In his 2001 work, The Coming Collapse of China, author Gordon Chang predicts that the People’s Republic of China will collapse, thus radically altering the future course of East Asia and the world. Chang’s prediction namely occurred at a time, when China was emerging as a superpower, a process that has arguably reached its realization in 2016, insofar as China is a dominant world actor in every respect, from economics to world diplomacy (as demonstrated in Syria).
With this in mind, Chang’s prediction after the fact appears almost comical. It appears to be a piece of wishful thinking from the Anglosphere, in particular from the United States, which after the Cold War remained the only superpower. Chang’s work, in this sense, speaks precisely to what advocates of U.S. world dominance and unipolarity of the global order wanted to hear: that any emerging threats to this unipolarity, such as the People’s Republic of China, were bound to fail. This is why, for example, Chang underscores that after the fall of the regime in Beijing, East Asia itself would be transformed into a space where a dominant actor such as China is no longer active, the power vacuum filled by a multiplicity of states that are more in line with the political ideology of liberal democracy and the dominance of the capitalist market. In other words, these would be states that would not be threats to the influence of the U.S. in the region and by extension the world, but instead would play the game according to a system whose rules are controlled and dominated by the United States and the West.
More specifically, Chang saw in 2001 that the collapse of the People’s Republic of China would be the result of its one-party communist system. The entire thrust of Chang’s argument is based on what he feels to be the inherent failings of the ruling party, from its essential corruption to its inevitable failure to continue China’s tremendous economic growth to civil disobedience and the disintegration of power which will result, in Chang’s view, from the party’s inability to provide adequate services and stability to its people. In this sense, Chang’s argument is essentially simple: he approaches the issue from the hypothesis that the party in control of China is too corrupt and too self-interested and ultimately too incompetent so as to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Much like previous communist countries, China will fall in the dustbin of history, and it appears that the end of the Cold War provides the paradigm from which Chang also examines and predicts the future of China.
However, in the fifteen years since Chang wrote this book, one can only see how incorrect he was in his analysis. Above all, it appears that Chang thought the end of the Cold War meant the victory of the West and of global capitalism. What he clearly omits is that the Communist Party survived the Cold War in contrast to other communist states. Chang’s question, in this sense, should have been: what did China do to survive this transition away from a bipolar world to a unipolar world where the United States is dominant? If he had approached the question from this perspective, he would have been able to account for how China’s ruling party has instead been flexible and strategically sound so as to survive this re-arrangement of the world order. The incompetence which Chang charges the authorities in China as possessing has been continuously proven wrong and the exact inverse has in fact occurred: the United States has been incompetent on levels of world politics as well as economy during this same period and has lost the unipolar world which it once dominated. In this sense, Chang’s suspicious hatred for the current Chinese government – of Chinese descent, he lives and works in the United States – has led him to a terribly flawed analysis.