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China's middle class is turning restless

The Chinese never tire of telling anyone willing to listen that they have been around for 5,000 years. It's a gambit that has always thrown Westerners into confusion, ever since 1793 when Lord Macartney humiliatingly failed to establish trade relations with Beijing, despite Britain being the imperial superpower.

It's a game of one-upmanship the Chinese can hardly lose. The Mother of Parliaments is a babe in arms compared with the Chinese state. But while there is no reason to doubt that China, as a huge and comparatively homogeneous nation, will continue to bestride Asia, is its ruling Communist Party equally sure of survival?

China's self-confidence is the product of a political culture of extraordinary, shape-shifting flexibility: time and again it has emerged from traumatic periods of civil war with its sense of national self-intact, reincarnated in a fresh dynasty. Its Communist Party, on the other hand, has the crippling rigidity of communist...

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