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China Now Faces the Downsides of Dictatorship


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The period of term-limited presidents corresponded with unprecedented growth. Now Xi Jinping is changing the rules.

Noah Feldman

February 26, 2018

China’s nearly 30-year experiment with time-limited government is officially coming to an end. The Chinese Communist Party has suggested amending China’s constitution to allow President Xi Jinping to serve more than two five-year terms. Considering that the party rules the country, and Xi rules the party, that means two things: The constitution will be amended. And Xi is going to be president for life, much like Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping.

From the standpoint of communism, this result isn’t terribly surprising. From Lenin to Stalin to Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Andropov, the Soviet Union was never out of the hands of a dictator-like ruler until Gorbachev presided over its collapse.

Nor is Xi’s ascent surprising in the light of China’s traditional norm of imperial rule, which effectively carried over into communism.

What’s remarkable, rather, is that from the time Deng Xiaoping retired in 1989 until now, China seriously experimented with a term-limited presidency. Jiang Zemin stepped down after two terms, although he retained some influence thereafter. And Hu Jintao went him one better, actually giving up power in 2012 when Xi came in.

This matters because the period of China’s limited presidency corresponded almost exactly to one of the fastest periods of economic growth in human history, comparable to Britain in the age of industrialization and the U.S. in the years after the Civil War. If scale is taken into account in addition to rate, it isn’t an exaggeration to call China’s period of growth the greatest in history.





All I can say is...........................

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