What is the Chinese Communist Party

China's Communist Party is celebrating its birthday

Two major events coincide each spring in China. On the one hand there is the New Year celebrations, where hundreds of millions of people visit their families. When the travel week is up, the National People's Congress is just around the corner. On March 4, the "Plenary Session of the National People's Congress" (NPC) and the "Political Consultative Conference of the Chinese People", or "the two sessions" for short, will begin. Around 5,000 delegates are on their way to Beijing to talk about the future of the country - or to approve what the 25-member Politburo has come up with. In addition, the 14th five-year plan is to be adopted.

This year there is also an important anniversary: ​​the 100th birthday of the Communist Party. So there has to be a lot to celebrate. It's not that easy, because the country is actually facing more problems than it has for 20 years.

Spin is hard

On the one hand there is the relationship with the most important trading partner, the USA. It is tense, and it is becoming increasingly clear that things will not simply change under the new US President Joe Biden. China's image abroad is worse than it has been in a long time. The media campaigns on Twitter do not seem to change that much: the human rights violations in Xinjiang and the breach of international treaties due to the end of Hong Kong's autonomy have damaged the company's image.

Even the attempt to establish the narrative that China is the first victim of an external corona virus and is mastering the crisis in an exemplary manner does not really work outside the country. It is also a fact that Xi Jinping rules the country more authoritarian than any other Chinese leader since Mao Tse-tung. Xi has abolished his term limits, "cleaned up" the political apparatus and geared it towards himself.

No more poor country

So what is there to celebrate? The Chinese people should be able to agree on at least one thing with their leadership: China is no longer a poor country. When the party was founded in Shanghai in 1921 with Soviet help, there was dire need. Around two million people died of starvation in northern China alone by 1930. If you want to read more drastic descriptions, we recommend the reports of the later Mao biographer Edgar Snow, which deal with cannibalism and the sale of children. Today, 1.3 billion people live in China, none of whom have officially been considered poor since 2020.

The bar is a bit controversial. But one thing is clear: prosperity has grown rapidly since 1979, and even faster after 2001, when the People's Republic joined the World Trade Organization. Unlike in kleptocratic dictatorships, the new wealth also reaches the middle of the people. If you walk through Shanghai, Beijing or Shenzhen today, you will notice that the density of new cars is much higher than in Vienna. One looks in vain for slums, corrugated iron huts and beggars in the brave new world. In the restaurants, a visibly stressed but optimistic generation is sitting in front of their smartphones who, if it weren't for a pandemic, would be planning their European vacation. It is the children and grandchildren of those who were still hungry. Fuel that the party's engine needs.

"Other" human rights

The KP and its press organs therefore never tire of celebrating this achievement. Last week, Xi Jinping spoke of a "miracle of historic proportions". In addition, Beijing would like this achievement to be included in the catalog of human rights. The CP has long tried to undermine its universality. Accordingly, there could soon be a Western and a Chinese version of these inalienable birthrights. Or the successes in fighting poverty could simply undermine the concentration camps in Xinjiang, the disregard for freedom of the press and freedom of expression and the imprisonment of those who think differently.

One can get involved in these simulation games and congratulate the Communist Party on its 100th birthday on its successes. But then one should also take other facts into account: The worst famines took place under the rule of the communists. The party's misallocation and simulation games cost the lives of up to 100 million people in the 20th century. Prosperity only came to China when the country opened up and liberalized in 1979. In this respect, it should be made more precise: it was not the party that lifted 850 million people out of poverty, but rather 850 million Chinese who liberated themselves from it. (Philipp Mattheis from Shanghai, March 4th, 2021)