Summary: The fantasy of the One Why China is totalitarian.

Summary: The fantasy of the One Why China is totalitarian.


In November 2022 Professor Chloé Froissart and researcher Kevin Cadou wrote a 3500 word essay, “The fantasy of the One: Why China is totalitarian” (Le fantasme de l’Un: Pourquoi la Chine est totalitaire) for the French literary and current affairs journal Revue Espirit [No 491]. This is a review of this article only in the sense of examining closely. The justification is that there may be many people beyond Political Science who see the question as vitally important, while the essay and its references may seem obscure. The essay finishes with a limited answer to how Xi’s totalitarian regime can be “characterized”.

Summary “The fantasy of the One: Why China is totalitarian”.

Xi Jinping’s regime has centralized all power over Chinese society, apart from informal social networks. A new comprehensive parallel system of administration has been created. At the top Xi’s commissions dominate key areas of the central administration; at the bottom the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has local party groups to oversee village committees. All companies and social organizations must allow the creation of active party cells. Entrepreneurs are persecuted. Organizations that defend citizens’ rights have been closed. Security and secrecy has become a state obsession. Xi has created a cult of personality, and demands absolute loyalty. Within the CCP, limited internal democracy has been destroyed, and the Leninist concept of an elitist vanguard party with total control has been reestablished. Xi’s clique has become the dominant faction.

In 2021 China had more than half the world’s surveillance cameras. The state has access to all personal data,which it uses for political control. Draconian zero covid lockdowns are part of the regime’s security obsession. Chinese workers are no longer able to strike to raise pay and defend rights. Anti-corruption drives are used to target Party dissent.

The customs of the non-Han people in the diverse province of Xinjiang (especially the Uyghars) are treated as a threat to the regime. There is a high rate of internment, and surveillance is obsessive.

Xi constantly promotes his nationalistic thoughts on the rebirth of the great Chinese nation so that it will become the leading global superpower.

The regime cannot control everything. Economic growth requires businesses to have limited freedom. Local government is judged on economic performance and uses its limited freedom to give some protection to businesses. Consumers have some power to ensure worker’s rights by boycotts. Social networks express the resulting conflicts. These sources of limited freedom are declining.

The CCP has a social contract with the people, so people are in theory meant to question, and the regime is meant to respond. Paradoxically the centralisation of power by the regime is destroying this.

The concept of totalitarianism is seen as a rhetorical outmoded term. Academic opposition to the concept depends on preconceived ideas, or an overly narrow focus of what totalitarianism means (which when applied to China misinterprets the evolution of the regime).

Totalitarianism is narrowly seen as meaning a violent monolithic ideological police state that crushes all opposition. Claude Lefort’s idea of totalitarianism – as the fantasy of an absolute power beyond politics that ends all social conflict by creating a unified people (the fantasy of the One) – is more useful. There is limited effective opposition in China. Research has shown even Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia did not totally control their societies.

The conclusion is that China under Xi Jinping is totalitarian but not in the same way as Mao’s regime. The difference is the use of the technology of surveillance, analysis and direct control, rather than violence from mass movements. Under Xi violence is limited in area and duration, or hidden in internment camps. The implementation of totalitarianism changes over time.

Further Discussion.

The essay lists the ways in which Xi Jinping has decisively moved China back to totalitarianism. Another essay would be required to explore the Leninist-Neo Confusian ideology of Xi Jinping’s regime. The last regime to implement this ideology was the pseudo-fascist regime of Chiang Kai-shek in the 1930s. The economic and security power of Xi’s regime is vastly greater, as is the often repeated ambition to make China the primary global superpower. The combination of totalitarianism, fascism and global ambition is potentially dangerous. The implementation of this dangerous combination will also be very different from the mid twentieth century.


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