Different from liberal democracies, China’s national security focuses primarily on maintaining the stability of the socialist regime and the one-party rule. To quote the current National Security Law of the People's Republic of China, “this Law is developed in accordance with the Constitution” with the tasks of safeguarding “the leadership of the Communist Party of China […] the socialist system with Chinese characteristics”, as well as “the people's democratic dictatorship”.
In this regard, the armed national defense forces under and within such a party-state system are aiming at not only the external but also the internal targets. The spirit of China’s national security law reads interestingly different from the National Security Act of 1947 and other federal military and national security law of the United States. Rather, it reads coincidentally identical with the original version of Taiwan’s National Security Act, which contains an article prohibiting people’s assembly and association from advocating communism – however, this restriction on expression was deleted in 2011.
To simplify the comparison here: for a typical country based on John Locke’s theory, there is a clear distinction between the dissolution of the political community (or interchangeably “union”, “politic society”, “common-wealth”, etc. in Locke’s terms) and the dissolution of the government. Thus, the National Security means protecting the whole community (rather than the government itself) against the inroad and conquest of foreign force “from without”, which should be regarded as the “almost only way whereby this union is dissolved”. Speaking of the dissolution of governments “from within”, usually caused by the misuse of the power which leads to the loss of political legitimacy and an actual anarchy, people’s disobedience and rebellion are just necessary response.
On the contrary, for a Stalinist-Maoist party-state system, the ruling party rules – it defines and organizes the people, motivates the society, and governs the state where the distinction between the community and the government (or between the social union and the rulers) appears also evident, but tends to be blurred when emphasizing the ultimate legitimacy of the ruling power. The National Security thus means ensuring the continuing leading and governing status of the Party, given that the foremost social stability is the consolidation of the one party’s rule against both international and domestic – again, both external and internal – competition or threat. In order to achieve certain regulatory ends, the party mobilize some of the people against others.
Background and Cases of People’s War for the National Security in the “New Era”
Now the general, defining feature of China’s national security as stability maintenance becomes accessible: the definition and creation, motivation and mobilization of the people leads to public opinion and public gaze against dissenters and other individual persons considered as the disobedient and therefore the non-people. This is the People’s War (renmin zhanzheng) during the peacetime.
There exists a circular argument: the Party is legitimate because it represents the people; and while the Party defines itself as representing the people and their true interests, the people are obliged to follow the Party – the non-followers are accordingly defined as class enemies (jieji diren), or tagged with other stigmas. In this way the Party divides the people into two camps, and further motivates and unites the “people” (renmin) camp against the “enemy” (diren) camp. Referring to the original meaning of “the people”, the party-mobilized People’s War is a war of some people against other people. This is what can be called People’s War against People.
This instrumental populism explains the essential connection between People’s War and the National Security. Comparatively, in a liberal democracy, “people’s war” may imply that the people unite with each other into public opinion and public gaze against the ruling power; in China, it is the ruling power that creates and enlists the followers (the narrowly defined “people”, the renmin) into a war of public opinion and impact upon the opponents. Years ago, I once challenged a street-level Chinese civil servant in an interview with such a question: “Who exactly are you responsible for, the government or the people?” “The government is people’s government. Being responsible for the government is naturally being responsible for the people!” That was not yet the “New Era”.
The witnesses of the New Era would find things becoming even more straightforward, when three of the People’s War cases for the National Security as stability maintenance include: the anti-terrorism and anti-extremism movement in sensitive minority areas, the special criminal syndicate combat in regular well-ordered regions, and a people’s war against the US launched during the trade war. In Giovanni Sartori’s words, People’s War can also be interpreted as a “war of words” – conquering the good words while casting the bad words into the enemy's camp.
China’s National Security Law grabs plenty of good words, such as “the fundamental interest of the people”, “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, the improvement of “the socialist rule of law”, “the mechanism for checks and oversight of power”, the protection of “the people's rights as the master of the country”, etc. Besides, a recent government-published white paper titled “Progress in Human Rights over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China” occupies another plateau of good words.
Among these “conquered” phrases, “people’s war” itself is the most stunning concept with a noble origin in the Chinese communist revolutionary history. And regarding the war of words or discourse, there are significant number of mass mobilizations throughout social networks.
The Maoist Legacy: a Very Brief Conceptual History of “the People”
With the previous sections presenting the theoretical background and the practice of this Stalinist-Maoist nation, a brief description about who are conceptually “the people” may help outsiders further comprehend the Chinese people’s war against non-following people for the integrated security and stability.
In the revolutionary dictionary of modern and contemporary Chinese language, precisely, “people” (renmin) is a reinvented, highly exclusive concept: the Chinese term “renmin” has an even narrower meaning than the term “citizen” (gongmin), although the meaning of gongmin has also been considerably reduced and weakened. According to the textbook definition within China’s educational system, a gongmin is one who possesses the nationality of a nation (rather than one active in political participation); among all the Chinese citizens (gongmin), a member belonging to the Chinese people (renmin) must be one who follows and obeys the Party (rather than literally every human being within the community).
Before the People’s War strategy was determined, “mass(es)” was the dominant term. In an influential article back in 1926, Mao Zedong started with two famous questions, “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?”, and emphasized the way out of failure toward success is to “unite with real friends in order to attack real enemies”. However, the underlying statement of equal importance should be the answer to a third question: speaking of “our”, who are the “we”? Mao was obviously referring to the revolutionary communist party – furthermore, as he directly specified, “a revolutionary party is the guide of the masses”.
Since then, the history of Chinese revolution along with the development of the Party has been unfolding as continuous redefinitions of “friends”, “enemies”, as well as “the people”. In other words, the leading role in this history is what “we the people” deserve, but factually what “we” the party takes.
During the decades of revolutions and the nation-building, as different enemies are identified based on different contexts, the China model of People’s War gradually gains its routine ready for dispatch. In his 1938 article On Protracted War and the 1949 article On the People's Democratic Dictatorship, Mao officially announced and reinforced the strategy of people’s war – a war by the people, for both the people and the party, and against the enemies of alleged both. In Mao’s appealing text, the most famous metaphor describes the people’s war as a vast sea – in his own words, “The mobilization of the common people throughout the country will create a vast sea in which to drown the enemy”.
Until 1963, People’s War had been developed into a new phase as “motivating the masses against the masses” (fadong qunzhong dou qunzhong), which was summarized as “Fengqiao experience” and has also been learnt and implement in the New Era.
A Further Question: How about the Military Professionals in National Defense?
To sum up, since China’s national security can be characterized by the ruling power’s stability maintenance with the support of people’s war, it is no wonder that the domestic and foreign critics always concern themselves with how China’s expenses of maintaining stability surpass the national defense expenditure.
But there still remains one last question: how about the conventional national defense and its military professionals? What do they do to safeguard the national security? A piece of report earlier this year covering the People's Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) strategy correctly mentions the PLA “Political Work” Regulation (zhenggong tiaoli), which highlights the training of the Army’s abilities to win “Three Warfares” – media (or public opinion) warfare (yulun zhan), psychological warfare (xinli zhan) and legal warfare (falv zhan). To win means to enhance the comparative advantage of the Army and its soldiers, and meanwhile to weaken opponents’ competitiveness and threat.
Notably, this training strategy of the PLA for national security can be traced back to its initial version in the year 2003, with its latest revision in 2010 – both long before the New Era. In effect, it is the most efficient and specific variety, probably the future, of People’s War.
From another perspective, the previous report depicts only part of the fact. Another part is: various veterans enter the group of civil servants, continuing their irreplaceable well-trained and experienced role on another national security battlefield.
The views, opinions, and thoughts expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of ISPI