Last night I had dinner with China scholar and regular Diplomat contributor Minxin Pei, who’s in Tokyo delivering the keynote address at a symposium on democracy and the information society co-hosted by the Asahi Shimbun and Tokyo University.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to how long those present thought the Chinese Communist Party will survive in power. Minxin said he believes the tipping point will come when the majority of the population is urbanized, arguing that it gets increasingly difficult for governments to maintain control as this happens. Currently, China has an urbanization rate of about 45 percent, a massive jump from the about 20 percent in the 1980s.
The question of how long the CCP can hold on to power is something Minxin has written on for us earlier this year, when he touched upon the increasing labour unrest and how he believed this was tied to a newly assertive workforce that reflected a broader political re-awakening.
He noted: ‘For years, Western observers have been disheartened by the lack of political change in China. Modernization theory predicts that rapid economic progress should help liberalize the political system, but this hasn’t occurred in China since 1989. Until now.
‘In addition to migrant workers who have risked their jobs and personal safety in joining the strikes, China has seen other forms of civic activism and political assertiveness at the grassroots level.’
So how far does this spread beyond the bread and butter concerns of the country’s workforce? The South China Morning Post offered a possible little glimpse with a report today on a small but still very unusual protest among students at a Catholic seminary in Hebei Province.
As I mentioned last week, China was indignant that the Vatican had criticized its planned ordination of a bishop, calling it an attack on religious freedom. As the SMCP notes, the act of defiance at the seminary raised some eyebrows as it is operated by a government-backed church.
The SCMP reports that the open protest, ahead of the national congress being held to elect new church leaders, ‘was the first since January 2000, when more than 150 seminarians at the National Seminary in Beijing refused to attend a ceremony in which five bishops were ordained by the government without papal approval.’