Rory Truex is a professor at Princeton University focusing on Chinese politics and authoritarian regimes. At this Talks at Google series, Professor Truex argues why the year of 2017/2018 may one day be considered a “critical year” for modern China, the year President Xi Jinping signaled a “New Era” of his own making. He also highlights three troubling trends to watch moving forward.
Rory Truex: "Xi For Life? What Does It Mean For Chinese Politics And The World?"
I studied Chinese politics and I teach a course on Chinese politics so I am grateful for this opportunity today to get to speak to you about events unfolding in China this past year or so often when we talk about China. We talk about it through the lens of China US the trade war the sorts of things. But actually in China in mainland China in domestic politics this has been a seminal year in part because of this man Xi Jinping. And so today I want to really just focus on giving you a briefing. I thought that would be the most helpful thing to give you a sense of what's unfolding this past year and what we can think about will happen moving forward. So I want to start as I mentioned I teach courses on Chinese politics. I want to start with an exam question which I can see. There was a little little enthusiasm for that but here we go. Bear with me. So this past fall I taught a course on Chinese politics and for the final exam I asked the students to identify a year a critical year in the development of China in particular China's political development.
So we have this concept in political science something called a critical juncture which is a kind of a jargony way of saying and that is a turning point a year where certain events unfold and certain decisions were made that changed the trajectory of history. And so if we look back at the last 70 years of the rule of the Chinese Communist Party certain years come quickly to mind which I'm sure many of you are familiar with. The first is of course 1949 1949 is the establishment of the People's Republic of China. This is a picture of Mao Zedong standing in Tiananmen Square declaring the establishment of the People's Republic and for the first time in decades the territory of mainland China is consolidated under the rule of a single government. So this was a heady time for China and singing the beginning of mouse Mao's rule another year which is of course very important his 1979 1978 the beginning of so-called reform and opening up. Does anybody here speak Chinese or study Chinese. So I remember when I started taking Chinese I took Chinese one to one and one of the first words we learn is Guiglo Haiphong which means reform and opening up and it's I swear 50 percent of our lessons were about reform and opening up. So it's it's an important year to end this. For those of you who are less familiar with this signals the beginning of China's economic miracle. So Deng Xiaoping comes into power and takes a much more pragmatic stance with respect to economic policymaking basically undoes the command part of the Chinese economy and results in an influx of trade and foreign direct investment in the so-called 30 years of 10 percent economic growth. This is the beginning of this era. This is him visiting theU.S. and he's wearing a cowboy hat. This is one of the famous images of reform and opening up another year is of course 1989 1989 is the year of the Tiananmen Square movement and the Tiananmen Square massacre. And this is the year where we learned that the Communist Party was willing to do whatever it took to stay in power and was not amenable to the idea of political reform. This is the year where we saw them willing to use live ammunition on student protesters. And finally what I'm going to argue today and what I argue I I'm starting to come up with this argument. It's not fully developed. But what I argue is that potentially 2017 and 2018 have the capacity to be one of those years. So it's difficult to know we haven't seen history unfold quite yet. We haven't seen the trajectory moving forward but there have been a number of developments in the last 12 months that signal this might be a turning point for contemporary China in particular. This is the year where Xi Jinping the current general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party has fully consolidated his power signaled the start of a new era under his rule that could last.