I gather that there is a countervailing trend, in the form of reformers in the government. China's version of "communism" is pretty far removed from anything visualized by the early social theorists, and it was plagued by a lot of outright insanity for decades, but it always had collectivism at its core. Mao was one of the great mass-murderers of history, but he wasn't corrupt, merely deranged.
I wouldn't call it a benevolent dictatorship, but I was put in mind of it by your mention of the unelected senators. They still had to campaign; it's just that they ended up stumping on behalf of the legislators-cum-electors. The most prominent example was the Lincoln-Douglas debates: they were running for the Senate but really trying to get legislators to vote for their party. It meant that national issues often trumped local issues, and the state legislature suffered for it.
My point there is that democracy, while important, isn't a cure-all. It's inherently adversarial, a conflict which has notably ground today's national legislature to a standstill. Even popularly-supported reforms get no traction, much less anything with even a whiff of controversy. And it's too inflexible to stop the largest discretionary component of our budget from pumping many billions to the military-industrial complex: I don't buy the theory that they're manufacturing wars for it, but even without that kind of explicit corruption it's still not as responsive as you'd like to imagine a directly-elected legislature should be.
I'm not an expert in China's structure, but I wouldn't count them out just because they're unfamiliar. Certainly the system is ripe for corruption, and they do need to fix it, but they have managed to reform themselves already even under one-party control. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here. There's much to do.