As the People’s Republic of China marks the 70th anniversary of its founding while Hong Kong prodemocracy protests intensify, Andrew Walder, the Denise O'Leary and Kent Thiry Professor and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, reflects on some of the changes in Chinese society and domestic policy, discusses his new book that offers a new interpretation of the Cultural Revolution, and shares details about his current research project.
Q: China is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule, and of course the strategic shifts in Chinese foreign policy throughout the years are much more visible than the shifts in domestic policy. What have been some of the changes in that regard under Xi Jinping’s leadership?
Since Xi Jinping took office as president of the People’s Republic of China in 2013 he has changed the tone of the leadership, refocusing it on its survival. Now this is a regime that has seen nearly 30 years of 9 or 10 percent economic growth, has raised 400 million people out of poverty, and has generated significant upward mobility for very large swaths of the population, especially urban populations that have enjoyed a level of prosperity never experienced before. Yet Xi Jinping and the top Communist Party leadership seem to be driven by a strong concern for their survival.
So Xi has done three things. First, he has recentralized decision-making power and made himself a very powerful executive. Second, he has been cracking down ideologically on all talk about political reform – cracking down on universities, the media, human rights lawyers. That's actually led to significant alienation among educated populations. Third, he has launched a draconian anti-corruption campaign, arresting and imprisoning many people, including very high-ranking individuals.