Professor David Shambaugh's article [on March 6] proposing that the China model that has been all the rage for a while now has entered a new stage—the endgame of the Chinese regime—made the world sit up and take notice, and has became a hot topic for debate.
This is not a matter of reading the tea-leaves, however. Serious scholars tend to refrain from predicting a date for the collapse of China. As Professor Shambaugh says in his article, "We don't know what the pathway from now until the end will look like."
His article only addresses a few probabilities. For example, he writes: "Its demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent."
I agree with his use of this scientific term "death." It is plain language that everyone can understand.
Some people who believe in Mao Zedong's ideas may be made uncomfortable by this, but Mao himself, while he was still compos mentis, didn't mince words over the final outcome of "death" for party and state.
For Professor Shambaugh, this "endgame" lies in the existence and development of a number of major social tensions.
But I would like to pose a question, based on the same material: Who in China still has any faith that the China model will last?
Levels of privilege
The China model is a pyramid. Do all those people being kept down on the bottom of the pyramid have confidence in it?
The China model is neither fair, nor does it allow open competition. Its biggest beneficiaries are the super-rich who were allowed to "get rich first" by [late supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping.
They used to have nothing, like everybody else, but they were the lucky ones in an unfair and anti-competitive system.
And they are showing their level of confidence not with their words, but with their feet. They are voting with their feet, and this is the authentic expression of their privately held views about the future.
There are two sectors in the middle of the pyramid. One is those who hope for a new direction, and who have put up with more than 20 years of oppression of the most serious kind. Can such persecution boost their confidence in the old system?
The other sector is those who are in charge of indoctrination (a term coined by Lenin) and of implementing the party's will.
Professor Shambaugh vividly describes them as a result of his direct observation. They have no hope of getting lucky like the super-rich, but they hear the latest fashionable saying: There's no living to be made from officialdom.
And yet they're not supposed to take the path of rent-seeking and corruption, but neither are they allowed to to take a new path of justice, transparency and fairness. So how are they supposed to get by?
The last issue concerns the peak of the pyramid. Do they have confidence up at the top? The orchestrators of the main theme tune are busy trumpeting their rousing military march about the three types of self-confidence, but they are deceiving themselves and everybody else.
I say this because ... all of the actions taken by the authorities are indicative of the inner psychological state that prevails at the tip of the pyramid.
So, you won't find the confidence of the super-rich in what they say, nor that of the highest levels of leadership in their theory of the three kinds of self-confidence.
Where will you find it, then?
In their judgements about the future, and in their actions.
It's not an act of confidence to suppress anyone with different opinions as a matter of fundamental policy. It's a sign that you have lost confidence.
That they see every tree and bush as an enemy, to a degree that they can't be reasoned with, is shown in their blocking of the film about cleaning up our air pollution by Chai Jing in the name of "online stability maintenance."
It is shown in the order forbidding the writers, editors, readers, and supporters of the political magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu from sitting down for a discussion, because they regard them as hostile forces.
If that's not symptomatic of a sense that one is on one's last legs, and doesn't have long to live, then it's symptomatic of a mental health patient stuck repeating the same haunting lament, over and over again. Healthy people don't behave that way.
That's why I think that the three self-confidences are a sham.
A fearless spirit
In the vast country that is China, who can tell me they still have faith in the China model?
Former executive vice chairman [of the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee] Xi Zhongxun had confidence in China.
He suggested we pass a law for the protection of different opinions. His courage in calling for the protection of different opinions is the sublimation and expression of a fearless spirit that deserves to become a mainstay in our society.
He recognized that our long-term peace and stability rests on the protection of a plethora of different opinions in law, and relies on the intellect and initiative of all Chinese people.
I found [Xi's suggestion] highly edifying, and I have confidence in China because of it.
It's too bad that the anointed delegates to this year's annual parliamentary sessions didn't pay much attention to this legacy of the elder Xi. It looks as if we will have to squander another year.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.
Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.
Translator's note: Xi Zhongxun (1913-2002) was a first-generation Chinese Communist Party revolutionary leader and father of the current Chinese president, Xi Jinping.