Why's it called the Chinese Communist Party?

February 11, 2010 | Posted by Chris

The name of the ruling party of China is an anachronism, because the Chinese Communist Party is now in the business of creating a new brand of capitalism, not promoting communism.

However, the name sticks because of reasons fairly unique to Chinese culture. For example, in Chinese culture, the rulers are given the right to rule because "heaven" (an undefined celestial order) has approved it. It's called the Mandate of Heaven (tiānmìng or 天命), and is not as dogmatic as it may sound: it simply means that a party has won the right to rule, and since things are going well, heaven must approve of it, so until someone else can demonstrate that things are going badly, the ruling party continues to have the right to rule.

The Chinese Communist Party is generally regarded to have received the Mandate of Heaven from the ruling Nationalists in the 1930s after the success of the Long March and the reunification of the country in the decade afterward. (The Long March, chángzhēng or 长征 in Chinese, saw the communists escape from the clutches of the Nationalist army by traveling 8,000 miles over a period of a year through some of China's most treacherous terrain.)

Furthermore, under the banner of the "Chinese Communist Party" the leaders of China have engineered massive, rapid economic growth the likes of which the world has never before seen. (This is of course open to debate, but lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in 30 years is unprecedented no matter how you look at it.)

So, to renege on the name "Chinese Communist Party," the party's leaders would be throwing away the rights to those accomplishments and the popular goodwill they have engendered. To say the least, it's tough to find greater justification for the Mandate of Heaven than national reunification and China's rapid economic development, and because they have enough on their plates already, seeking that justification is not a priority for Chinese leaders. After all, it's largely Americans and Europeans that take issue with the name of the party; Chinese people don't really think about it.

As Chinese society develops, and the economies of Taiwan, Hong Kong and the mainland experience greater convergence of activity and standards, political rule in China perhaps will be sufficiently removed from the feats of yesteryear to justify the turning of a new page in their history.

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