When countries get richer, they also get freer – because it works both ways: more freedom leads to more wealth. That is the premise on which the western world was shaped, as claimed by Francis Fukuyama. However, China carved out its own path, created an alternative system.

Everything Under Control explains the system the Chinese Communist Party set up to keep the Chinese people under its control. It is based on extensive propaganda, repression, and the promise of economic growth. The system has been successful for a long time, but when one of these three elements fails, the future becomes challenging for the CCP. What happens when China is no longer fangbian, convenient, for the Chinese?

In this book, I am checking the cracks of the dictatorship. I traveled to Xinjiang several times between 2014 and 2023 to try to understand what is happening to the Uyghur people. The pain the CCP has caused over the years, comes to life when I speak with farmers in the Fujian hills who are looking for the daughters they had to give up under the one child policy.

I also spoke with people who wanted to shape life in their own way. A Tibetan monk set up a school for nomad children, deep in the Qinghai mountains, to ensure the Tibetan culture will live on. A pig farmer grew his business into a self-sustaining town and innovated the way pigs and chicken are raised. Once he got too influential, he was sent to prison. An activist wanted to take back control over the city of Shanghai during the Zero Covid campaign. His bold plans came months before the party congress where Xi Jinping was granted a third term. The man was also jailed.

Keeping the country under control is what matters most to the CCP. In November 2023 that control slipped away when Covid19 spread through the country. People moved into the streets at the end of November 2022. The spirit of that protest still lingers in Chinese society.

By early 2023, the economy is stagnating, and the Zero Covid campaign enlarged frustrations that were already there. Students aren’t getting the chances they were promised, the housing market where millions of Chinese put their savings in, is crashing, and consumer confidence is at a dangerously low level. The CCP’s ever tighter grip is now starting to hurt in the eastern parts of China as well. Xi Jinping can let the people breath, start real reforms, or he can squeeze even harder.

Alles onder controle (Everything Under Control) is at bookstores in The Netherlands and Belgium. More information is available at the website of Uitgeverij Balans. Media contacts are Els Ketting (The Netherlands) en Toon Van Mierlo (Belgium).