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The future for the New China - the writing on the wall

By Tony Henderson - posted Monday, 10 November 2003

A Chinese-style socialist market economy is something of a mouthful and that betrays a problem. This is a concept bequeathed by Deng Xiaoping, describing how to combine state planning with today's market economics. Jiang Zemin passed this baton on to the new team leading China.

Public ownership of enterprises remains primary says Jiang but this rests among other forms of ownership - collective ownership, private ownership and foreign ownership. In theory this means quite a chunk of the ownership is "by the people" but because China has not reached its proposed New Democracy, in reality, the present state of affairs has the supposed people's ownership sectors in the hands of the Communist Party. That does not qualify!

China remains elitist; economically segregated between have and not-have areas. That is, the coastal regions and the deep south against the interior and western China, the rural and the urban areas, and there is also disparity within the cities. This is well understood by the government and is on the horizon as the next task to tackle.


Many collectives are in fact private companies, admits Jiang. The state firms are closing at a fair rate too, so the direction is leading away from the fundamentals of Communism. Also, admitting businessmen and women into the Party weakened the original for-the-common-good thrust.

Where is the 95-per-cent-representation of the people that heralds the arrival of the Communist Party as a real and functioning force, as stated by Mao Zedong? Elder Deng Liqun publicly remonstrates the government leaders, along with remnant leftists, expressing disquiet that reform under Jiang would lead to privatisation and loss of the basis of socialist rule. This minority view has the merit of being a valid and indeed meritorious stance. It should not be dismissed.

The "new doctrine" has led to the formation of the term min ben, meaning "people's capital" and this coinage has surface validity as the wealth generated under the developing schemes gets dished around. Many benefit - not all, but substantially more people - so there is a welcoming general acceptance.

In the longer term though, when the ills of unenlightened capitalism are seen to be a constant and the money is seen moving in the same restricted circles, the "masses" will again begin questioning where the ideals of Communism went!

It is understood by the intelligentsia that the Communist Party has to reinvent itself and indeed this is not against Mao's perpetual revolution proposal. The difficult part is how to keep the wheel turning so more people enjoy the benefits and the whole process does not get stuck in ever-diminishing circles, which is the weakness of dog-eat-dog capitalism.

The Communist Party in China has fulfilled its early promises better than many would have thought. It has improved the general living standards by a good margin. Western-style representative democracy was not needed for that, nor a multi-party system. Also, strengthening the rule of law and beating down corruption were goals even detractors of the new system could admire.


Televised interviews with businessmen and women about their attitude on gaining Party membership revealed that they would do this in order to gain security for their chosen direction in life and not for any Communist idealism, in fact far from it. This was no different from the pragmatism of many in the past who joined the Party in order to be accepted. Only later did they grasp the importance of the ideas behind Communism. Why not the same again today?

The backbone of the Party: workers, farmers, soldiers and officials, will have the addition of business owners, scientists, academics and artists, and that can only make the backbone stronger.

Political awareness has always had strong emphasis in Communist China and this is of paramount importance today under the pressures of these stressful changes. Without an awareness of the implications of their actions, the new blood would indeed negatively affect the body population, so what the new leaders do and how they do it is extremely important. How to liberalise without losing power, this is the question.

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About the Author

Tony Henderson is a freelance writer and chairman of the Humanist Association of Hong Kong.

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