Chongqing

The Chongqing Model: One Decade On” by the sociologist Zhang Yueran provides a realpolitik (instead of the liberal versus left) version of the making, evolution, and eventual demise of the popularized “Chongqing model” of governance and development that had a place in Chinese politics between 2007 and 2012. It’s a fascinating read in many ways, especially its comparative analysis on the implementation of private home ownership taxes by the bureaucracies in Chongqing and Shanghai, respectively.

In addition, comparatively speaking it brought memories of recent demises in Vietnamese politics that involved either ministers or party secretaries who were contentiously both loved and hated by the political elite and masses, but nevertheless shared a common trait of “governing over and with the masses” while spearheading (or facilitating) widespread corruption across local and central-level institutions: Nguyen Ba Thanh (former municipal party secretary of Da Nang, nowadays one of the richest and developed cities in Vietnam) and Dinh La Thang (former minister of transport and then practically demoted as municipal party secretary of Ho Chi Minh City). While neither of them were known to be clean from corruption and other crimes against party-state property and authority, they still somehow continue to hold a silenced popular memory among significant portions of the population.

The following quotes from the article resemble these Vietnamese political demises, though to a much lesser extent ideologically (in my opinion, Vietnam’s protracted “war socialism” has left it with a less substantive legacy of social theory, policy and consciousness in comparison to China in the reform era). Nonetheless, the central governments in both China and Vietnam seem similar in the way in which regional initiatives to innovate governance are eventually smashed, especially initiatives that make the masses at least feel they are involved more meaningfully. A rather unfortunate aspect of the ongoing anti-corruption campaigns targeting high-level politicians is that any regional-based attempt to innovate governance has almost become equated with opening doors for more corruption and political instability. As a consequence, you nowadays end up with many party secretaries in otherwise potentially more productive locations that are neither “too dirty” nor “daring enough to make an impact”.

“At the same time, the elements of the Chongqing Model most threatening to the CCP’s elite interests were dropped. Any tolerance of potentially contentious collective action, as displayed by Bo during the 2008 taxi drivers’ strike, is now absent. Also gone is the aggressive ideological messaging around economic egalitarianism and anti-rich sentiments. If there is an ideology that holds today’s mass-mobilisation project together, it is a pro-state ideology enmeshed in nationalist chauvinism.”

“This perspective makes it possible to understand the political transformations under Xi Jinping not as happenstance caused by one political leader, but the result of China’s reform-era political history. It is important to recognise that the political order of the two decades after 1989 had a depoliticising face as well as a capitalistic one. On the one hand, the CCP tended to create widespread political apathy by framing both its policy actions and ordinary citizens as apolitical, similar to how Shanghai handled its tax on private homeownership. On the other hand, it pushed forward a set of structural changes in the economy that created a particularly brutal version of capitalism. Both of these faces gave rise to deep contradictions. The CCP’s depoliticising tendency created a void in which people’s underlying desire for meaningful political participation remained unfulfilled. At the same time, the version of capitalism it instituted engendered increasingly appalling economic inequality.”

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