Chinese CPThere is a fascinating two-page article in the Life and Arts section of today’s Financial Times, entitled ‘Is the party over?’, about China and the possible end of one-party rule. The article refers to Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 The End of History and the Last Man and his central argument that western-style liberal democracy represents the final form of human government, a natural end-product of gradual liberalisation and a steady rise in prosperity and the growth of middle classes. What is fascinating about the article is that it refers to a number of contemporary Chinese thinkers in China. The question of whether single-party rule might continue and, if so, under what circumstances, is apparently being addressed by that great amorphous, enigmatic party itself. Having made two extended trips to China in 1994 and 2006 I have, in my own modest way, witnessed the extraordinary economic and social transformation of the country. It is not just the relative disappearance of uniforms on the streets, or towns transformed into huge cities, or the massive construction projects, the availability of delicious food in good restaurants in provincial cities (a sure indicator of the rise of the middle classes), the car-clogged streets where once there were only bicycles,  and so on; no, China has also undeniably become more open as a society. In 1994 our ‘interpreter’ followed us everywhere, disliked it when we tried to wander around on our own and chased away people when they tried to talk to us. In 2006 our interpreters told us openly and critically about their lives: for example, the lady whose father had deliberately ignored the one-child policy and paid for it in hefty taxes with various pieces of furniture, including the bridal suite. Such a conversation and admission would have been simply unthinkable in 1994. The rise of spoken English (again, a function of the rise of those middle classes) is doubtless one reason why such conversations are now possible, particularly among the young. But the conversation that sticks most in my mind was with a friendly and earnest young man in Huangchang. He wanted to know all about democracy. I worked through the traditional conditions, including the existence of more than one political party. ‘But we have more than one party!’ he exclaimed. ‘Not really,’ I replied. ‘We do!’ he insisted. ‘We have the Democratic League, the Democratic National Construction Association, the Peasants and Workers’ Democratic Party, the Jiusan Society, the Zhi Gong Party… We even have a Green Party!’ ‘But what,’ I asked, ‘about the Communist Party?’ ‘Ah,’ he replied, without missing a beat, ‘but that’s different; that’s the government.’