The China specialists Frederick Teiwes and Warren Sun have argued that “Westerners think of politics in certain ways which make it difficult to accept Chinese realities,” presuming that “politics is about policy, that a great country has a large policy agenda which naturally preoccupies the politicians,” and that “political power flows to people with certain skills and capabilities.”
In a nationalist dictatorship founded on blood, like the one which gained power in China in October 1949, the assumptions that are taken for granted in a democracy do not hold true. Leaders are selected not for their ability to do a job or to represent the nation, but for their willingness to uphold the Party’s authority and suppress dissent. Vocal popular pressure does not cause a change in policy. Institutions do not act as a check on those in power. Only when the Chinese system starts to fracture from within will it be vulnerable to methods of open defiance, such as street protests and non-cooperation. Mohandas Gandhi, often invoked by the Dalai Lama and his supporters as an exemplar, has no message for the Tibetans. (Mao’s student years might be contrasted with those of Gandhi’s heir, Jawaharlal Nehru: while Mao joined a revolutionary militia in Changsha, where people were hacked to death and a head was paraded outside the governor’s residence on a stick, Nehru studied at Cambridge University, where he joined the college boat club and played plenty of tennis.) Gandhi’s strategy of mass civil resistance was a tactical response to the British political system; had he tried it against Mao or Stalin, he and his followers would have been rounded up and shot.