When a Chinese educator visited a friend recently he was told that China’s transition of power will not be easy. The friend cited an analysis based on a book by Alexis de Tocqueville published in 1856, after the French Revolution. But the identity of the friend—a high-ranking CCP official—makes such a revelation explosive.
It seems that a perusal of a deceased French historian’s work has raised some serious and frightening issues and pointed out similarities between current-day China and France prior to 1789.
New-Way Monthly, a Hong Kong- based journal, reported that during February the president of Beijing Yanjing Overseas Chinese University, Hua Sheng, wrote on this micro-blog: “[I] went to see a former boss of mine who recommended that I read, The Old Regime and the Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville. My friend believes that for a large and important country like China, whether from a historical perspective, or from external influences, a transition into the modern [developed] world won’t be easy. The Chinese people have not yet paid the costs.”
According to the article, the “former boss” Hua Sheng mentioned is Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Politburo member and Vice-Premier Wang Qishan.
In the 1980s, economics scholar Hua Sheng worked under Wang Qishan, and they attended meetings together.
Wang Qishan graduated from the history department of Northwest University (China) then worked at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Modern History. Wang was famous within the intellectual community in 1980s before he became a politician.
Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported on May 16 that the list of 10 possible candidates to join the CCP Politburo Standing Committee has already been decided, and Vice-Premier Wang Qishan is one of the newly added candidates.
There are also analysts who believe that Wang might enter the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress this fall, and then replace Wu Bangguo as the Chairman of the National Congress in March next year.
De Tocqueville’s Warning
Eighteenth century historian Alexis de Tocqueville is well known for his books Democracy in America (published in two volumes, 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (published in 1856). Both books suggested that large-scale and violent revolutions don’t necessarily happen during periods of poverty, but during periods of economic development where there are great discrepancies of wealth. During these types of periods, class conflicts are the most severe and people of the lower classes are very likely to turn their anger and resentment into war.
Sources have said that Wang Qishan is worried about the “golden age of China.” He worries about the superficial and short-sighted class of nouveau-rich, but also worries about the misguided and naive common citizens.
Wang has openly expressed these worries many times.
In Sept. 2011, Wang Qishan visited Britain. While having lunch with Chinese scholars in economics and finance at Oxford University, Wang discussed many Chinese and global issues. Dean of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham Yao Shujie recorded the details of this lunch discussion in his micro-blog.
According to Yao, some scholars raised the question of how China can continue developing, which caused a heated debate.
Wang Qishan said Deng Xiaoping believed China needed several generations, even several dozen generations, to catch up with the West.
We might not have suffered enough, paid enough cost. To put it simply, the road ahead is still very long.
“The People’s Republic of China has only been established for 62 years, and economic development for only 33 years. Can we suddenly become the best country in the world? Difficult. We might not have suffered enough, paid enough cost. To put it simply, the road ahead is still very long,” Wang said, according to Yao’s microblog.
In describing French society before the French revolution, de Tocqueville seemed to have transcended time, because a lot of what he mentions could also be applied to today’s China. For example: “When men are no longer bound by former ties, they are only too prone to give their whole thoughts to their private interest and to wrap themselves up in a narrow individuality in which public virtue is stifled. … Hence the ruling passions become a desire for wealth at all cost … Despotism alone can supply the secrecy and darkness, which cupidity requires to be at ease, and which embolden men to brave dishonor for the sake of fraudulent gain.”
He described the mentality caused by a lack of political freedom as, “What seemed to be love for country turns out to be mere hatred of a despot.”
Regarding the rapid increase in wealth, de Tocqueville very seriously warned, “On the one hand, the nation’s desire for wealth grows explosively every day; on the other hand, the government continues to incite this desire, but also continues to obstruct. To light up this passion, but then to extinguish it again, accelerates its own demise.”
His words could also easily explain the CCP’s stranglehold on power when he noted that the pre-1789 French government “merely yielded to the instinctive desire of every government to gather all the reins of power into its own hands.”
Not a Lone Opinion
Chinese legal scholar He Bing also has worries similar to de Tocqueville’s.
“Speaking of the current situation in China, on one hand, a large amount of private wealth is taken for public use; on the other hand, a large amount of public wealth has been transferred to private accounts; national wealth and private wealth are closely linked together, to a degree never seen in history. National administrative measures no longer remain in the public domain, but directly affect the private wealth of hundreds of millions of people,” he blogged.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
“The rise and fall of the stock market directly affects the happiness of tens of thousands of families. The roller-coaster-like price of housing rattles the nerves of hundreds of millions of people. When the government policies are not good, people gather together to voice their complaints. People who used to be submissive are now like dry firewood near open fire, ready to burst into flame in an instant.”
Though Chinese history is much, much longer than French, it can be said that “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” meaning, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Read the original Chinese version.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.