The Chinese Dissident: An Understated Crack

Nearly three weeks have passed since The Wall Street Journal published David Shambaugh’s “The Coming Chinese Crackup.” Contemporary China scholars have almost uniformly applauded Shambaugh’s analysis and welcomed his controversial thesis of the Chinese Communist Party’s imminent fall.  Citing five “cracks,” including a troubled economy, uncontrollable corruption, regime loyalists who lack vigor, Xi’s crackdown campaign that affirms “anxiety and insecurity” within the central leadership, and economic elites who have increasingly fled China and brought their assets with them, Shambaugh’s case for the pending dissolution of communist rule in China is compelling.

For human rights activists, Shambaugh’s prediction is welcoming news. According to Shambaugh, China will undergo political reform regardless of the Party’s will. One reservation with Shambugh’s analysis, however, is the lack of agency he affords the Chinese dissident. Most scholars believe that change can only come to China organically; it cannot be projected on China from abroad. Accordingly, the spirit and courage of the Chinese dissident is paramount to change in China. This is not to say that some cataclysmic event initiated by Chinese dissidents, like the 1989 Tiananmen Movement, is to come and will fundamentally change China. Although that is a distinct possibility, change may also come to China slowly through the determined work of human rights activists and dissidents who courageously risk imprisonment to satisfy their convictions everyday.

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Laogai , the abbreviation for Láodòng Gǎizào (勞動改造/劳动改造), which means "reform through labor," is a slogan of the Chinese criminal justice system and has been used to refer to the use of prison labor and prison farms in the People's Republic of China (PRC). It is estimated that in the last fifty...