਀㰀倀㸀圀栀攀渀 䌀栀椀渀攀猀攀 氀攀愀搀攀爀猀 氀漀漀欀 琀漀 琀栀攀 瀀愀猀琀 昀漀爀 挀氀甀攀猀 琀漀 琀栀攀 昀甀琀甀爀攀 琀栀攀礀 昀椀砀 漀渀 挀漀洀洀甀渀椀猀琀 䌀栀椀渀愀✀猀 昀漀爀洀攀爀 瀀愀琀爀漀渀Ⰰ 戀爀漀琀栀攀爀 愀渀搀 渀攀洀攀猀椀猀Ⰰ 琀栀攀 匀漀瘀椀攀琀 唀渀椀漀渀⸀㰀⼀倀㸀

In September 2009 the former president Jiang Zemin gathered China's leading Soviet historians for a tutorial at Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound. His first question, as relayed by a participant, cut straight to the chase:

਀㰀倀㸀䨀椀愀渀最㨀 圀栀礀 搀漀 礀漀甀 琀栀椀渀欀 匀漀瘀椀攀琀 刀甀猀猀椀愀 挀漀氀氀愀瀀猀攀搀㼀㰀⼀倀㸀

Historian Shen Zhihua: Why does the politburo think it collapsed?

਀㰀倀㸀䨀椀愀渀最㨀 圀攀 甀猀攀搀 琀漀 猀愀礀 椀琀 眀愀猀 戀攀挀愀甀猀攀 漀昀 䜀漀爀戀愀挀栀攀瘀⸀ 圀栀愀琀 搀漀 栀椀猀琀漀爀椀愀渀猀 琀栀椀渀欀㼀㰀⼀倀㸀

Shen: Yes, there are some historians who believe so, but they tend to be the ones who are more political than empirical. The Bolsheviks had been around for 93 years, Soviet Russia for 74 years. I don't think the problem was a single person or event. The question was whether socialism was feasible or not.

਀㰀倀㸀䨀椀愀渀最㨀 伀栀㼀 䤀猀 琀栀愀琀 爀椀最栀琀㼀 䌀漀渀琀椀渀甀攀⸀㰀⼀倀㸀

Jiang's tutors, who included four historians and a recent ambassador to Moscow, spent half a day detailing how the Soviet Union had missed every opportunity to reform, so that by the time Mikhail Gorbachev arrived it was already far too late.

਀㰀倀㸀䨀椀愀渀最 琀漀漀欀 挀漀瀀椀漀甀猀 渀漀琀攀猀 愀渀搀 氀愀琀攀爀 挀爀漀猀猀ⴀ挀栀攀挀欀攀搀 眀椀琀栀 栀椀猀琀漀爀椀愀渀猀 愀琀 琀栀攀 䌀栀椀渀攀猀攀 䄀挀愀搀攀洀礀 漀昀 匀漀挀椀愀氀 匀挀椀攀渀挀攀猀Ⰰ 琀栀攀渀 琀栀攀 瀀愀爀琀礀✀猀 䤀渀琀攀爀渀愀琀椀漀渀愀氀 䐀攀瀀愀爀琀洀攀渀琀Ⰰ 愀渀搀 琀栀攀渀 漀爀搀攀爀攀搀 愀 猀攀渀椀漀爀 漀昀昀椀挀椀愀氀 琀漀 椀洀瀀愀爀琀 琀栀攀 氀攀猀猀漀渀猀 琀漀 挀愀搀爀攀猀 漀昀 洀椀渀椀猀琀攀爀椀愀氀 爀愀渀欀⸀㰀⼀倀㸀

The intriguing thing about Jiang's history lessons is that China's leaders appear to have gone so far out of their way to ignore them since.

਀㰀倀㸀吀栀攀礀 栀愀瘀攀 爀攀瘀攀爀琀攀搀 琀漀 挀漀渀猀瀀椀爀愀琀漀爀椀愀氀 昀漀爀攀椀最渀 瀀漀氀椀挀礀㬀 搀攀挀氀愀爀攀搀 眀愀爀 漀渀 挀椀瘀椀氀 猀漀挀椀攀琀礀 愀渀搀Ⰰ 瀀攀爀栀愀瀀猀 洀漀猀琀 甀渀猀甀猀琀愀椀渀愀戀氀礀Ⰰ 瀀甀猀栀攀搀 戀愀挀欀 愀最愀椀渀猀琀 琀栀攀 洀愀爀欀攀琀 攀挀漀渀漀洀礀⸀ 䤀渀 猀栀漀爀琀Ⰰ 琀栀攀 䌀栀椀渀攀猀攀 䌀漀洀洀甀渀椀猀琀 倀愀爀琀礀 栀愀猀 戀攀攀渀 戀甀猀椀氀礀 爀攀搀椀猀挀漀瘀攀爀椀渀最 椀琀猀 匀漀瘀椀攀琀 䐀一䄀⸀㰀⼀倀㸀

After three decades of reform China seems far too open, too dynamic, to follow the death spiral of the Soviet Union. But if the party continues its backwards march, analysts will be following Jiang back to the Finland Station, where Lenin got off the train to take charge of the Soviet revolution.

਀㰀倀㸀吀栀攀 昀椀爀猀琀 昀攀眀 搀攀挀愀搀攀猀 漀昀 匀漀瘀椀攀琀 猀漀挀椀愀氀椀猀洀 愀渀搀 䌀栀椀渀攀猀攀 挀漀洀洀甀渀椀猀洀 攀渀琀愀椀氀攀搀 猀椀洀椀氀愀爀 瀀愀琀琀攀爀渀猀 漀昀 昀漀爀挀攀搀 椀渀搀甀猀琀爀椀愀氀椀猀愀琀椀漀渀Ⰰ 愀最爀椀挀甀氀琀甀爀愀氀 挀漀氀氀攀挀琀椀瘀椀猀愀琀椀漀渀 愀渀搀 昀愀洀椀渀攀Ⰰ 愀猀 戀漀琀栀 爀甀氀椀渀最 瀀愀爀琀椀攀猀 挀栀愀猀攀搀 琀栀攀 洀礀琀栀 漀昀 甀琀漀瀀椀愀渀 猀漀挀椀愀氀椀猀洀 琀栀愀琀 樀甀猀琀椀昀椀攀搀 琀栀攀椀爀 洀漀渀漀瀀漀氀椀攀猀 漀渀 瀀漀眀攀爀⸀ 吀栀攀 挀漀渀猀攀焀甀攀渀挀攀 眀愀猀 琀漀琀愀氀椀琀愀爀椀愀渀 琀攀爀爀漀爀⸀㰀⼀倀㸀

"Since the myth is only that, any leader acting on it would be compelled to a massive use of force and violence," wrote an author, identified only as "Z", in one of the most prescient and celebrated works of Sovietology of the time.

਀㰀倀㸀䠀椀猀 愀爀琀椀挀氀攀 椀渀 䐀攀挀攀洀戀攀爀 ㄀㤀㠀㤀Ⰰ ✀✀吀漀 琀栀攀 匀琀愀氀椀渀 䴀愀甀猀漀氀攀甀洀✀✀Ⰰ 搀攀猀挀爀椀戀攀猀 栀漀眀 琀栀攀 瀀漀猀琀ⴀ琀漀琀愀氀椀琀愀爀椀愀渀 猀琀愀琀攀 椀猀 氀甀洀瀀攀搀 眀椀琀栀 愀渀 椀洀瀀漀猀猀椀戀氀攀 氀攀最愀挀礀⸀㰀⼀倀㸀

"The Myth was now transformed into the Lie," he wrote, just before the Soviet edifice came down. "This Lie could be made to appear to be the truth, and the fraud concealed for a time, indeed for quite a long time, by a combination of terror and drumbeat indoctrination.

਀㰀倀㸀✀✀䈀甀琀 眀栀攀渀 琀栀攀 洀漀洀攀渀琀 挀愀洀攀Ⰰ 挀漀甀氀搀 琀栀攀 爀攀最椀洀攀 愀搀洀椀琀 琀漀 琀栀攀 琀爀甀琀栀 愀渀搀 愀琀 琀栀攀 猀愀洀攀 琀椀洀攀 瀀爀攀猀攀爀瘀攀 琀栀攀 爀攀猀甀氀琀猀 漀昀 琀栀攀 愀挀栀椀攀瘀攀洀攀渀琀㼀 吀栀椀猀 洀漀洀攀渀琀 栀愀猀 渀漀眀 愀爀爀椀瘀攀搀 愀渀搀 挀漀渀猀琀椀琀甀琀攀猀 漀渀攀 漀昀 琀栀攀 最爀攀愀琀 甀渀爀攀猀漀氀瘀攀搀 挀漀渀琀爀愀搀椀挀琀椀漀渀猀 漀昀 瀀攀爀攀猀琀爀漀椀欀愀 琀漀搀愀礀⸀ 吀栀攀 挀漀氀氀愀瀀猀攀 漀昀 琀栀攀 䰀椀攀 甀渀搀攀爀 最氀愀猀渀漀猀琀 椀猀 搀攀猀琀爀漀礀椀渀最 愀挀挀攀瀀琀愀渀挀攀 漀昀 琀栀攀 猀礀猀琀攀洀 椀琀猀攀氀昀Ⰰ 攀猀瀀攀挀椀愀氀氀礀 愀洀漀渀最 琀栀攀 礀漀甀渀最Ⰰ 樀甀猀琀 愀猀 䜀漀爀戀愀挀栀攀瘀 椀猀 琀爀礀椀渀最 琀漀 猀愀瘀攀 椀琀⸀∀㰀⼀倀㸀

The lesson Chinese historians have drawn from the collapse of the Soviet Union is that political reform must begin before a regime is forced into it. Chinese Politburo members, in contrast, appear to have concluded there is no way of controlling the process so they should not try.

਀㰀倀㸀✀✀娀✀✀Ⰰ 眀栀漀 氀愀琀攀爀 椀搀攀渀琀椀昀椀攀搀 栀椀洀猀攀氀昀 愀猀 琀栀攀 䌀愀氀椀昀漀爀渀椀愀渀 猀挀栀漀氀愀爀 䴀愀爀琀椀渀 䴀愀氀椀愀Ⰰ 戀攀氀椀攀瘀攀搀 琀栀愀琀 愀 䰀攀渀椀渀椀猀琀 猀琀愀琀攀Ⰰ 眀椀琀栀 椀琀猀 椀渀猀椀猀琀攀渀挀攀 漀渀 漀渀攀ⴀ瀀愀爀琀礀 爀甀氀攀Ⰰ 眀愀猀 猀琀爀甀挀琀甀爀愀氀氀礀 椀渀挀漀洀瀀愀琀椀戀氀攀 眀椀琀栀 洀漀瘀攀猀 琀漀眀愀爀搀猀 搀攀洀漀挀爀愀琀椀挀 爀攀昀漀爀洀⸀㰀⼀倀㸀

And all would agree with the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, who summed up the dictator's predicament 150 years earlier: "The most dangerous time for a bad government is when it starts to reform itself."