By David Pan, Telos
Populism has now arrived in China. As opposed to the 1989 protests driven by students as well as an intra-government political struggle, the current unrest, while including students, has been driven much more clearly by a broader mass of people who have grown frustrated with the bureaucratic overreach of the zero COVID policy. With the largest and most comprehensive system of bureaucratically organized surveillance, management, and domination of the populace in the world, China has certainly been ripe for such populist revolt. While the original theory of the new class was developed by Milovan Djilas in order to explain state socialism in the Soviet Union, the populist reaction to the new class has up to now been associated mainly with liberal democracies whose state bureaucracies are still relatively undeveloped when compared to the Chinese version. The Chinese state receded somewhat during the reform and opening up period, but the rule of Xi Jinping, the growth of the surveillance state, and especially the zero COVID policy have led to new extremes in the level of new class management of the population. Moreover, the lockdowns and their economic effects have highlighted the divide between the new class and the broader populace. As one protester shouted to the police, the police are state functionaries with stable incomes while most of the people are dependent on the flourishing of a market economy that has been throttled by the COVID lockdowns.