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  • Alan Wong and Viola Zhou

Is China socialist? A long (and better) answer

The short answer is, “not as much as it used to be.” China still claims to be a socialist country, but it has deviated from the Marxist path it set out on, by letting its society become richer — and more unequal.


In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech so long that when he was done and returned to his seat, his predecessor, Hu Jintao, gestured at his watch.

In the 3.5-hour-long report, delivered at a once-every-five-years gathering of the ruling Communist Party, few words were said as often as “socialism.”

But it wasn’t just any socialism.

Out of the 73 mentions of “socialism” in Xi’s report, 59 of them were really “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

And here’s the first thing you need to know: China certainly says it practices socialism, but what this means is up for debate.

Figuring out how China is run is important not just because it directly affects the lives of 1.4 billion Chinese citizens. It’s also important because China’s system of governance, whatever it’s called, could soon be coming to a country near you.

“The path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Xi said in his 2017 speech, “offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence; and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.”

Ground rules

First up: what exactly is socialism?

Like many other “isms,” socialism doesn’t have a single definition that’s universally accepted. But it essentially calls for a more equal redistribution of wealth and power.

Socialist policies can be implemented in both democratic and authoritarian countries. Its followers generally advocate more progressive taxes, a better social welfare system and a larger state role in the running of the economy. Or any other means that help better balance the rich and the poor, and create a more egalitarian society.

But in the case of China, socialism is not only about equality. It is supposed to take the country towards an ultimate goal – Communism.

Communism, according to German philosopher Karl Marx, is a society without class divisions… or any government. In that perfect world, everyone would be voluntarily working for the public, and at the same time, receiving whatever they needed from publicly owned institutions.

Between the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of full Communism, Marx said there would be a transitional period when the working class rules the bourgeoisie.

Later, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin built on this idea. He said a “vanguard” party would assume power on behalf of the working class during the transitional period he called “socialism.” That party would decide on all political and economic matters.

The Chinese Communist Party was established in 1921 for that purpose. Until now, officials still maintain the idea of building a socialist society and, one day, reaching the goal of Communism.

In discussing whether is China is still on the path that it set out on, political economists say we need to consider two questions:

  • Whether the vanguard Communist Party plays a dominant role in economic development?

  • Whether resources are equitably distributed between citizens?

State-run economy

To answer the question of whether China is socialist today, we’re going to take you back to the roots of modern China, to a time when it was certainly considered a socialist country.

When the People’s Republic was founded in 1949, China embraced the Marxist-Leninist style of socialism wholeheartedly. During the reforms of the 1950s, rural China was divided into numerous “communes:” big, collective farms owned by the state.

Urban China had work units. Private property was abolished.

People shared everything in the communes, from farm work to harvests and meals. Even private cooking was banned: all the woks, bowls and utensils were contributed to public kitchens.

The result? Folks didn’t have much incentive to work. This helped lead to rampant poverty and contributed to a massive famine from 1958 to 1962 that claimed at least 30 million lives, including some relatives of the Inkstone team.

Things began to change in 1978. Then-party leader Deng Xiaoping initiated economic reforms. For the first time in decades, farmers were allowed to sell the crops they grew. Entrepreneurs were allowed to start businesses. And foreigners were allowed to invest in China.

Courtesy : InkStone News


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