Gordon Chang was a bit ahead of the time when he wrote the book “The Coming Collapse of China” in 2001.
He predicted the collapse of the Chinese economy and the downfall of the communist party within ten years and his prediction is four years overdue.
However, many of his arguments are still accurate today. And with China’s political economy becoming ever more volatile, Epoch Times spoke to Chang about China’s past and increasingly uncertain future.
EPOCH TIMES: What about the economic reform that’s being talked about?
Gordon Chang: The only thing that possibly could work would be fundamental economic reform but they can’t do that in Beijing because the political consensus is against it. Xi Jinping, his idea of change is actually regressive, going back to the semi-command Maoist-type model.
When their last tools fail the economy will go into freefall and I think it’ll take the political system with it.
EPOCH TIMES: How does that work in practice?
Mr. Chang: The Chinese people, they may not be revolutionary in intent. Once they start taking to the streets the situation will just get out of control. People in China, I think, do not believe that a one-party system is appropriate for China’s modernizing society.
They may not oppose the Communist Party because they’re intimidated, because of the repressive mechanism, very coercive state. But when they see hope of change, I think things could change very very quickly.
So I think when the Communist Party starts to show signs of failure, people will actually demonstrate and those demonstrations, whether they have revolutionary intent or not, I think will just go beyond control.
EPOCH TIMES: Similar to what happened in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s?
Mr. Chang: If you go back to 1988, nobody—maybe one person—thought the Soviet system would fail. Then all of a sudden you have the problems in Hungary which radiated out to all of the satellites in Eastern Europe, you had the fall of the Berlin Wall. And still American policymakers were saying, “Well that’s Eastern Europe, but the Soviet system can’t fail.”
Indeed many Soviet citizens themselves couldn’t see how their government was going to fall. But these things are almost leaderless in the sense that you don’t have leaders in these revolutions, it’s not organized.
You know, Václav Havel [the former President of Czechoslovakia] said this, “Nobody can understand a society because what’s important is not the buildings, it’s not the repression from the state, but it’s really what is in people’s minds.”
People in Eastern Europe wanted something different. They may not have been able to articulate it, they may not have always been protesting, but they wanted the communist system out of the way.
I think it’s the really same way in China. Where you have people just sick and fed up, especially when the system is no longer delivering prosperity. When you have real serious economic problems, I think people are going to say, “I’ve had enough.”
Remember, the Communist Party’s primary basis of legitimacy has been that continual delivery of prosperity, that’s been from the days of Deng Xiaoping when he started to move toward a looser economic model and without prosperity the only remaining basis of legitimacy is nationalism. That’s probably not enough to keep the Communist Party in power and that’s why they’re so insecure.
EPOCH TIMES: Why did you write the book?
Mr. Chang: One of the reasons I wrote the book is that I was practicing law in Shanghai. My clients would cruise into town, they’d stay at the Grand Hyatt that was in Pudong which is really one of the most spectacular hotels in the world and they would say “China’s not communist anymore.”
I said the same things when I arrived in China, but if you just sort of go to China for 3-4 days well of course that’s the view you’re going to have. I felt the system just wasn’t really going to work and that’s why I wrote the book, because I felt it was unsustainable and eventually it would fall apart.
We are seeing the first signs of a crisis and I don’t think the Communist Party has the ability to get out of this particular jam and we are going to see this as a final crisis for communism in China. Chinese people will figure out something, but it won’t be the Communist Party in control.
EPOCH TIMES: What about some other players who oppose the Communist Party, like Falun Gong practitioners?
Mr. Chang: These groups are really interesting. You talk to Falun Gong practitioners—and I’m not one—and you get a sense that they believe something, they really believe it and they believe it to the point that some of them, many of them, have given up their lives for their beliefs. You’re not going to find Communist Party members who feel that way.
That sense that the party had in the 1930’s and the 1940’s; it’s all gone. It’s become one of the most corrupt organizations on Earth so it can’t survive.
It’s big, it’s rotting, it might, because of inertia, take a long time to fail, and it has taken longer than I thought.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t have that sense and you see this not only among Falun Gong practitioners, but you see it among Tibetans and Uighurs. You see it among house Christians. People who are willing to give their lives because they believe in something.
The Communist Party, it has made enemies of all these groups. These groups didn’t start out by saying, “I want to bring down the Communist Party”, but the Party has forced them into opposition.
The problem for the Party right now is that they can prevail over Tibetans or whatever but it can’t prevail over all of these groups at the same time and at the same time that the economy is falling apart and people no longer believe in the communist system.
We know how fragile it is because the Communist Party has become so much more coercive, so much more oppressive and that means so much more insecure. They wouldn’t be doing this if they felt that they had a long lease on power, but they know they don’t. That’s the important point.
EPOCH TIMES: They are losing the battle for the minds of the people.
Mr. Chang: Absolutely. This is a hearts and minds struggle. Although you have small groups of dissidents who don’t look like they can bring down the state, they can. We have seen this in so many different place and it’s not just Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
We saw this in the Philippines, we saw this in Peru, we saw this in so many different countries where people, when they get to the streets, they bring down governments. All it takes is just for one person to change his mind.
The best example might be in the Philippines. You had one person ten years ago who sent out a text: “Wear black, go 2 EDSA [People Power Revolution]”. The crowd just grew and grew and eventually President Estrada had to resign in the middle of his term because the crowds in the street were too large.
Nobody organized that demonstration. The military, the Philippine military were judging how big the crowds were and eventually the crowds got so big and they looked like they were going to stay there for so long that the military just switched sides.
The political establishment in Manila just switched sides. Nobody organized this demonstration and I think that’s the model for China itself.
We are going to see leaderless revolutions in China. People say, “How can you have this? They’re dissidents, they’re not organized, they’re not funded.”
Political scientists don’t get it. That’s really the problem for the Communist Party. Yes, they have 80 million people in the Party but that’s not really a signal of their strength; they’ve got a weak Party right now. Very few are willing to give their lives for communism in China.
It’s just not there anymore. It’s a rotting, corrupt organization that will melt away like so many other Communist states have melted away.
You have a modern people who wants something better, who are not as afraid of their government. You put that all together with economic failure and that’s a very combustible view for the Communist Party.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China.” Chang holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and also completed his law degree there. Before becoming a writer Chang practiced law in the United States and China.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.