At a Communist Party meeting held in Beijing this week to discuss “disciplining the party,” the head of China’s top anti-graft watchdog made comments focusing on the CCP’s “legitimacy” that raised more than a few eyebrows.
Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Qishan, leading figure in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive and some say China’s second leading man, brought up this most taboo of words while meeting with foreign attendees at the “The Party and World Dialogue 2015” in Beijing on Wednesday. Xinhua later summarized his startling comments for public consumption:
Wang said the legitimacy of the ruling Party lies in history, its popular base and the mandate of the people. He said in the course of building a comfortable life and rejuvenating the nation, the CPC [Communist Party of China] has to enhance its leadership and win the trust and confidence of the people so as to address complex situations and overcome various challenges.
While this paragraph of CCP jargon may not seem all that shocking at first glance, it turns out this marks the first time that the word “legitimacy” has ever appeared in the Party’s official disclosure.
Quartz reports that Wang’s comments have been widely disseminated and allowed to flow into such a dangerous sphere of public discussion as the Chinese internet with uncensored debates over what “legitimacy” actually means and whether the CCP has it.
An article first posted on a WeChat account run by People’s Daily analyzing the word “legitimacy” has gone viral online and has even been reposted by news portals and state-owned media. The post explains that China has returned once again to the world stage and so must change the way that it acts (translation via Quartz):
The CPC has transferred from a revolutionary party to a ruling party through struggles and sacrifices for over twenty years. [If the Party]… does not prevent or overcome the crisis of its ruling legitimacy, but only indulges in the old thinking that “whoever conquers the world will be able to rule the world,” then it is possible that it will repeat the Soviet Union’s tragedy.
The post concludes that “To raise the question of the legitimacy of the ruling implies a deep sense of crisis.”
Beijing-based commentator Zhang Lifan agrees with that sentiment. Speaking with SCMP, Zhang said that Wang Qishan’s remarks reflect a change in attitude of the party resulting from increasing pressure thanks to a down economy and intensified social conflicts.
“In the past, the issue was not allowed to be discussed, because the [party] thinks [its rule] is justified unquestionably. As the old saying goes, ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’. They fought their way into the ruling position, instead of being elected into it,” Zhang said.
“Its legitimacy was maintained by relying on economic growth, but now economic growth is facing problems. In the past people thought [the party] could continue governing and did not have strong opposition to it because they still had money in their pocket. Now the size of their pockets have shrunk,” he said.
Still other observers have looked at historical evidence and found a different motive for Wang’s historic remarks: