China Collapsing?

In the Wall Street Journal, David Shambaugh, an expert on China working at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, made a poignant prediction about China. It’s beginning to unravel.

We shouldn’t believe him, right? There have been others before him that have predicted the collapse of China. Most famous, Gordon Chang said it would happen in 2011. It didn’t occur, so then he amended his timeline. He said that he was only off by one year. But he was still wrong.

Then, another scholar joined the discussion but stopped short of making a prediction. Roderick MacFarquhar, a Harvard professor and China specialist, talks about present day China in a familiar way. While not presaging its collapse, as David Shambaugh has done, he recognizes the crisis of the party. The dangers of a corruption campaign that goes too deep as well as a party that is lost its way. MacFarquhar  says, “We don’t know at what stage of the campaign against corruption, the campaign on closing in of ideas from abroad, which could harm the economy, of course, at what stage someone inside China will say: “This is not going to work. We’ve got to change.”

Even some scholars inside of China, while resistant, are unable to provide a good response. Xie Tao of Beijing Foreign Studies University, gives a lackluster argument saying that China has survived crises in the past, it can do it again. He even goes as far as to commit the logical fallacy of tu quoque. He says, “China is sick — but so is every other country in the world, though each country is sick with different symptoms, for different reasons, and of different degrees.” These can hardly be strung together to represent a cogent argument against claims from two China specialists Roderick MacFarquhar and David Shambaugh. Moreover, he does not even address some of the more poignant claims by other academics about the shelf life of a one party system.

The Global Times, the Fox news of China, weighed in with similar poorly constructed arguments. The Global times article says that David Shambaugh is well a known China researcher in America but his use of “roller coaster” logic (过山般的逻辑) will make people disappointed in his conclusion. He is no longer a good scholar on China but instead heavily swayed by politics using catchy headlines, much like Gordon Chang, to attract the attention of the public. (他对中国的研究缺少超越性的定力,他最终没能跳出西方价值观或政治规律对其研究的干扰,他变得像章家敦之流一样庸俗,靠给中国“占卜”来博西方舆论的眼球) Attacking the credibility of someone is not a valid way to retort. If David Shambaugh and Roderick MacFarquhar are incorrect, why has there been no convincing arguments opposing their statements?

So we have two prominent scholars talking about similar symptoms of the current day Chinese Communist Party and China can’t logically reply except by attacking the author’s credibility or committing logical fallacies.

To clarify a little, another academic in 2012 also talked about the shelf life of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Minxin Pei is also in partial agreement with Shambaugh. In 2012, at the Aspen Institute, he predicted that China will become democratic, the CPC will collapse, in ‘no more than 15 years, but no less than ten years.’ His statement comes around the 41-minute mark. He also released an article in 2012 stating the same. He makes another poignant point that one party states rarely last beyond their seventh decade in power. The Communist party is at the 65-year mark.

I don’t know when it will happen, but nothing lasts forever. David Shambaugh, Minxin Pei and Roderick MacFarquhar (and other unnamed academics) are all correct in highlighting the deficiencies in China currently. But the truth is China’s impending collapse could have been predicted in 1949 which is the date of establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Communism does not work. Russia, Somalia, Romania, Mongolia, and many others are all examples of Communist states that have fallen. ChinaCuba, LaosVietnam and North Korea are present day Communist states, but they represent a minority.

Arguments that point out China’s coming collapse are unnecessary. Even if the current political temperature in China is indicative of a coming unravelling, like Shambaugh predicts, or China will democratize in 15 years – it will still be China. We need to change the paradigm to think about China as evolving, not collapsing. Chinese people will always exist and the culture will live on whether China is Communist or not. We need to manage the transition peacefully.


Daniel Connor

Daniel Connor is an associate editor at the Journal of Diplomacy. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Asian Studies and a master’s degree in Diplomacy and International Relations.

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