During the presidential primaries of 2016, I was invited to a faculty dinner whose purpose was to host an editor of a major national newspaper. I found myself amongst a group of left-wing academics and students who represented the vast supermajority of the room.
Amongst the general horror felt by most as Donald Trump began to rack up election victories from the Republican side, a question was posed for dinner discussion: “What will be the major headline in 50 years?”
The majority of answers broke down into variations of an Earth ravaged by climate destruction, nuclear war, and big data manipulation. I began to laugh as I thought how the answers matched the personalities of their political inclinations: humorless at best, foreboding and dark at their worst.
When it fell upon me to deliver my pearl of wisdom, I glibly declared, “Not to burst the dystopian fantasies that we have all built here, but the major headline in 50 years will be a democratic China with which the United States is negotiating a military alliance with.” It goes without saying that the room fell silent in shock and disbelief.
In the early 2000s, I had been presenting the idea that China had just as much of a chance of national implosion as becoming a type of economic wunderkind of the early 21st century.
Both of these thoughts are converging. China, especially the Communist Party, is quickly losing runway to land their ideologies, policies and economic expansion. It has been decades since Chinese communist ideology was anything more than a rump placeholder for any sense of national identity or ethical behavior.
However, their world has become darker. Not only have they failed to meet the magical 8% growth rate of GDP that was always thought to be the price to purchase a compliant population, but they have suffered defeats over the Taiwan elections, international condemnation over Uighur “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, trade conflict with the United States, excessive violence usage in the Hong Kong protests, and finally, their latest catastrophic handling of the coronavirus.
With global deaths from coronavirus topping 1,000, far above that of the SARS outbreak from 2002 and 2003, the Chinese government has exhibited classic tactics of dystopian plotlines: They have manipulated the number of infected and dead since the virus’s initial onslaught; Chinese journalists covering the crisis have disappeared; Dr. Li Wenliang who warned about the virus back in December 2019, was detained and punished for “spreading rumors.”
Then there are the mysterious circumstances surrounding Dr. Li’s death. Social media posts show panicked citizens barricaded into their homes by authorities, while others are forcibly dragged from their homes. A woman was shown crying on her balcony pleading for help for her dying husband. One particularly disturbing image shows a couple thrown into a windowless, airless metal container while a little boy, off-camera, watched and asked what was happening.
It has yet to be seen how the coronavirus saga will unfold before it is relegated into the history books as a modern global pandemic. A major question remains: How many people will die from the virus and what percentage in quarantine zones will die from starvation and neglect reminiscent of Mao’s famine years?
For mainland Chinese, however, the question they absolutely will ask is, will we continue to tolerate this form of government, and will we allow it to consume our children?
Accurate archival material of the Mao years may be hard to come by, and indeed, scholars in academia continue to argue whether he was the liberating leader of a Great Leap Forward, or an agent of evil.
But in this information age, Mao’s Communist legacy, as seen through today’s Chinese government, is made indisputable in its tactics, intentions and treatment of its own people.
For over 70 years, this Communist legacy has failed to grasp the concept that the most powerful emotion in the world, a close second to love, is found in freedom. If they had given Dr. Li the vehicle to speak freely and frequently, many would still be alive.
Instead, emblematic of dictatorships everywhere, they are scrambling to cover up yet another embarrassing policy failure, one of which was entirely in their control, and could have been entirely averted.
President Xi and the entire Chinese Communist Party face a continued trial against their de facto authority, and the coronavirus may prove to be the pivot point that fractures the party from within and without by further exposing its inner methodologies.
Confucianism, which Mao and the Communist Party attempted to stamp out, declared that rulers rule only at the behest of Heaven. Once corruption is exposed through natural disasters and unrest in the population, Confucius argued this was a way for Heaven to remove its blessing.
Perhaps the headline of 50-years-in-the-future is revealing itself sooner than expected.