(p. C2) Under Mr. Xi, the administration of justice has become increasingly harsh and arbitrary, relying on practices such as extralegal detention, torture during investigation and in prison, and violations of the right to a fair trial. Within the CCP itself, members are exposed to ever higher disciplinary demands and requirements of conformity to central authority, on pain of being purged for corruption.
This “new Maoism,” as some have called it, reflects a surprising sense of siege on the part of a government that has been so successful in sustaining public support. The party appears to believe that the loyalty of the country’s dominant Han population—not just Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kong residents—is fragile. As long as the authoritarian system delivers prosperity and national pride, the middle class, including students, intellectuals and party members themselves, support it. But few, if any, citizens believe in the party’s sterile ideology and anachronistic cult of personality.
A majority of Chinese people today still hold traditional attitudes of deference to authority and evaluate their government more for its ability to deliver economic growth and social services than for how it treats the liberty to think and speak. But surveys show that young, urban, educated Chinese increasingly want more freedom and a more responsive government.
In the most recent Asian Barometer Survey for which data are available, carried out in China in 2014-16, 21% of respondents identified themselves as city dwellers with at least some secondary education and enough household income to cover their needs and put away some savings. Compared with non-middle-class respondents, these Chinese citizens are almost twice as likely to express dissatisfaction with the way the political system works (32.5% versus 17.2%) and more than twice as likely to endorse liberal-democratic values such as independence of the judiciary and separation of powers (47.4% versus 20.4%). And these attitudes are even more pronounced among the younger members of the middle class.
. . .
When and how the system will change is impossible to predict. The only certainty is that repression alone cannot keep the Chinese people silent forever.
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(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated June 25, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)