Magazine article The Spectator

End of the Party

Magazine article The Spectator

End of the Party

Article excerpt

Chinese communism may not survive to mark its centenary

Beijing

The 18 th Cong re s s o f the Ch ine se Commun ist Party had begun , and President Hu Jintao was droning his way through his last big speech before stepping down for good. Irritatingly, he raised his voice to a low shout every time he reached the end of a significant sentence. That was when the assembled delegates were expected to applaud, and of course they did. They'd all been issued with copies of his speech telling them precisely where to start clapping.

I'd had as much of this as I could take, so I walked out of the grand theatre in the Great Hall of the People into the equally grand lobby outside. It was about the size of a Buckingham Palace reception room. I sat down on the marble staircase and starting writing my report.

And it was then, with a uniformed security guard watching me tolerantly, that I started to get a flashback. Somewhere, some time, I'd done this before. Then I remembered. It was Moscow: the Kremlin conference hall on 28 June 1988, the opening of the 19th Conference of the Soviet Communist Party.

The assembled delegates were there to work out what on earth to do. Three years later, of course, history decided for them, and tipped the whole lot into its capacious dustbin.

Western journalists were invited into the 1988 Congress in Moscow with remarkable friendliness, and everything was relaxed and informal. I sat on the third step from the bottom of a grand marble staircase, probably built to the same Marxist-Leninist blueprint as Beijing's Great Hall of the People. And I wrote a story about the way the Soviet Communist Party seemed to be talking itself out of a job.

Just because I sat on another marble staircase 24 years later, it doesn't mean the Chinese Communist Party is about to collapse; though a very well-placed, influential academic here told me the other day that a couple of senior Party figures had wondered aloud in his presence whether Chinese communism would actually make it to the centenary of its founding. That'll be in 2021.

The fact is, no one has the foggiest idea what's going to happen next, under the brand-new leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Another wellplaced friend of mine thinks China could descend into bellicose ultra-nationalism - something, he points out, for which the outgoing leadership of President Hu and Premier Wen has made careful preparation, just in case China's economy goes south and foreigners have to be blamed for it. …

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