Comment on Victor Shih’s blog
On the other hand, China is much more urban than before, and the experience of other countries is that rural needs are often ignored because they do not have mobilizing power. The situation in 1989, was very interesting because the government was rather popular in rural areas and very unpopular in urban areas, and it was unable to mobilize its rural supporters in any useful way.
Also the fact that Chinese society is more highly stratified I think vastly *decreases* the likelihood of systemic challenges to the political system. There is not much in the way of social connection between urban dwellers and rural migrants which means that coordinated action is very difficult as these two groups may have sharply different and conflicting interests. If you do have a situation in which the PAP has to go in to a major city to put down a demonstration by rural migrants, then I suspect that the urban dwellers are much, much more likely to side with the police than with the migrants. I also think that the migrants know this which means that they aren’t going to push things too far.
The other major difference is that unlike 1989, there is no obvious ideology that you can use to unite the various groups. “Socialism” won’t work, and neither will “democracy.” The one ideology that might work is “nationalism” but that works in favor of the government rather than against it. This is a really big problem since in order to have a major challenge to the government, you need to find some alternative political and economic program, and so far at least, I haven’t heard any one suggest that the government do anything other than what it is already doing, or explain how overthrowing the government is going to create jobs rather than lose them.
We can also look through the list of possible triggers. There aren’t any popular leaders like Hu Yaobang that I can think of to rally around. Public cynicism around Chinese government officials actually works for the government. If they all are crooks, then none of them are worth fighting for.
Natural disasters and infectous disease have in the last few years *increased* the government’s popularity, and during a national emergency it is very difficult to say anything bad about the government without turning popular opinion against you.
Students in China today are very different than the one’s in 1989. For one thing, they are much more diverse and much more likely to be studying a field that requires social stability (like business or finance) than a field in which they can act as social conscience. My sense of the younger generation in China is that they are much, much more individualistic and career oriented than previous generations, and this makes political action difficult.
Of course, none of this matters if there is a sustained economic problem. If after a year or two it is obvious that the government is mishandling the situation, then everything changes, but at the very least, the government does have several months to deal with the problem.