Thursday, June 04, 2015

When the Mandate of Heaven is in Doubt

China is no stranger to protests against local government abuses. Sometimes I wonder if a particular cause will be the spark that dangerously erodes government legitimacy. Could the deaths of hundreds--including many elderly--on that sunk ferry be such an event?

The Chinese leadership sure isn't treating this like an ordinary accident:

China has pledged that there would be "no cover-up" of an investigation into the sinking of a cruise ship on the Yangtze River, which has left 75 people dead and over 370 missing, as angry families gathered near the rescue site to demand answers.

President Xi Jinping convened a special meeting of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power in the country, on Thursday to discuss the disaster, state news agency Xinhua said.

These aren't just any victims:

Rescuers searched on Tuesday for more than 400 people, many of them elderly Chinese tourists, missing after a cruise boat was hit by a freak tornado and capsized on the Yangtze River in what may become China's worst shipping disaster in nearly 70 years.

The loss of many elderly people seems likely to be a big deal in China. Will the government be blamed? And what leads from that? Will "mass incidents" grow from a localized rural problem to a national rejection of the Communist Party's authority?

I know, I have wondered about a lot of things triggering such a reaction, from the Arab Spring to the 2008 earthquake to SARS. Yet the Communist Party remains in control.

All I'll say in my defense is that the Chinese rulers apparently worry about this source of trouble, too.

Sometimes small things lead to big things. But sometimes not.

UPDATE: Oh, and it seemed appropriate to note this issue today, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

UPDATE: Or there might be the Mandate of Economics:

As Robert Shiller, a professor of economics at Yale and the author of “Irrational Exuberance,” puts it, during a bubble “news of price increases spurs investor enthusiasm, which spreads by psychological contagion from person to person,” drawing in more and more investors, who buy simply because they believe that others will buy, at even higher prices, tomorrow.

That sounds a lot like China today. The market’s ascent has been propelled by a flood of new money, much of it from inexperienced investors.

Of course, I've been expecting China's boom run to end and potentially threaten the legitimacy of China's rulers. And that hasn't happened, either.

UPDATE: Related:

Most Chinese already know their government is full of corrupt and inefficient officials but too many details of this mess could trigger another major uprising. It’s happened before, many times, in Chinese history. In the mid-19th century the Taiping uprising killed over 20 million. This little known (outside China) conflict was one of the four mega-wars (the Napoleonic Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, World Wars I and II) which together accounted for over 70 percent of the 250 million war dead since 1800.

The Chinese are hiding bad data. We don't know if that means economic problems with global implications are about to become apparent.