For the recalcitrant, punishment awaits. (See the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement and the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang). The last two Chinese dynasties, Ming and Qing, were also particularly repressive, and long-lasting — together they survived more than 540 years. A long line of prior dynasties and emperors had already trained the people to be opportunistically oppressive to those below one’s status and submissive to those above it. But aside from the big stick, there are carrots too. Faithful party members are richly rewarded.
The C.C.P., like any of the more effective ancient Chinese ruling classes, diligently reads historical events for lessons. That has helped it navigate crises and, often, emerge stronger. Take the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. There the historical guide was the knowledge that among numerous Chinese rebellions throughout the several millenniums, those led by scholars and intellectuals were never successful. The C.C.P., then under the strongman Deng Xiaoping, judged that there would be practically zero resistance, and few political consequences, for cracking down hard on the pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square and that any boycott by the West would quickly burn out. Sure enough, foreign investors quickly flocked back to China in greater numbers. Not long after that, the country became “the factory of the world” and was rewarded with World Trade Organization membership.
The C.C.P. also uses a tried and tested tactic of stating mistruths but presenting them as facts. Its root is an ancient China proverb, “Declaring a deer a horse” — the expression explains the high value of uttering patent falsehoods or telling blatant lies not meant to mislead or deceive. In a political context it means if someone powerful makes an obviously false public statement and you publicly accept it to be true, then he knows he can easily control you. The C.C.P. does that often. The latest example, from President Xi Jinping himself, was when he said that China sought an international image that was “trustworthy,” “respectable” and “lovable.”
Mr. Xi knows well that some politicians and corporate interests in the West need cover for continuing, or resuming, cozy business partnerships despite the much increased hostility toward China among many countries. It is not lost on Mr. Xi that even though President Biden has recently called on the Western world to put up a strong front of resistance to the C.C.P.’s ambitions, no country, not even the United States, has punished Beijing significantly enough to jeopardize the bulk of their business interests in China.
And so by using these political strategies from ancient China and exploiting economic opportunities with the West to support its systemic repression, the C.C.P. has achieved political stability. In 100 years — fleetingly short in Chinese history — it has reached wide and deep into the substrata of Chinese society like the strong roots of a banyan tree, fusing every aspect of people’s lives with punishment and reward, mixing indigenous cultural norms and Western materialistic consumption. It is almost impossible to uproot and overturn a giant banyan tree.