‘Liberty Leading the People’ by Eugène Delacroix (1830).
Over 150 years after its original publication, Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic work L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution (The Old Regime and the Revolution), has leapt to the top of the Chinese bestseller lists.
France 24 reports:
One may be hard-pressed to find a link between Tocqueville’s “The Old Regime and the Revolution” (“L’ancien régime et la Révolution”), originally published in 1856, and modern-day China. But the book has become a sensation, rising to the top of bestseller lists and lighting up discussions on China’s social networking website, Weibo.
The success of “The Old Regime and the Revolution” has largely been attributed to leading members of China’s Communist Party, who recommended it to their peers. In the book Tocqueville explores the idea that major revolutions, like the French Revolution, do not occur during times of poverty, but rather when disparities between classes have become great enough to divide society. In other words, when a small handful of people are extremely rich, and the vast majority of people are not.
Tocqueville’s work is certainly valuable in analysing modern Chinese society, but not necessarily in a manner that is particularly complimentary to the Communist Party. Professor Chu Jianguo at Wuhan University tweeted:
Tocqueville discusses: why do people lose more freedom after a revolution that is meant to gain more freedom? The book reminds us of the danger of centralized power, it also reminds us that corruption will lead to failure.
Commentators theorised that forward thinking members of the Party are attempting to use Tocqueville’s work to demonstrate the dangers of pervasive inequality and corruption, which are far more likely to induce revolution or societal upset than perhaps any other factors. Cao Yun writes at 21ccom:
Is it because the top officials predict that a similar large-scale incident like the French Revolution will break out in China anytime? So they use the book as a warning to the whole society? Perhaps Tocqueville’s “The Old Regime and the Revolution” serves as a mirror? Even so, this is not a bad intention, as it suggests that the leaders are clear-headed and that they are not fooled by the illusion of the so-called “ten golden years” in the past decade.
[Translations by Global Voices China]