Unlike in the aftermath of the Warring States era, when the Qin leaders promoted the rule of law (a “negative” historical example from the era) to produce a highly ordered society, today the leadership promotes a code of behavior consisting of ideals like inclusiveness, harmony, civility and morality (a “positive” historical example from the era) in order to maintain order and unity as well as cultivate obedience.
Following the Warring States era, the emperor created a complex bureaucracy to rule more effectively. Similarly, the current leadership has been instituting reforms to strengthen, unify and consolidate institutions operating in the state system in order to rule more effectively. One example is the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an organization consisting of communist and non-communist elites, as well as leaders from different political parties, federations, associations and social groups. In recent years the CPC has strengthened the CPPCC’s role in the national decision-making process. In addition, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) – a federation that is part of the CPPCC institution – has been brought further into the system in large part due to China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.
The CPC, the ACFTU and a tripartite system of government-trade unions-enterprises now coordinate the labor market, including the role of labor in foreign invested enterprises (FIEs). Another example is the military. From as early as 2006 the CPC has been expanding its political work in the military establishment to maintain and increase the party’s control over it. Recent indicators such as the highly coordinated actions taken by the leadership in the East and South China seas suggest that the party and the army are working more and more closely together than, say, in 2007, when a clear division occurred between the civilian and defense establishments. Further, in 2013 the leadership consolidated its internal security apparatus and created the new State Security Committee (SSC) to centralize and better manage domestic security policies.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Additionally, the CPC continues to co-opt entities functioning on the periphery and outside of the existing system. Under the administration of Jiang Zemin, for instance, the leadership brought many powerful business and commercial elites into the system. In doing so, the CPC made them a vested player in the maintenance and trajectory of the existing system. In 2004 the CPC started expanding its presence in the university and college system. And in 2008 the CPC established and enlarged its presence in law and accountancy firms. By 2012 the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) had created new Party organizations in individual retail businesses, professional marketplaces, and small and micro enterprises.
Although the above examples are only a few of many, the implications are clear: The CPC aims to consolidate and develop the existing bureaucracy as well as use these institutions to help refine and carry out state policies. In other words, the CPC is increasing the government’s capacity to manage the state in order to foster internal integrity – the same way Emperor Qin created a massive bureaucracy to cultivate conformity and obedience to the state. Although Western observers tend to find these trends disconcerting, the majority of Chinese expect their government to increase its capacity in order to better manage state affairs.
During the Warring States era the use of force was one method used to ensure political dominance and state unity. Philip Kuhn, a China expert, has observed that behind every civilian regime that follows closely on the heels of a military conqueror stands military force. June Grasso also observes that the driving forces behind China’s unification are not philosophy and nationalism but rather military force. As Qin took actions to end the Warring States era and establish a unified state system, the CPC also used force to end the civil war and the occupation of China by foreign forces such as Japan and create the unified, independent state of the People’s Republic of China. And today the threat or use of force to prevent fragmentation, maintain stability, and ensure unity remains an integral part of Chinese national politics.
What Is the End Game?
The Chinese leadership is working toward achieving three main goals: The leadership wants to prevent the emergence and mitigate the existence of the conditions that plagued the political arena of the Warring States era. Specifically it wants to maintain stability, foster unity and reduce the risk of division, as well as mitigate competition. The leadership also wants to continue developing a more prosperous economy and a strong military. And the military must remain committed to supporting the leadership’s agenda, namely bolstering the ruling regime’s legitimacy, protecting sovereignty, defending territorial integrity, and ensuring the state’s overall survival. Finally, unlike the Qin leaders who emphasized the rule of law, the current leadership most likely will continue promoting a code of behavior to cultivate obedience and order. If these trends continue along the current trajectory – in other words, there are no internal and/or external disruptions to the existing trajectory – the Chinese leadership should be able to create a relatively stable and more prosperous and unified state system supported by a strong military capable of ensuring the survival of the current Chinese state system.
Dr. J. M. Norton teaches international relations and U.S. foreign policy at China’s Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) in Beijing, China. The views presented here are the author’s own and are not associated with the views of CFAU.