Two Centenaries: The Chinese Dream

May 31, 2021 by

Yet the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has. On July 1st, 2021, China will officially reach the century mark since the founding of the CCP. Expect the entire year to be dominated by celebratory reminders.

Imagine a couple of dozen men in 1921 gathering in Shanghai to dare dream of forming a political movement so grand that it could topple a sitting government of the oldest civilization – and even then – the largest population on the planet with an established military.

Yet, here we are as the people of China will soon be celebrating a centennial milestone – along with all the progress and tears that have been embedded on this 100-year march to 2021.

This long march has included defeating Japanese invaders, driving the Nationalist ruling Kuomintang party to the island of Taiwan. Ping-Pong diplomacy – denouncing then embracing relations with the USA. Establishing the People’s Republic of China only to suffer the chaos brought about by the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Natural and man-made disasters of droughts, floods, devastating earthquakesSARSand COVID 19 pandemics. Having the “People’s Army” turn on its own people in Tiananmen Square on 6/4/89. Lifting twice as many people as the US population out of abject poverty. The CCP can clearly take a bow for its work to end extreme povertyand in creating a “moderately prosperous society in all respects”.

From Black and White to Technicolor 

That the world has witnessed a Chinese economy once called the “Sick man of Asia” rise to challenge the American superpower for supremacy in multiple spheres as the 21st century unfolds is certainly impressive. 

Today the CCP has clearly stood up. Yet, Mao Zedong would be hard pressed to recognize his Communist Party today.

In the md-1960s, I remember my 4th grade teacher saying the word “Communist” with such disdain and terror in her voice that it frightened me. What could be so scary and menacing that her voice trembled and her jowls shook with spittle spraying everywhere as she slowly enunciated the word: Comm-u-nist I thought at the time.  The fear of “communism and communist” was red hot coming off the McCarthy era and the Red Scare.  I was so petrified that I self-censored and never asked a question in her class again about China.  Trying to understand her reaction sparked a lifelong curiosity and interest in China in me. 

Today, the threat to China’s Communist Party (CCP) survival is staring back at its leaders as they look in the  mirror each morning. While President Xi projects a bold and impressive image and appears to have a firm grasp on power there are rumbling of discontent and a hint at a deeply insecure regimethat perceives a threat from its own members.

It is reported that the Chinese government spends more on “stability maintenance”—including police, internal security, and Uyghur “training centers” in Xinjiang—than it officially spends on national defense.

Challenges Within 

The internal, domestic challenges China’s leaders face are immeasurable. The Center for Strategic and International Studies lists:• Corruption and Localized Unrest• Human Rights and Religious Freedom• Demographic Challenges• Social Policy:  Education, Health, and the Social Safety Net• Environmental Issues• China’s Legal Reform• Political Reform and the Future of the Chinese Communist Party

Further, rising inequality, as in America, remains a critical issueto be addressed. The CCP faces the monumental task of re-establishing a semblance of the “iron rice bowl” from the past and stabilizing a social security system and supporting a struggling countryside.  

As the world fights the existential threat of climate change, China’s explosive coal-fueled economy the past four decades has pushed its carbon pollution that outstrips the carbon pollution of the US, the EU, and other developed nations combined. China’s emissions now comprise twenty-seven percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, threateningnot only itself, but the entire world.


It is paramount to the future of the US and those of other democracies to better understand China. The more we understand this country’s history and current pressures, the better off we will be in engaging China tomorrow and helping to assure its rise does not come at our demise. 

Sadly, far too many in the West are woefully ignorant of China’s history, culture, hopes, dreams, desires, language and struggles.

Celebrate Good Times 

So as the leaders of the CCP break out the fireworks and Moutai celebration of their century of power, there exists a level of disdain for “Communist China” in America today that I have not felt since I was a ten year old boy in the middle 60’s. 

A recent survey by Gallup revealed that American perceptions of China are at an all-time low, worse even than after the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. 

As Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the US House of Representative, once proclaimed, “All politics is local.” This axiom is equally as true in China today. Xi Jinping uses this Western hatred of China into nationalistic Tai Chi (using your opponent’s force against them) to mobilize support for himself and the CCP. Xi demonstrates China’s “economic silencer”,punishing companies and nations that challenge its “internal affairs”. Adidas and Nike sales plunged on China’s largest business-to-consumer e-commerce platform after Chinese nationalism kicked in and Chinese customers called for a boycott of brands avoiding raw material from Xinjiang.

The China that the West will face going forward will be fundamentally shaped more by the pressures of the dramatic domestic, political, economic, health and social transformations unfolding today within China, than those without its borders. This in spite of the West’s continued and historic efforts to bend China to its will. 

As China’s single party – the Chinese Communist Party – celebrates its centenary, it is wise to remember the Chinese Proverb: “He who rides a tiger finds it difficult to dismount.” This is often interpreted as: “Once a dangerous or troublesome venture is begun, the safest course is to carry it through to the end.” The CCP plans to ride the tiger holding on to power and celebrate the centenary founding of The People’s Republic of China in 2049. The CCP goal is to keep control of all corners of its sprawling territory.

The CCP has a monumental task of sustaining economic growth and a sense by the people that their lives are improving – the “mandate from heaven” – or the Communist rule could well begin to unravel.

The CCP will  continue to insist on total control to enjoy its “Flowing Spring,” as it seeks its “Heart full of China Dream.”

My hope is there might be a greater desire for Americans to learn more about China and that China enjoys its celebration and the ride – as long as it does not come at our demise.
Tom Watkins has a lifelong interest in China and has written extensively about US China relations- the most important bilateral relationship in the world today.  Going forward all major world issues will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, DC. How our respective leaders manage this relation will impact the people of the USA, China and all of humanity. Read more about this important at topic here:

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