"Finally all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great party was gone," said Xi, according to notes obtained by The New York Times.
"Everyone is talking about reform, but in fact everyone has a fear of reform," said Chinese historian Ma Jong. "The question is: Can society be kept under control while you go forward? That is the test." That is indeed the test.
What is it that gives a party its legitimacy, its right to rule? What holds a nation together when its cradle faith, its founding ideology, has been abandoned by both elites and the people? That is China's coming crisis.
With victory in the civil war with the Nationalists in 1949, Mao claimed to have liberated China from both Japanese imperialists and Western colonialists, and restored her dignity. "China has stood up!" he said.
His party's claim to absolute power was rooted in what it had done, and also what it must do. Only a party with total power could lead a world revolution. Only an all-powerful party could abolish inequality in a way that made the French Revolution look like a rebellion at Berkeley.
Xi Jinping's problem? The Cold War is over. China is herself in the capitalist camp, a member of the G-8, and inequality in the People's Republic resembles that of America in the Gilded Age.
How does the Chinese Communist Party justify control of all of China's institutions today -- economic, political, military and cultural?
If Marxism is mocked behind closed doors by a new economic elite and tens of millions of Chinese young, what can cause the nation to continue to respect and obey a Communist Party and its leaders, besides the gun?
The answer of Europe in the 1930s is China's answer today.
Nationalism, tribalism, patriotic war if necessary, will bring the masses back. If the Chinese nation is being insulted, if ancestral lands are occupied by foreigners as in olden times, the people will rally around a regime that stands up for China. Nationalism will keep Chinese society "under control while you go forward."
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traces the aggressiveness of Beijing in the Senkaku Islands dispute to a "deeply ingrained" need to appeal to Chinese nationalism in the form of anti-Japanese sentiment dating to the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945.
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