As a result, we will witness either a crash or, more probably, a Japanese-style multi-decade decline. Either way, economic troubles are occurring just as Chinese society is becoming extremely restless. It is not only that protests have spiked upwards -- there were 280,000 "mass incidents" last year according to one count -- but that they are also increasingly violent as the recent wave of uprisings, insurrections, rampages and bombings suggest. The Communist Party, unable to mediate social discontent, has chosen to step-up repression to levels not seen in two decades. The authorities have, for instance, blanketed the country's cities and villages with police and armed troops and stepped up monitoring of virtually all forms of communication and the media. It's no wonder that, in online surveys, "control" and "restrict" were voted the country's most popular words for 2011.
That tough approach has kept the regime secure up to now, but the stability it creates can only be short-term in China's increasingly modernized society, where most people appear to believe a one-party state is no longer appropriate. The regime has clearly lost the battle of ideas.
Today, social change in China is accelerating. The problem for the country's ruling party is that, although Chinese people generally do not have revolutionary intentions, their acts of social disruption can have revolutionary implications because they are occurring at an extraordinarily sensitive time. In short, China is much too dynamic and volatile for the Communist Party's leaders to hang on. In some location next year, whether a small village or great city, an incident will get out of control and spread fast. Because people across the country share the same thoughts, we should not be surprised they will act in the same way. We have already seen the Chinese people act in unison: In June 1989, well before the advent of social media, there were protests in roughly 370 cities across China, without national ringleaders.
This phenomenon, which has swept North Africa and the Middle East this year, tells us that the nature of political change around the world is itself changing, destabilizing even the most secure-looking authoritarian governments. China is by no means immune to this wave of popular uprising, as Beijing's overreaction to the so-called "Jasmine" protests this spring indicates. The Communist Party, once the beneficiary of global trends, is now the victim of them.
So will China collapse? Weak governments can remain in place a long time. Political scientists, who like to bring order to the inexplicable, say that a host of factors are required for regime collapse and that China is missing the two most important of them: a divided government and a strong opposition.
At a time when crucial challenges mount, the Communist Party is beginning a multi-year political transition and therefore ill-prepared for the problems it faces. There are already visible splits among Party elites, and the leadership's sluggish response in recent months -- in marked contrast to its lightning-fast reaction in 2008 to economic troubles abroad -- indicates that the decision-making process in Beijing is deteriorating. So check the box on divided government.
And as for the existence of an opposition, the Soviet Union fell without much of one. In our substantially more volatile age, the Chinese government could dissolve like the autocracies in Tunisia and Egypt. As evident in this month's "open revolt" in the village of Wukan in Guangdong province, people can organize themselves quickly -- as they have so many times since the end of the 1980s. In any event, a well-oiled machine is no longer needed to bring down a regime in this age of leaderless revolution.
Not long ago, everything was going well for the mandarins in Beijing. Now, nothing is. So, yes, my prediction was wrong. Instead of 2011, the mighty Communist Party of China will fall in 2012. Bet on it.