Just how communist is China?

In an article in The Economist, Banking on growth*, Jan 16th 2003, it is remarked that

Emphasis mine

"[China’s] markets for labour, goods and services are nowadays more liberal than those in some capitalist economies"?! Certain partisan vitriol notwithstanding, I think we can agree that The Economist is reasonably credible. This question is thus prompted: Just how communist is China, anyway? I knew there were “free enterprise zones” in China. But I had no idea that things had moved along that far. Can anybody answer the question?

*You’ll have to subscribe to read the article, I think. But that doesn’t matter, since it does not pertain to the throw-away line I highlighted.

China is communist only in name. In a communist society, one would expect the range between the highest and lowest income to be minimal. In China, wealthy businessmen earn millions, while farmers working the land earn practicality nothing.

The Communist party is still the ruling power, but most members of the CP join not because they actually believe in the effects of communism, but rather because joining the Party is the only way to advance their socio-economic status.

China is a contradiction–is has one of the freest markets, under the ever-vigilant eye of a semi-oppresive regime. It’s halfway between dicatorship and anarchy.

Simple and yet so very, very accurate.

Without meaning (OK, well, I do) to hijack the thread, does anyone else here think perhaps “China” might do better as a collection of autanomous small states? As it is, they are welding way too many regions and economic needs into one segment, I think.

Everything is manufactured there by the mega-corps. So, it is hard to classify the economy as communist. Freedom has expanded, but China is not democratic and does not extend all the basic rights we expect in the West. There has been democratization at the local level. That may suggest good things long-term in China.

I would classify China as a paradox also, a turn-of-the-century robber-baron industrial capitalism with a dictatorial communist face. One has to question the communism of a nation that suppresses unions.

Okay, here’s a bit far-fetched proposal of how we should divide China:

China should be divided into three sections

The urban areas (about 5% of all geography and 30% of the population) should constitute one section; should have liberal policies: free economy, free press, speech, etc. Capitol at Beijing.

The Han Chinese rural areas (about 45% of geography and 60% of population) should be organized along the lines of village government, following old school Communist law (c. 1950s). Overseeing all these municipalities would be the Communist party.

The rest of the land (the outback, about 50% of the geography, occupied by racial minorities e.g. Tibetans, Mongols, various Turkish groups) can be used by the government for whatever–mining, military bases, a-bomb testing, etc.

Don’t all communist nations suppress unions - except the officially sanctioned party-tamed one/s?

In response to the hijack, yes, China may do considerably better as independent and sovereign states
How would the more rural areas survive? Most of them are very very poor now as it is with a central government (not an argument in favour of central govt BTW).

True. This is a new thing, though, using the suppression of unions for the benefit of multinationals. In communist nations the suppression used to benfit the state-run industries. Now it is a truly unlikely alliance. Communists and capitalists cooperate to suppress workers. Strange, to me anyway.

You’re right in that it is a relatively new thing, but it is not unique to China. In Cuba hotels and resorts are joint state and foreign ventures, and not even the only-for-show Cuban unions are allowed.

Migght I go so far as to suggest then that these are not real capitalists, rather they are the crony-capitalist variety we see so much of everywhere. the type that exist on government favours and handouts (oh for a governement so heavily restricted that it has no favours or handouts for anybody).

China is extremely capitalistic. State owned enterprise as a percentage of the economy is IIRC around 20% and shrinking. This is down from about 100% 15 years ago.

They certainly do have a problem with the 4 large state banks, and past clean up efforts fell pretty short. At least they recognize the problem and are trying to do something about in contrast with say Japan. The 4 large state banks are the corner pin and final vestige of the state owned enterprise and centrally planned economy.

leechow9, I assume you’re being tounge in cheek about how to divide up China, especially the minority areas. Dividing China is a slippery slope. It could lead to full scale anarchy which I don’t think anyone wants to see happen. Remember China is only about 50 years beyond it’s last hundred year round of anarchy.

I’m no China expert, but I think you need to look at it politically and economically. And the latter needs to be looked at regionally. Politically, it is certainly a communist state. Economically it is pretty mixed, with some regions (as well as sectors of the economy) more free market than others. Then, of course, there’s Hong Kong.

I’ve never been to mainland China, but HK and Taiwan many times. It appears to me that Chinese culture and capitalism go together extremely well. Once fully unleashed, watch out world!!

I know, it’s really just a crazy fantasy. Anyway, I believe China will go through a revolution, albeit not violently. It has already gone through a revolution–communist 1970s China was extremely different from the Chinese experiment of the 80s and 90s, which is in turn very different from China now.

I believe China will only get more and more capitalistic–without a traditional revolution but with plenty of turmoil, nontheless. And the Party will be fine with it, for the more capitalistic China gets, the stronger it gets, and the more powerful and influential it will be.

No question about it. What China has is raw capitalism with fewer social restrictions and protections than you find in Europe or the USA. The government is still very autocratic and authoritarian but the economy is very capitalist. Workers in developed countries are much more protected than workers in China. The concept that China has a communist economy is totally outdated.

What about the basic ideals of Communism where wealth is distributed equally… and the poor, sick, and old are not allowed to starve to death?

I was under the impression that the Chinese Communist Party was an aristocracy which took what it wanted and traded with the rest of the world. The people have to take care of themselves with the leftovers… just like life in China 1000 years ago.


kempis, your impression would be largely incorrect. When the communist first took over China, it was by and large a very egalitarian society. Of course some animals were more equal than others, but those at the top weren’t much better off than the rest of the masses. Read the Private Life of Chairman Mao for some flavor, although it is possible the book is based on internal “neibu” documents rather than on a real experience.

If you look at literacy rates, life expectancy, birth rates, etc, China under the communists have improved on the pre-1949 condition. Whether a different group or system could have done better is open to debate.

There certainly are cases of abuse by party members and their children or the so-called “princelings”. Of course, there are those that would claim that Al Gore and GWB benefited from a similar profile.

The pie is getting a lot bigger, and an awful lot of people are benefiting from that pie. There are a significant amount of people who are getting left behind. Are they worse off than they were 20 years ago? Ancedotally, I rarely meet someone that claims they are worse off than they were personally 20 years ago. Plenty who are dissatisfied or think that others have benefited unfairly.