Among those wishing for the end of the ChiComs, no one can rival Gordon Chang. Here is how he ends his Forbes article on the recent democracy movement in the Arab World:
Twice in their past—in 1911 and 1949—China’s people opted for radical political change. After the unexpected events in Tunisia and Egypt—and after more than sixty years of Communist Party misrule at home—we could see the third Chinese revolution this year.
And, if not this year - next. And, if not next, then the year after that. ...
Chinese history is cyclical – stability, chaos, stability, chaos. China had the good fortune to time her current 35-year streak of peace and stability with a worldwide decrease in the costs of communication and transportation. In the latter decades of the 20th Century, it suddenly became profitable to set up factories in the Western Pacific Rim, and hire low-wage workers to make junk that can be shipped economically to North America and Europe. Thus, this period of stability has also brought China some prosperity (at least for the top third), and many think it is on this foundation that the 21st Century’s superpower will be built.
While it is true China has a huge amount of manpower to draw upon, her demographics give two reasons for alarm. First, China had a baby boom in the 1950s and 60s. That generation will be retiring over the next two decades, causing many burdens for the remaining workers who will be left to support their parents and grandparents. This is because China’s One Child Policy, instituted in the late-1970s, has been so successful. Pretty soon, China will consist of two retirees with one child, and one grandchild. Japan and South Korea are going through the same process, but China’s per capita income is far behind her wealthy neighbors. China is growing old before she is rich enough to support her aged dependents.
The second demographic issue is also a side-effect of the One Child Policy – Chinese society’s preference for males has produced a skewed sex ratio among the younger generations. There are not enough brides to go around, and while the middle class might court poorer neighbors (Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.), the vast underclass won’t have that outlet. Unlike its aging population, this demographic issue has the potential to destabilize, as unmarried men labor to support their retired parents rather than a family of their own.
China won't be a superpower any time soon, but what about Chang's point? Has modern China outgrown its stability-chaos cycle? It’s doubtful. Are there other flashpoints that can cause an implosion? Many. A trip to the bookstore will reveal volumes predicting the coming collapse, with a variety of explanations (demographics, corruption, income inequality, one-party rule, etc.). Will a period of chaos come this year? Who knows? We've all heard the stories of Chinese officials maintaining foreign passports and offshore accounts. They fear something. I just wouldn't presume to know exactly when it is coming. China has profound structural defects beyond mere demographics, but the collapse and chaos could be decades away.