By Anne Teoh for the Saker Blog
China, China : Part III
In pursuit of President Xi Jinping’s, “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.”
Modern Chinese history did not evolve in isolation; there were influences from countries like Soviet Russia (up to a point when Soviet technical aid with the Wuhan Bridge construction left with the blueprints), Eastern Europe and the US. However, following an eclectic reading of China’s modern leaders and major historic events as a critical and detached observer, I am inclined to believe it was largely due to
the ‘industry and self-sufficiency inculcated through centuries of Confucian culture and the meritocratic state mechanism ( from the imperial examinations) that are paramount in securing the vetted quality needed of its leaders to empower China with such an incredulous and phenomenal transformation in over thirty years. This is the inner core values of Chinese civilization that remain intact, vigorous and flexible through dynastic rules, foreign invasions, revolutions, counter –revolutions and globalization.
Recently, at the 19the CCP Congress President Xi Jinping proposed the deletion of ‘limited term’ to be applied to China’s five yearly presidency tenure. He had majority support from party members and succeeded in securing extended, but as yet unspecified, tenure for his position as Head of State. Immediately, some western media wasted no time to daub Xi as ‘dictator’ or autocrat, accusing him of seeking to dominate the world; a groundless suspicion of their own making as usual. Some China hands, more sympathetic to China, compared Xi with Lee Kuan Yew and Angela Merkel, both highly successful and with very long tenures as PM.
However, none has given Xi the credit he deserves. Xi is to be greatly applauded for his Zen-like activation of the motion. He did it at the precise moment, at the right time in the right place; a perfect configuration: but with so much demonizing around, somehow, the world missed out a well-deserved eulogy for Xi’s handling of the 19th Congress. However, if we connect Xi’s ‘ Socialism with Chinese characteristics,’ to the Chinese dream Xi had often revived since 2012 and of which The China Daily alluded to as the “integrative and transformative vision for China; an overarching unifying principle for the Chinese people,” we’re closer to understanding what is meant when Xi talked about “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Deng Xiao Ping first coined the phrase when he famously introduced his idea of a mixed economy which took into account that capitalism = a market economy; but modern China, founded by the CCP in Deng Xiao Ping’s time, also has a ‘Planned’ (5 year plan) economy.’ Hence ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics,’ is an economic model of the modernization of China using a mixed ‘planned’ and ‘market’ economy. Though this distinctive phrase was written in the constitution in 1992 at the 14 Congress, it is widely recognized to be in line with Mao’s advocacy to “adhere to Marxism and to integrate it with Chinese realities.” To understand what this socialism means, it’s necessary to follow the course of modern Chinese history from Mao to Xi Jinping. What is ‘socialism’ in the Chinese perspective?
According to Chinese friends in the 80s, China had a golden age, from 1949 – 56 when the Chinese people were united and almost achieved ‘pure’ communism. There was full equality, jobs for life, aka the ‘iron rice bowl,’ and communal living. It did not then matter whether someone was a scientist, professor, artist or cleaner. They all had equal status and a community with a shared destiny. It peaked with Mao’s introduction of democratic reform using the late Zhou Confucian advocacy, ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom and a Thousand Schools of Thought Contend,’ a liberalizing movement whereby intellectuals were encouraged to make constructive criticisms of the bureaucracy. But Mao’s effort at democratic reforms turned into a hotbed for radical dissent on The Democracy Wall. In retrospect, it was tantamount to opening up Pandora’s box and cans of worms; human nature being the stuff of maximum, and usually, subjective variables – all of which were understandable in that time of radical revolution. There were even posters calling for the CCP to be brought down at which point the curtain came down on freedom of speech. The long suffering and self-sacrificing veterans, like Mao whose wives and children were executed, those whose families and friends were tortured and executed and all those on the physically defying, grueling Long March would not kowtow to the upstarts with verbiage but no substance. Socialism in China was forged with the ubiquity of ’zhi koo’ meaning ‘eat bitter’ and is the lingua franca for revolution and progressive reforms’ much akin to changing base metals to gold in alchemy; the gold being purity rather than wealth.
Nonetheless, this period provides a vignette of modern political awareness in Maoist era, which was saturated with political metaphors till eventually, the counter-revolutionaries were defeated by the anti-rightist campaign and Mao’s Thought, “ On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People.” The ‘socialist’ elements in this period are facts – full employment, full equality and a sharing culture.
There are also the implied facts – that Mao was a Daoist and that he studied science and Marxism explained a lot about Mao’s Thought on managing contradictions and how the CCP was adept at experimentations, making changes and initiating new movements. Mao’s thought is the study of contradiction as a unifying law, which is fundamentally a Daoist concept with extended Marxist dialectics. It’s possible that Mao applied the sciences, perhaps psychology and the social sciences into his Thought. From what had emerged after his study of the contradiction among the people, post Democracy Wall, Mao proceeded to turn the possible emerging rupture of discontent into two units of collectivization – in agriculture and industry– distinctly grouping the masses as useful forces of production rather than allow the malcontent to develop into anarchy. Instead, Mao embarked on a bold economic project, The Great Leap Forward. It’s known to many, excuse the anecdote, but according to some people close to him, Mao did classify some aspects of art like music, into useful or useless art. In conjunction with Marxist dialectics, Mao’s use of contradictions, and the sciences, verifies the consistency of his political commitment to improve society and the lives of every person.
When people ask and say, “What’s Chinese socialism? It’s not what Marx, Trotsky or Lenin see it,” as someone complained. To grasp socialism in the Chinese context, we need to look at the main events in Mao’s time. Even in the early days, we find many striking examples of how Mao and the CCP leaders had fully integrated rationale and practice to inclusively effect the masses and the future of China. At his juncture, one has to remember how, before the rise of Mao and communism, China was driven to the edge – on its knees, divided, bankrupt and starving, facing the abyss and a blank future while fending off dispossessions, invasions and civil war. It’s not comparable with the kind of socialism largely about workers’ rights, social welfare, housing, healthcare and pensions, like what is given in the well developed rich countries like the UK and the EU. I believe this was what Mao meant when he advocated paying attention to, “ adherence to Marxism with integration to Chinese realities.”
Briefly, in his time Mao provided free healthcare by mobilizing Barefoot Doctors to the rural areas and most people’s daily needs such as housing, utilities and food were subsidized. He also set up arbitration counselors to help people solve problems and discussion groups to engage in ironing out problems and contradictions in families and communes. To me, Mao had almost the ultimate ‘socialist’ socialism in place between 1949-56; yet, Mao referred to his contribution as ‘initial or transition to socialism.’ (science.jrank.org) In his domestic policy, Mao set out three main tasks – 1. national unity 2. Social and economic change 3. Freedom from foreign interferences, although I believe China had been sending construction workers to aid Africa in the building of roads and infrastructures from the 60s during Mao’s time.
I’m inclined to think there are more to be discovered and connected between the golden age period, The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution but they are beyond the scope of this article. Beginning from the early days of Soviet influence Mao had made a decisive change by switching from Soviet instructed industrial base to garner the support of the peasants. If we follow that line of charting the course taken by China’s great leaders – Mao, Deng and Xi, we find that they share an inherent understanding of what the people wanted and quickly adjusted or made changes to meet those needs. The MDX trio had a powerful vision mission for China and all its people but most of all, they’re geniuses with resolute conviction of their leadership and where they should lead China, applying their individual know-how to maximize the potential and materialize reforms and projects to meet the people’s needs and to make China great again. No doubt the thousands of years of history, bureaucracy and civilization are all part of the ‘Chinese characteristics.’
Modern Chinese history is wrapped within the context of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ from the revolutionary stage to the global stage. Mao, Deng and Xi are the three main proponents and each played a major and stupendous life-changing role in the modern history of China. We find Mao, a genius strategist when China needed a superman to take it out of hell; Deng, a genius economist when the Chinese were disgruntled about being poor after realizing how rich and comfortable America and the west were. Noted, they were aware of imperialism and the acquisition of (others’) wealth but equally, they (the Chinese) have industry, meritocracy and a tradition with thousands of years in commerce; in this context, Deng’s planned + market economy ensures there’s state security for private enterprises and those left out. Currently, Xi is the ultimate globalist with the revival of the Silk Road, AIIB, BRI, Petroyuan and a host of other major international projects; most of all, they’re all inclusive with a win-win policy; this bringing out explicitly, the Chinese characteristics as well. Maybe it’s Chinese dream in a community with ‘shared destiny’ and everyone can make it come true.
Chinese socialism is rooted in the way the government deals with society, politics, economics and culture. From a historic perspective, I think modern China perceive socialism as the anti-thesis of feudalism as evident in the cutting off of the queques, wearing western clothes and aiming for the benevolent welfare state. Politically, China is a public ownership country represented by the CCP, the party that brought about modern China. Its members are elected from grassroots level to the presidency; so yes, it is a democratic system. Anyone can join the communist party but to be elected into the committee, they have to work their way up so they have to be vetted and elected all the way. If there’s a guideline, it surely is, “For the people, by the people and from the people.” That cohesion and coherence surely is a very sound system of social structuring as well as selecting and electing the right leadership for the government.
Culture-wise, China is a secular country that is multi-cultural with a tolerance for multi-faith. Within the context of modern Chinese history, the value system at the core lies in the improvement of the people’s livelihood, free education for all with minimal fees at High school level, ruling by the decree of law backed by a strong military and seeking co-operation to advance peace in the world..
Xi’s Chinese Dream can be achieved with a “Two stage Plan, ” –
- building a modern socialist society – by 2020
- being a strong, prosperous, democratic , harmonious and beautiful country – by 2050.
Xi acknowledged the current contradiction where the inequality between the billionaires and the rural poor need to be seriously tackled and where respect and adherence to the law must be practiced. On democracy, I believe the laws will be more and more relaxed. As it is today, Chinese have the freedom to move about within China and do what they want without harming others. Although the social welfare system is not comparably high in monetary value to that of the west, China does have unemployment and sickness benefits, reduced healthcare for the poor, subsidized or free housing, subsidized transportation, utilities and rents, disability benefits and pensions. Xi had promised and is using ‘precision targeting’ to uplift the rest of China 300 million rural poor who live below the poverty line. Not least, I would consider ‘climate change’ as part of socialism for it affects people’s health and the environment.
Xi’s socialism with Chinese characteristics is transparent, and from what I’ve seen on You tube about the ‘Left Behind’ children and their grandparents, everyone helps in building a modern socialist society though I have no doubt there will be reforms to improve the children’s and grandparents lives in the ‘precision targetting’ to alleviate rural poverty. There is an analogy with Jesus on the cross to the Chinese concept of ‘zhi koo.’ Suffering human pains together is a spiritually bonding and purifying experience that can unite humanity but as humans seek happiness, there’s a contradiction. Does the answer lie in building a modern socialist country?