstood the tests of wars and revolution to free the nation from decades of humiliation and foreign dominance. It decisively embarked on a second revolution of reform and opening up in 1978, fostering both all-around reform and unprecedented development. Arising as a revolutionary party and now operating for nearly 70 years as a governing party committed to meeting the needs of its people, the CPC has enacted extensive political and ideological reforms ranging from the liberalization of the family planning policy to the expansion of the household registration (hukou) system to the restructuring of local government debt to the reorganization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to market-sensitive energy pricing to improved data transparency. This accentuates the notion that the Party can and will adapt its policies to provide leadership and maintain the unity of the country.

Adaptive governance, policymaking, and decision making are largely responsible for the Party's ability to maintain political and economic resilience by providing the CPC with a variety of methods that are crucial to sustaining the Party's rule in an ever-changing environment. While the CPC has shown tremendous resilience during the past 95 years, the Party will neither change its fundamental aim of serving the people nor its ideological principles of liberating the mind and seeking truth from facts. It will continue to pursue its paramount task of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. At the same time, the Party will continue to do what it has done time and again: make the pragmatic changes necessary to foster continual reform while effectively operating China's system of governance.

China's achievements since 1949 are inextricably linked to the CPC. The Party has repeatedly shown an ability to adeptly combine pragmatism with ideology—all with an eye toward building a prosperous society with its own features and experiences. Although the future is unchartered territory, there is no reason to believe that the Party will not continue to show strength and resilience in the years ahead. While the Party and China, like any other country, have their problems, challenges and mistakes, the CPC is up to the task now and for the foreseeable future. The CPC has demonstrably delivered for its people and is well on its way to realizing China's revitalization as a great power.

The author is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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