The Shadow of the “China Miracle”

In 1978, to survive in the ashes of political chaos and economic collapse due to Mao Zedong’s brutal “Cultural Revolution”, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had to embrace a policy of "reform and opening up". However, while the marketization and economic globalization continued, the political reform went no further. The CCP has never meant to give up its monopoly of power. As a result, China has shocked the world at least twice in the course of the past 40 years. The first time was the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement and the ensuing massacre, which made the world aware of the ruthlessness and inhuman atrocities of the CCP. The second time was China’s “economic miracle.” According to World Bank statistics, China’s GDP grew by a factor of 81.87, from US$149.5 billion in 1978 to $12.238 trillion in 2017, making it the world’s second largest economy. Per capita GDP also rose by a factor of 56.4, from US$1,564 in 1978 to $8,827 in 2017.

These two incidents, the Tiananmen massacre and the economic miracle, are closely linked. Without the massacre, there would be no China miracle. As Hu Ping put it , “What’s most ironic is that the economic reforms of elite privatization that China carried out after June 4th were undoubtedly the most shameless and deplorable in moral terms, but also probably the most effective and likely to succeed. The Tiananmen massacre completely deprived people of their right to speak, and the lack of public participation and supervision in China’s privatization process allowed a minority of officials to treat public assets as their personal property. Officials instantly became capitalists, and privatization reforms attained their goal in a single step. Added to that, the relatively stable investment environment created by suppressive policies attracted a large amount of foreign capital.”

The CCP has much to show for itself: poverty alleviation, urbanization, WTO membership, high-speed railways, rockets, the Internet, artificial intelligence, the Nobel Prize, the Beijing Olympic Games, the G20 summit, the "One Belt And One Road" initiative, and 'Made in China 2025 Strategy'…. China’s “economic miracle” in reality became the material basis for the ruling of the CCP, as well as its psychological basis to a large extent, as demonstrated in the term "performance legitimacy". Almost all Chinese citizens’ living standards have significantly improved, and they are full of positive and optimistic expectations for future development, which explains why Chinese people obey the existing system. But, as I argued previously, economic development cannot replace political legitimacy. In modern world, political legitimacy can only come from the people’s genuine endorsement through party competition and free elections. In practice, it cannot even achieve “justification”, since economic growth without rule of law and democracy would inevitably bring much trouble to the society and economy per se.

The CCP took great credit for the economic miracle and even attributed it to the "China Model" in an attempt to sell the "China solution" to the world. Some fancy terminologies were invented, like the “Beijing Consensus”, and “Community of Shared Future for Mankind”. Is China's miracle that great? What lies behind the glorious appearance? Is the China Model worth emulating?

Reform and opening up came not from the party's gift but from its sin. Without the closed-door planned economy, mass mobilized totalitarianism, vandalism and anti-intellectualism of the Mao era, there would have been little need for reform and opening up. The motivation of the reform and opening up is to save the Party, not to move towards a constitutional democracy.

Without the disobedience of Xiaogang Villagers and the brave local reformers, there would be no reform and opening up. The official propaganda that "CCP feeds more than a billion people" is shameless. The truth is, of course, that the people feed the party and the government, which have been restricting and undermining market competition, robbing the people of their wealth, and depriving them of their basic freedoms.

Here's what is really behind China’s economic miracle:

– China’s full-speed economic development is actually based on frenzied plundering by the elite group – a connection between power and business. Socialism with "Chinese characteristics" is a beautiful alias of crony capitalism. It has created enormous income disparity and social injustice, and has also resulted in serious damage to resources and rapid devastation of the environment. According to figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s Gini coefficient reached 0.467 in 2017 after a high of 0.491 in 2008. According to calculations by academic institutions, the Gini coefficient reached 0.61 in 2010, far exceeding the internationally recognized threshold of 0.4 for potential social instability. China is not only one of the most unfree countries in the world, but also one of the most unequal countries.

– China’s “low human rights advantage” is one of the main reasons for its economic miracle. Plentiful cheap labor, low wages, minimal benefits and poor work environment; forced relocations and land clearances; delayed wage payments and lack of collective bargaining rights; bans on independent labor unions, public protests and strikes; labor’s lack of negotiating power with capital and government; collusion between government and business, judicial corruption, etc., have greatly lowered the cost of Chinese merchandise and thus give it an enormous price advantage. “Made in China merchandise has flooded the world, and capital from all over the world has poured into China.” Any country that respects basic human rights and social welfare, and that ensures freedom of assembly and the right to vote, cannot possibly replicate this advantage. Forced demolitions, mining accidents, black brick kilns, forced labor camps, helpless petitioners, left-behind children, extra-legal detentions, Foxconn workers’ suicides, closure of labor NGOs, detention of labor rights activists... It can be said that the economic miracle is based on the humiliation, blood, sweat, and death of countless Chinese workers.

– The blatant plundering by the powerful has caused serious environmental destruction, ecological deterioration, and social decay. The multiple influences of political fear, thought control, censorship, and brainwashing, permeate Chinese society and instil cynicism, mammonism, consumerism, and social Darwinism. The development of academics, knowledge, culture, and art has been enormously harmed. In the backyards of skyscrapers and high-speed railways, are literary prisons, GFW, concentration camps, pollution, jerry-built projects, toxic food and vaccines, cancer villages, AIDS villages, and on and on. Behind the apparent prosperity lies the ecological, environmental, moral and spiritual breakdown, which will bring much deeper and wider damage to China's future than just in the life span of the CCP.

– Foreign trade hugely contributed to China’s economic miracle, but the Chinese government has violated a large number of commitments made when it joined the WTO (violating international human rights standards and engaging in unfair competition). The theft of intellectual property rights, forced technology transfer, currency manipulation, government subsidies, illegal dumping, overseas money laundering, commercial espionage, cyber attacks, media buying and infiltration, Internet blockades, and so on, have all begun to arouse the vigilance and backlash of Western society.

– China’s economic miracle has not led to political freedom or an open society, but rather has greatly strengthened the CCP’s control and suppressive capacity. The rise of China in reality is not the rise of Chinese people, but the astonishingly rapid rise of the CCP. People living in China do not have access to Google, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, nor do they have the right to protect their houses or land. They do not have freedom of expression, religious freedom, or the right to vote. With its economic and technological development, China has accelerated its march toward an “advanced version of Orwell’s 1984”: big data, DNA collecting, facial recognition, voiceprint identification, gait recognition, dense street webcam coverage, internet censorship and control, the Great Firewall, grid-managed stability maintenance, a social credit system and internet police, coupled with a traditional totalitarian party-state system, secret police, black jails, paid internet trolls, brainwashing, cult of personality and guilt by association, which have resulted in an unprecedented “high-tech totalitarianism” becoming a reality in China.

In thoughtful observation, one can see the true features of the "China model." The China model values economic development with a costly price tag of compromised human rights, corruption, inequality, and environmental destruction; to brainwash the people with censorship and propaganda; to suppress the dissenting voices and activities with state violence; and to sustain the international community’s favor of the CCP’s one-party rule through trade, diplomacy, and overseas operations. To put it simply, the China model is "Kleptocratic capitalism with technological totalitarianism."

Along with the rise of China, the CCP has become more and more aggressive on the international stage and a threat to global freedom. Its extraterritorial laws and long arm of enforcement overstretch in many different ways, for example, its abduction of refugees overseas, including dissidents, booksellers, Uyghurs, and businessmen. Its theft, bribery, and propaganda are institutionalized through the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), multi-trillion dollar 'One belt One Road' development program, South China Sea aggression, international cyber attacks and espionage, and the “Thousand Talents Program”.

The Chinese Students and Scholar Associations (CSSA), Confucius Institutes, alumni associations, Townsmen associations, chamber of commerce, and other such organizations, are all controlled or directed by the Chinese Embassy, Consulates, or the United Front Work Department. A report by the Hoover Institution found that the Chinese government has eliminated almost all independent Chinese-language media outlets in the U.S. It is even more limited in Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and elsewhere.

Wang Bingzhang, a leading pro-democracy activist and a permanent resident of the United States, was abducted in Vietnam in 2002 and later sentenced to life imprisonment in China. In October 2015, Gui Minhai, a publisher with a Swedish passport, was kidnapped from his apartment in Thailand by Chinese secret police. He disappeared for 3 months and then suddenly appeared in a forced confession for China’s state media. After being detained for two years, he was released, but a few months later he was taken away again in front of Swedish diplomats. Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and Chinese dissidents living in foreign countries have been harassed and physically attacked by people hired by the Chinese embassy. Professor Anne-Marie Brady in New Zealand, after writing a prominent report on China’s political interference, encountered theft of her computer from her home in February 2018 and her car tires deflated in November.

The Chinese government has nearly destroyed the “one country, two systems” promise for Hong Kong, which means it is breaking its commitments in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. China has interfered in Taiwan’s politics, through trade discrimination, disinformation, media infiltration, and repeated threats to launch a military invasion. China also threatened war against the Philippines, in the context of its violation of its United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arbitration of 2016. China brazenly manipulated the UN human rights mechanisms by, silencing independent NGOs, punishing activists, harassing and intimidating UN staff and experts, blocking and weakening UN resolutions, and collaborating with dictatorial regimes with the worst human rights records.

It is not unreasonable to compare today’s China with Germany of the 1930s: strict one-party rule, nationalism propaganda, information censorship, cult of personality, religious persecution, concentration camps, secret police, total surveillance, purge on dissidents, rapid economic and military growth, aggressive foreign policy, ambitious global plans etc. Although there are many differences as between the two regimes, the similarities are striking. The free world can and must learn a lesson from history. When facing a powerful and ambitious totalitarian regime, to adopt a policy of appeasement (in the name of “engagement”) will bring no security or freedom or sustainable prosperity, but an extremely harrowing humanitarian disaster.

Works Cited

World Bank,

Hu Ping, “The Massacre and the Miracle,” Radio Free Asia, September 2, 2008,

Heike Holbig&BruceGilley, Reclaiming Legitimacy in China, 38 POL. & POL’Y 395, 405 (2010); Dingxin Zhao, The Mandate of Heaven and Performance Legitimation in Historical and Contemporary China, 53AM. BEHAV. SCIENTIST 416, 416 (2009).

Teng Biao, Charter 08 and political legitimacy, China Rights Forum, June 2009.

Joshua CooperRamo,The Beijing Consensus, Foreign Policy Center, 2004

Minxin Pei, China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay, Harvard University Press, 2016

Xu Jia, “The truth of the mainland Geni coefficient,” iFeng Weekly, February 2013, No. 461,

Qin Hui, “The low human rights advantage in China’s economic development,”

Teng Biao, Has Xi Jinping Changed China? Not Really. China File, 2018.4.16

China's Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance, the Hoover Institution, 2018.11.29.

Zach Dorfman, The Disappeared, The Foreign Policy, March 29, 2018.

Steven Jiang, Swedish bookseller GuiMinhai 'abducted' by Chinese agents, CNN, 2018.1.22.

Eleanor Ainge Roy, NZ police investigate after prominent China critic's car 'sabotaged', the Guardian, 2018.11.16.

Human Rights Watch, The Costs of International Advocacy: China’s Interference in United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms, 2017.9.5