Book outline: Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

This book arises from a contradiction in our time: Chinese scholars and indeed most people in China are well aware of the key arguments and developments that form the basis of socialism with Chinese characteristics (zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi); non-Chinese scholars are largely ignorant, even though I find that more and more want to know at least something. In China, many of the topics presented in this book were settled quite a few years ago, so much so that one finds relatively little debate today. Other topics have a renewed vigour – such as contradiction analysis and rule of law – but these rely on earlier debates. By contrast, one struggles to find even remotely adequate treatment of these topics in foreign materials – if they are studied at all. I will examine some of the reasons in the introduction to the book, but three may be identified here: first, some have a tendency to say they prefer to look at the practice and ignore the theory, but this is a profound abdication of not only proper research, but Marxism itself (where theory along with practice is crucial); second, the material that does appear stops with the death of Mao Zedong (some, especially by Knick Knight, is excellent); third, the vast bulk of available scholarship is in Chinese. Obviously, one needs to be able to research this Chinese-language material.

Even so, the primary purpose of this book not to engage in polemics (lunzhan – fighting theories), but to make available for a non-Chinese audience the sophisticated debates and conclusions in China concerning socialism with Chinese characteristics. Without knowing this material, one can come to superficial perceptions and profound misunderstandings; knowing it, one begins the first steps in understanding and thereby trust. The following begins with a careful philosophical analysis of Deng Xiaoping, and the implications of his core ideas and practices. This study is the basis of what the rest of the book: contradiction analysis; the Marxist philosophy of the Reform and Opening Up; the basis and nature of the socialist market economy; socialist modernisation; rule of law; sovereignty and human rights; minority nationalities and the anti-colonial project; and Xi Jinping’s thorough Marxism in a Chinese situation. I should say that I have about a year of further in-depth research before me, so some of the material below will be revised as the project develops.

Introduction

The introduction begins by tracing the idea that while Marxism has core principles, or sets of problems, the way it develops in different locations has distinct characteristics. While there are global commonalities, each region has its distinct history, culture and philosophical tradition. As a result, in each situation the problems are somewhat unique and require new answers – hence the specific ‘characteristics’ of Marxism in such a location. We may trace this idea back to the late writings of Marx and Engels, as they faced developments of socialism in other parts of the world. But it begins to appear more clearly with Lenin and Stalin, and of course with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Obviously, the idea is not original to Deng, although he gave it a particular resonance in China.

The introduction also attempts to explain why there is precious little treatment in non-Chinese material of the Marxist basis of the Reform and Opening Up, with which ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has been most closely associated. In order to understand this situation, I elaborate on the distinction between ‘before’ and ‘after’ October. In other words, a crucial divide in analysis appears between those who take the perspective of ‘before October’, before the communist revolution, and those who analyse Marxism ‘after October’, after the revolution and in the difficult period of the construction of socialism. As Lenin and Mao said repeatedly, gaining power in a communist revolution is relatively easy; by contrast, constructing socialism is infinitely more complicated. Obviously, this study is concerned with ‘after October’, with the project of constructing socialism.

Finally, the introduction presents the main features of Chinese scholarship on socialism with Chinese characteristics. This material is immense, so I introduce the main resources, journals and themes – with a distinct focus on the philosophical foundations as they are manifested in practice.

Chapter 1. Reading Deng Xiaoping

‘Less talk, more deeds’ – Deng Xiaoping is mostly remembered as a leader of concrete acts rather than extensive theoretical reflection. In non-Chinese works, one may find biographies, studies of foreign policy, and scattered quotations taken out of context (albeit usually within a western European liberal framework). Few indeed are the studies of ‘Deng Xiaoping theory [lilun]’. Apart from Domenico Losurdo, no-one outside China has credited Deng with a sophisticated and insightful theoretical basis.

Through a careful study of Deng’s speeches and writings, along with relevant Chinese scholarship, I analyse the philosophical basis in two related ideas: liberating thought, and seeking truth from facts. While the terms seem simple enough on the surface, at a deeper level they identify the need to escape from the trap of Marxist dogmatism (as Mao also urged) and the need for careful analysis of the particular conditions of China in order to develop new answers in light of the Marxist tradition. From these two core ideas flow many of Deng’s positions: liberating the forces of production (see further the chapter on the socialist market economy), seeking a moderately well-off (xiaokang) society, to each according to work, and of course socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Chapter 2. Contradiction Analysis

Deng Xiaoping presented less of a break with Mao or indeed the Marxist tradition and more of a creative continuity within that living tradition. A significant element of this continuity was ‘contradiction analysis [maodun fenxi]’. This topic requires an initial step back to Mao Zedong (‘On Contradiction’) and how he developed a whole new phase in the Marxist tradition of dialectical analysis, via Lenin and Chinese conditions. Crucial for the construction of socialism is the idea of non-antagonistic contradictions: contradictions will appear under socialism, but the focus should be in ensuring they are non-antagonistic. Subsequently, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, we find contradiction analysis at the basis of philosophical thought and government policy. For example, it appears in: class analysis in the primary stage of socialism; socialist market economy; poverty alleviation; education: medicine; workplace realities; core socialist value; and – of course – the crucial need to identify a primary contradiction as the basis of all policy (as Xi Jinping did at the nineteenth congress of the CPC in 2018).

Chapter 3. The Marxist Basis of the Reform and Opening Up

It is perhaps less realised than it should be that the Reform and Opening Up is not a compromise, but a distinctly Marxist project. As Deng Xiaoping pointed out repeatedly, the Reform and Opening Up provides a distinct path to socialism (and not, as some misguided foreigners suggested, to capitalism). To understand this emphasis, we need initially to go back to Lenin and his insight into the relationship between revolution and reform. Instead of seeing these two terms as an either-or, Lenin argued that reform is absolutely necessary, but it should always be undertaken in light of the communist revolution. During the era of constructing socialism, this means that reform must be undertaken by a communist party in power. In a Chinese context, I would like to focus on the following issue (until more have been identified in research): the tension between equality-justice and improving the quality of life for all. In many respects, the Reform and Opening Up may be seen as an effort to keep the two sides of the contradiction in a productive and non-antagonistic relationship. Finally, this chapter offers a brief survey of the leading Marxist philosophers during the forty years of the Reform and Opening Up.

Chapter 4. Socialist Market Economy

With the socialist market economy, we come to a question that was settled in China 25 years ago, but of which foreigners remain noticeably ignorant. After immense debates in the 1980s and early 1990s, the following was seen as the solution. First and following Stalin, the core contradiction of socialism is between the forces and relations of production. How is this manifested? It can be – and often is – seen in terms of the ownership of the means of production. Thus, workers and peasants need to seize ownership of the means of production from the former bourgeois and landlord owners. But what happens after such a seizure and the destruction of the former ruling class? The contradiction shifts to one between the underlying socio-economic system (zhidu) and its specific components (tizhi). In the first category, we find – for example – a capitalist system and a socialist system; in the second, there are political, social and economic components. Here the productive forces also appear, of which one manifestation is a market economy. To summarise a more detailed analysis: a market economy may form part of a larger socio-economic system, including socialism; a market economy is not  always the same and is not inherently capitalist, but is shaped and determined by the system in question (as found already in Marx and in historical analysis); the overall system not only determines the nature of a market economy, but also its purpose, whether profit (capitalist system) or social benefit and meeting the needs of all people (gongtongti fuwu) as in a socialist system. Finally, this approach to a socialist market economy entails a recalibration of the question of ownership. Initially, the ownership of the means of production was related to secondary status, with a mix between public and private ownership, albeit with the state owned enterprises (SOEs) as the drivers of the economy. However, since the 2010s, one may identify a new development: the very distinction between public and private has begun to ‘die away’ (to parse Engels). How this works is the focus of the final part of the chapter.

Chapter 5. Socialist Modernisation: Seeking a Xiaokang Society

Since Zedong and Zhou Enlai, ‘socialist modernisation [shehuizhuyi xiandaihua]’ has been a major feature of government policy and action.[1] But what does it mean? Let us begin with Deng Xiaoping’s famous observation in 1979: ‘By achieving the four modernizations, we mean achieving a “moderately well-off family [xiaokang zhi jia]” … a moderately well-off country [xiaokang de guojia]’. For Deng, this is modernisation with Chinese characteristics.

To understand this statement, we need to go back and forward in the Chinese tradition. Deng was the first to pick and reinterpret the old Confucian category – from the Books of Rights and Book of Songs – of xiaokang in light of Marxism, with the sense of being moderately well-off, healthy and peaceful. It is a more achievable aim than datong, the ‘Great Harmony’, at least in the foreseeable future, although both terms (through He Xiu and Kang Youwei) are intimately connected. If we move forward in the more recent tradition, Deng’s insightful move led to a ‘moderately prosperous society in all respects’ becoming central to the Chinese socialist project under Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and especially Xi Jinping. Indeed, the end of 2020 – following hints from Deng – was set as the ambitious but achievable goal for a xiaokang society. But what are the benchmarks? Xi Jinping has identified three: managing profound risks, poverty alleviation and environmental health. The last section of the chapter considers each of these items, with a focus on the impact of lifting 750 million rural and urban workers out of poverty since 1978 and the noticeable advances in achieving an ‘ecological civilisation’.

Chapter 6. Socialist Rule of Law

‘Governing the country according law [yifazhiguo]’ – this four-character phrase encapsulates a range of permutations, from the new Social Credit system, through core socialist values, to religious policy. However, it also has a distinct history that enables us to understand what it means in China, specifically as a socialist rule of law. Although traces of usage appear in much older texts, the key development is precisely during the Reform and Opening Up.

Initially (1978-1996), most of the debate centred around the opposition between ‘rule of human beings [renzhi]’ and ‘rule of law [fazhi]’, after which the latter became the agreed-upon position. Subsequently (1997-2011), the relationship between ‘rule of law’ and ‘legal system [fazhi]’ (sometimes misleadingly translated as ‘rule by law’) was debated, with the two clearly demarcated. Thus, while ‘legal system’ is the basis and concrete manifestation of ‘rule of law’, ‘rule of law’ is itself the ultimate framework and goal of the legal system. During this time, ‘governing the country according to law’ entered the 1999 revision of the Constitution. Finally (2012 to the present) we find increasing clarity of more and more aspects of rule of law, along with its consistent and impartial application. Tellingly, in 2018, the Constitution was revised further, replacing ‘improve the socialist legal system’ with ‘improve the socialist rule of law’.

Theory is crucial, but so is practice. The final part of the chapter examines some concrete manifestations of the rule of law in China: the Social Credit System as an effective and creative way to ensure rule of law at all levels; core socialist values as the positive side of the anti-corruption campaign; and ensuring that the long-standing laws on freedom of religion are strictly observed, especially in light of the revised Regulation on Religious Affairs (2018) and its emphases on self-government, self-support and self-propagation. In all of this, it should re remembered that we are speaking of a socialist rule of law, which is a crucial bulwark of China’s socialist system and is distinct from a capitalist rule of law.

Chapter 7. Sovereignty and Human Rights

This chapter offers a comparison between two traditions concerning human rights, through the prism of state sovereignty: the Western European liberal tradition and the Chinese Marxist tradition. It does so as follows. The first part introduces the distinction between false and rooted universals. A false universal forgets the conditions of its emergence and asserts that its assumptions apply to all irrespective of context, while a rooted universal is always conscious of and factors into analysis contextual origins, with their possibilities and limitations. With this distinction in mind, the next part deals with state sovereignty. In a Western European context, the standard narrative of this development has two main phases: the initial Westphalian definition (1648) and its significant restriction after the Second World War. The main problem with this narrative it that it largely neglects what drove the shift: the success of anti-colonial struggles in the first half of the twentieth century (the last phase through the United Nations under the inspiration of the Soviet Union). In light of this global perspective, it becomes clear that in formerly colonised and semi-colonised countries the very definition of sovereignty is transformed into an anti-colonial and non-theological definition. It is not simply an extension of the Westphalian definition, an assumption that entails a false universal. The next two parts of the argument deal directly with human rights. Initially, it focuses on the Western European tradition, which is predicated on the identification of human rights as private property and their restriction to civil and political rights. Here is the risk of another false universal: the assertion that this specific tradition applies to all, irrespective of context and of anti-colonial sovereignty. The final topic is the Chinese Marxist tradition of human rights, which arises from the intersections of Confucianism and Marxism. In this tradition, anti-colonial sovereignty is a prerequisite but does not determine human rights, and the core human right is the right to socio-economic wellbeing, through which civil, political, cultural and environmental rights arise.

Chapter 8. Minority Nationalities and the Anti-Colonial Project

The main topic of this chapter – minority nationalities policy –arises from the Chinese Marxist approaches to human rights. In brief, the comprehensive minority nationalities (which are sometimes called ‘ethnic groups’) emphasises the core human right to socio-economic wellbeing. Before we get to that point, we need to engage in historical analysis. The Soviet Union was the first socialist country to develop a comprehensive minorities policy, so much so that it was crucial in the very formation of the Soviet Union and was embodied in government structures. Much was learned, from both successes and failures. The Soviet Union was also the first country to see the intrinsic connection between an internal minorities policy and the international anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle. It supported most of them, from logistics and weapons to initiating declarations in the United Nations (especially the 1960 ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples’, which forced France, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands, among others, to give up their colonies for the sake of independence).

But what did the minority policy entail? Here I turn to China, which – like other socialist countries – adopted the Soviet policy, adapting it and strengthening it in light of their own conditions. This ‘preferential policy [youhui zhengce]’ fosters minority languages, cultures, education, governance, and – above all – economic development as the basis for all the others. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the 1990s the policy was strengthened in a dialectical manner; minority rights and incentives were enhanced significantly, precisely as way of ensuring the inviolability of China’s borders. To give a sense of how this policy works, I deal with two pertinent case studies: Tibet and Xinjiang. In both cases, we find short-term and long-term programs. Short-term: enhanced fostering of security (anquan), stability (wending) and harmony (hexie), in order to counter the effects of separation, extremism and terrorism. Long-term: renewed and revised projects to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of all who live in Tibet and Xinjiang. At this point, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plays a significant internal role, with marked results in the six years or so of its implementation.

The BRI brings us finally to the question of international relations. Here we find a distinct development: while material from the 1950s and 1960s still used the terminology of anti-colonial struggle, it substantially disappears from use thereafter. Why? Already in the late 1950s, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had proposed the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, which was taken up with enthusiasm by Deng Xiaoping as China sought not confrontation but peaceful development (although he was also quite clear that China would always have closer connections with formerly colonised countries due to a shared common history). The more recent manifestation of this emphasis appears with Xi Jinping’s promotion of a ‘community of shared future for humankind [renlei mingyun gongtongti]’, concretely manifested in the BRI, and the policy – as an alternative to the Western European liberal emphasis on ‘zero-sum’ – of ‘both win, many win, all win’. Or simply, ‘win-win’.

Chapter 9. Xi Jinping on Marxism

Xi Jinping has confounded those international observers who ignored much of what I have discussed in the previous chapters and concluded that China had abandoned Marxism. But Xi Jinping’s resolute emphasis on Marxism makes perfect sense if we keep these developments of socialism with Chinese characteristics in mind. At the same time, it is true that Xi Jinping has also re-emphasised Marxism at its many levels, so much so that the CPC has been noticeably strengthened. Older members are once again proud of the party and what it has achieved, while young people are once again keen to join and study Marxism.

How did this happen? While Xi Jinping’s many writings and speeches (in the good tradition of communist leaders, he is also a thinker and writer) cover a wide range of topics, my focus is on his direct engagement with Marxism. The core piece for analysis is his major speech on the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, delivered on 5 May, 2018. While the speech deals with Marx’s biography (as an engaged intellectual), the basic premises of Marxism, its history as a living tradition and its emergence to sustained leadership in China, the main part of the speech elaborates on nine topics of relevance to China’s situation. Calling on all the ‘study Marx’ once again, he begins each sub-section with quotations from Marx and Engels and then elaborates on what they mean for the time after the communist revolution, during the complex and often difficult process of constructing socialism. The topics are: development of human society; sticking to the people’s standpoint; productive forces and relations of production; people’s democracy; cultural construction; social construction; human-nature relationship; world history; and Marxist party building. These topics open out to a series of other dimensions of Xi Jinping’s writings, with which I deal when analysing each section.

Conclusion

Given that most of the material in this book concerns material already known in China, it may be of interest to Chinese readers who wish to see what a foreigner engaged with and working in China thinks about socialism with Chinese characteristics. But I anticipate that it will mostly be of use to non-Chinese readers whose minds may already be open, or perhaps should be opened, to what such a socialism actually means in theory and practice.

Note

[1] The original four modernisations are: shaking off China’s poverty and backwardness [pinqiong luohou]; gradually improving the people’s living standards; restoring a position for China in international affairs commensurate with its current status; and enabling China to contribute more to humankind.

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Is it time to adopt China’s internet model? More and more countries are doing so

As someone who spends a good deal of time in China, I find that I can access all I want on the internet here. The search engines are generally better, the scholarly resources superior to elsewhere, and the news services reliable and well-informed. At the same time, China has developed a sophisticated approach to internet responsibility, which is carried out by the tech companies themselves. For example, as a few countries ponder what to do with Facebook after the live-streaming of the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, the Chinese approach is very simple: it would not happen here. In fact, Facebook is unable to operate in China precisely because of its fundamental approach, which leads to chaos, disruption and insecurity. Instead, one can use Wechat, Weibo and many other platforms, which are socially responsible. Even more, this approach actually fosters democracy – socialist democracy.

And guess what: more and more countries are adopting a version of China’s model, as this article from the Global Times points out:

If targeting Beijing’s internet regulation is the new US strategy to wrestle with China in an imaginary cold war, Washington will be disappointed. Because China’s continuously improving management over the internet is becoming a trend in other countries and regions.

This is the answer to the question why “the US is losing a major front to China in the new cold war,” a topic raised by Bloomberg, which noted that “a swathe of the world is adopting China’s vision for a tightly controlled internet over the unfettered American approach.”

In January 2019, Vietnam passed a tight cybersecurity law, which requires social media in the country to remove offending content from their platforms and store personal data on users. Over a month later, Thailand also passed a similar bill. It is “a stunning ideological coup for Beijing,” said Bloomberg, adding that China is pushing Southeast Asia toward authoritarianism.

Yet, what caused the trend? The answer is the rising problems in those countries given their previous slack approach. The number of fake news spiked months before the just-concluded Indonesian election, in which many were targeting political candidates and electoral institutions. Hate speech and fake news photos flooded Myanmar’s internet after the outbreak of the Rohingya crisis in 2017, exacerbating local clashes. It is not an exaggeration to say the lack of governance jeopardized their social stability.

The situation does not only happen in emerging economies. As Bloomberg pointed out, “Facebook and Twitter manipulated the 2016 US election … American social media allowed a gunman to livestream the worst mass shooting in New Zealand.”

The so-called internet freedom, advocated by the US, has stirred up enough trouble not only for itself, but also for many developing countries, especially in those societies which were already facing sharp ethnic conflicts and social division. Social media has failed to consolidate or promote their democracy, but has facilitated the spread of misinformation and rumors. Take the Arab Spring. It showed the potential of internet freedom at the very beginning and seemed to have temporarily boosted local democracy, but in the end, it tore the society apart and caused long-lasting turmoil.

Developing countries are tightening internet governance, and so are developed nations, which are formulating stringent regulations to crack down on vicious dissemination of political misinformation. Some European countries including Germany even allow police to spy on encrypted messaging services so as to limit dissemination of pornographic, fraudulent and terrorist content.

Absolute freedom leads to freedom for no one. Compared to US-style internet regulation which is full of problems, China’s approach showed its worthiness.

Labeling China as an authoritarian country and calling countries that are learning from China authoritarian is dividing the internet into two completely different fronts, and splitting the internet in two.

US media needs to know that if more countries start to follow Beijing’s footsteps in internet governance while pursuing democracy in social media, it means China must have done something right.

China’s poverty alleviation: One of the greatest human rights achievements

One of the greatest human rights achievements in human history is China’s forty years of poverty alleviation – given the fundamental right to socio-economic wellbeing. The World Bank estimates that 850 million people have been lifted out of poverty, but still some remain in poverty. Given that one of the three great challenges for a xiaokang society is absolute poverty elimination, there is a resolute focus to achieve the target. The following is a useful background article from Xinhua News:

During an inspection tour to southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality this week, President Xi Jinping called for greater efforts to win the battle against poverty and realize the goal of building “a moderately prosperous society in all respects” as scheduled.

As the deadline to eradicate absolute poverty approaches, the country is gathering strength to focus on the nation’s poorest people, who mainly dwell in deep mountains with adverse natural environments and backward infrastructure, or have special needs.

It was China’s solemn promise to let poor people and poor areas enter the moderately prosperous society together with the rest of the country, Xi said in a letter to the International Forum on Reform and Opening Up and Poverty Reduction in China, which was held in Beijing last November.

The country’s poverty-reduction drive has been widely recognized as the largest such campaign in history, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointing out that China had contributed the most to world poverty alleviation in the past decade.

Here are some facts on poverty reduction in China.

PEOPLE FIRST

With the world’s largest population, China has been boosting its economic development on one major theme: improving people’s livelihoods. This has become a fundamental goal and a consistent priority in policy-making. A typical example is the development blueprint for building a moderately prosperous society.

— Under that blueprint, China will eradicate absolute poverty by 2020 and double per capita income from 2010 level.

— More than 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty over the past 40 years. The country’s proportion of people living below the Chinese poverty line fell from 97.5 percent in 1978 to 3.1 percent among the rural population at the end of 2017.

–In the past six years, China lifted 82.39 million rural poor out of poverty, with the rural poor population down from 98.99 million in 2012 to 16.6 million in 2018.

— By the end of 2018, more than half of the 832 poverty-stricken counties had escaped poverty.

— Per capita income of Chinese people increased by nearly 25 times from 1978 to 2018. In 2018, per capita disposable income of rural residents in poverty-stricken areas stood at 10,371 yuan, a 10.6-percent year-on-year rise.

STRONG ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

With Xi Jinping in charge, China’s poverty-relief battle has made decisive progress and provided global poverty relief with Chinese solutions.

–Last June, Xi presided over a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee to review a plan on efforts in poverty alleviation, stressing that the battle against poverty was one of the “three tough battles” that the country must win to build a moderately prosperous society.

–Last October, the CPC Central Committee arranged a new round of disciplinary inspections targeting poverty alleviation, the first of its kind, to intensify local governments’ poverty-reduction efforts.

— To wipe out absolute poverty, governments at all levels have established anti-poverty special departments or leading groups, increased poverty-reduction budgets and ensured eastern economically developed regions to help underdeveloped regions in central and western China.

— State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have taken the lead to support the country’s poverty relief campaign. Ninety-six centrally-administered SOEs have offered targeted support to 246 poverty-stricken counties, or 41.6 percent of the key counties under the national poverty-relief program. They have also set up poverty alleviation funds of 18.18 billion yuan (about 2.7 billion U.S. dollars) and invested 14 billion yuan in nearly 100 aid projects.

TARGETED APPROACH

China has adopted a targeted approach, which requires officials to identify actual impoverished people and the factors that caused their poverty.

— A large legion of capable officials have been selected to guide poverty relief work. For example, officials with business savvy were sent to poverty-stricken villages, while officials with specialized industrial knowledge were sent to villages with an industrial base. As a result, each household or even family member has been given a bespoke poverty relief plan.

— Apart from setting a multi-year timetable, China also targeted different policies to different regions, including developing business, relocating the poor, compensating farmers in ecologically fragile areas, encouraging education and improving social security.

— The independent development of needy residents has been enhanced using areas including e-commerce, financing, tourism and infrastructure improvements.

— During his inspection tour in Chongqing, Xi said that people who still live under the poverty line or slip back into poverty due to illness should be the priority of poverty alleviation projects, and should receive support such as minimum-living allowances, medical insurance and medical aid.

 

A photo for the ages: Xi Jinping on Chongqing poverty alleviation tour

China has set 2020 as the year for total alleviation of basic poverty, a key plank in the target to achieve a ‘xiaokang society’ – moderately well-off, healthy and secure for everyone. This was first proposed by Deng Xiaoping, who picked up an old Confucian term and reinterpreted it in light of Marxism, but it also pre-empts the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2021. Or as Xi himself put it, stressing two sides of the dialectic of actually constructing socialism (liberating the forces of production and ensuring equality and justice for all): ‘Socialism means development. Development must serve the common prosperity for everyone‘.

As the date draws near, efforts are being stepped up in all aspects. This includes ensuring that people do not slip back into poverty later. China’s standards for poverty alleviation are somewhat higher than international standards, so this makes the project – especially for local CPC officials on the front line – even more demanding.

Recently, Xi Jinping undertook an inspection tour in poor areas of Chongqing. As Xinhua News reports, the visit had many levels, from a forum to visits to a poor village in the mountains. But I was taken with this photo. Look at the faces of the two girls who are shaking the hands of the person whom Fidel Castro called one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders of the 21st century.

Without the Communist Party of China there would be no new China

This slogan appears at key locations and moments: Without the Communist Party of China there would be no new China.

For me, this is obvious. But let me copy an article from the People’s Daily that explains to some extent why this is the case:

Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, recently published an article in Chinese on what the system of Party leadership means to China. He began his article by saying that last year the United States turned on China, launching a trade war. “In the face of such a blow, almost any country would panic,” he said.

In fact, many Chinese people did panic at first, but the panic quickly subsided, because it became quickly apparent that the United States could not so easily crush China in a trade war. According to Hu, the reason for this is because the Chinese system is just too powerful and, as a result, the US side was forced to seriously negotiate with China.

“China’s political system is the key asset to China’s rise,” he wrote.

The Communist Party of China is an essential part of China’s growth story. When you talk about the success of China, you must also talk about the role of the Party. China has risen high under the guidance of the CPC and Hu believes that as long as the CPC continues to mature and its leadership role is strengthened, China has a good shot of achieving national rejuvenation.

The Chinese political system has also led to a fairer society. “Without the leadership of the Party, one thing is certain. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen would be surrounded by large slums like Rio, Mexico City, and Mumbai,” Hu said.

Many people may not accept this assertion, but there is truth to it. If you look at what China is doing in terms of poverty alleviation, it is pretty astonishing. China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty since initiating the reform and opening-up policy in 1978 and the country is on track to eliminate absolute poverty by 2020. In 2018 alone, official figures show that China lifted close to 14 million people in rural areas out of poverty.

And the Party’s organs at various level have been the fighting force in this battle against poverty.

China’s political system is the key to China’s rise, which is closely related to the well-being of more than 1.3 billion Chinese people. To continue rising, Hu pointed out, the country must continue to mature politically, firmly support the national system, and take its own path.

“If it was not for the strength of the Chinese system, when the United States launched a trade war against China last year, at the very least the renminbi would have been smashed,” Hu said. This is not an exaggeration. The fate of a country is often very fragile.

Hu pointed out that China is a huge country, therefore, even the migrant workers enjoy more space for living and more opportunities to grow than many of the people in other developing countries, and even the ordinary people in some developed countries. They are able to seek opportunities and earn a better living in the large market.

To see China in action look no further than the hard-working delivery people who run around the cities all day. China’s rise is being driven by the efforts and diligence of each Chinese person and their hard work has brought the country huge rewards.

“Living in China as a common citizen has the greatest average opportunity to improve one’s life,” Hu said. This is also true, because only in China can you find a large country with relatively balanced development and rapidly rising standards of living.

China is strong, both economically and politically. For this reason, the country is on very solid footing. China has encountered some difficulties, but nothing has put the brakes on its development. We need to better understand why that is the case.

Xi Jinping at work: Two photographs, 30 years apart

This photograph was taken in 1989 when Xi Jinping was working as local CPC party head in Ningde, Fujian Province.

And this one is from 8 April, 2019, 30 years later. Here, Xi Jinping is heading out to celebrate China’s tree-planting day.

As an aside, it is worth noting that China leads the world in re-afforestation. It has been a decades-long national project greening cities and the countryside, so much so that desertification is retreatng in many of the more arid regions.

Down to the countryside: 21st century version

Some years ago now, there was a slogan in China, ‘Up the mountains and down to the countryside [shangshan xiaxiang]‘, which came to be known as the ‘down to the countryside movement’. Back then, socialism meant that everyone was equal because everyone was poor, and the trauma of that period’s disruption still runs deep in China’s cultural memory.

Now, China is a distinct beneficiary of the massive project of ‘socialist modernisation [shehuizhuyi xiandaihua]’. First launched by Deng Xiaoping, who knew very well that people would not see any benefit in socialism is they remained desperately poor, the project of socialist modernisation includes the thoroughly Marxist reform and opening up, the development of a socialist market economy, seeking truth from facts, liberating thought, and liberating the forces of production.

These days they speak of three ‘great leaps’: standing up, prosperity and strength. China is currently in the process of moving from the great leap of prosperity for all to the great leap of strength.

In this context, we find a whole new movement of ‘down to the countryside’ as this report from the Global Times makes clear:

10m Chinese young people to volunteer in the countryside within three years

China is planning to mobilize more than 10 million young volunteers to help promote cultural, technological and medical development in rural areas by 2020, a move local officials said would help revitalize rural areas that are suffering from an outflow of talented and young workers.

These young volunteers will be sent to rural areas, especially old revolutionary base areas, regions of extreme poverty and areas where ethnic minority groups live to promote local development and improve personal skills, read a recent document released by the Communist Youth League of China (CYL).

The move was hailed by many local officials, who said that it would help revitalize rural areas in the country that have been suffering from talent and labor outflows.

“We need young people to use science and technology to help the countryside innovate its traditional development models,” Zhang Linbin, deputy head of a township in Central China’s Hunan Province, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Zhang noted that young people are passionate and active, which is what rural areas need.

Taking his daily work as an example, Zhang noted that they were in urgent need of people who know computers because they were pushing forward a more standardized and digitized job in the town.

The rising level of urbanization in China has made more young people migrate from rural areas or less-developed regions to developed areas that have better resources and better income. This drains rural areas of their labor force.

To try to reverse the drain, the country has implemented a raft of policies in recent years to help rural areas attract skilled labor.

The document vowed to mobilize 10,000 student members of the Communist Party of China and the CYL to serve in rural areas as part-time local level officials, in order to train them in rural governance.

It vowed to build a number of training bases for young people in rural areas to start their own businesses or find jobs and to train more than 200,000 young people by 2020.

 

The Silk Road is active again: Thousands of trains now run the route

Many centuries ago, the routes of the ‘Silk Road’ used camels and whatnot for covering the thousands of kilometres between east and west on the Eurasian landmass. In more recent times, when Chinese planners were thinking about the reincarnation of the Silk Road – what is now known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – they took into consideration a number of factors: trains, even slower ones, are faster than ships; the US navy likes to bully others on the high seas; Central Asia, Russia and Europe will become more and more keen on Chinese products as the latter move to high quality production. One of the key solutions was actually a relatively old one: trains.

I am a great lover of trains, taking them whenever possible. And China is now the world leader in train innovation, technology and implementation. But the development of long distance cargo trains on the Eurasian landmass has largely gone under the radar. From a modest beginning back in 2011, when the first cargo train left Chongqing in China for Duisburg in Germany, it was the beginning of a monumental shift. Back then, there were perhaps a couple of routes trains could follow. Now there are many indeed and they keep increasing exponentially.

Every few days in the Chinese newspapers (for example, here and here), I read of yet another service that has opened, so much so that now there are now 65 routes between 48 cities in China and 40 in Europe. For example, in 2108 alone, 6300 trains with cargo made the journey to Europe, an incease of 70 percent from the previous year.

More detail in this recent article from Xinhua News, the largest and most reliable news service in the world:

URUMQI, April 9 (Xinhua) — The freight train service linking Chinese cities with Europe are breathing new life into the ancient Silk Road with its rapidly expanding network.

In May 2011, a rail route was opened between Chongqing and Duisburg in Germany, marking the start of the China-Europe cargo train service.

Boosted by the Belt and Road construction, the international train service has been expanding fast over the past eight years.

A total of 48 Chinese cities have launched 65 freight train routes, reaching 14 countries and more than 40 cities in Europe in 2018. Over 13,000 trips have been conducted by the China-Europe trains as of March.

Nan Jun, deputy general manager of the Xinjiang Xintie International Logistics Company, operator of Urumqi China-Europe train logistics center, has been a witness to the development of the train service, as 70 percent of the China-Europe trains exit or enter China through Xinjiang.

According to Nan, when the logistics center was opened in May 2016, only four international lines were available, with trains operating once per week. Now there are 21 international lines, with at least three trains operating daily.

International trains starting from Urumqi can reach destinations in Kazakstan in 48 hours, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in 72 hours, Russia in eight days, the Netherlands in 16 days and Italy in 19 days.

Cargoes traveling on the China-Europe rail routes have also been expanding in categories, from electronics and grocery products initially to some 200 categories including mechanics, chemical products, textiles and foods.

Local products in Xinjiang have also caught these trains heading for Europe. For example, locally produced tomato ketchup has arrived at the dinner tables of Italians, thanks to the train service.

The Alataw Pass and Horgos of Xinjiang are the two ports through which the trains enter or exit China.

Wang Chuanjie, head of the Alataw Pass Customs, said the port now sees an average of seven international trains passing through it every day, compared to only one every month several years ago.

Staff at the two ports have been working to improve customs clearance efficiency for the trains, from 24 hours previously to less than 14 hours.

Ning Jizhe, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said earlier this year that more places would be connected by the China-Europe trains.

China will continue promoting the commercialization of the trains and upgrade the trains with digital technologies, he said.

Educating and inspiring the next generation of socialists in China

You have to hand it to the Chinese, since they know how to ensure generational succession in a socialist country. Education in Marxism and socialism with Chinese characteristics has always been part of the curriculum, but it is continuing to undergo major improvements – as this article from the Global Times shows:

An online platform has been established for elementary and middle school students to learn about new socialist thought and Chinese classics as part of a campaign to consolidate their belief in the Party and inspire them to be reliable socialist successors.

The Ministery of Education (MOE) and Chinese Young Pioneers National Working Committee co-launched the campaign in January to allow students to better understand socialism in the new era through reading Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and classics President Xi has quoted in his speeches.

The campaign will last through this year.

The People’s Daily has opened special website rmrbsn.cn and mobile app to better enable students to read the articles selected specifically for different age groups.

On the platform, articles for lower grades feature illustrations and explain the Chinese Dream, China’s ethnic groups and the Silk Road. Classical texts are mainly about ancient virtues and wisdom, such as the importance of persistence and that knowledge is only understood profoundly through practice. Teachers and education bureaus can log onto the two platforms to track students’ reading activities.

This year is an experiment, and “we hope the reading activities will be normalized in the future,” Gong Jieke, an official from the MOE, told the Global Times.

Mu Siqiong, a student at Tsinghua University High School in Beijing, told the Global Times that her school had just assigned the reading tasks to grade 10 students this week on the two platforms.

“The articles are short and easy to understand,” Mu said, noting that she is interested in the classics because “they are informative and instructive.”

Schools across China, including Beijing, East China’s Jiangsu Province, Central China’s Henan Province and Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, have also held collective reading and knowledge quizzes as a part of the campaign.

While you were (not) watching North Korea: Business is booming (updated)

Recently, the DPRK was forced to set a limit on foreign tourists coming to the country. The number has jumped to about 100,000 a year and the country’s facilities are struggling to cope. When I first visited in 2015, there were perhaps 20,000 Chinese tourists a year and 5,000 non-Chinese tourists. Now the total number has jumped to 100,000. Our visit in October of 2018 verified this rise, for more and more hotels were catering for travellers.

Alongside the tourists are an increasing number of foriegn investors, most of them Chinese. Business is booming north of the DMZ. As a recent article in the Global Times indicates, the DPRK is actively seeking further investment. The article is careful to point out that the lawyers’ group touring China is anticipating the lifting of sanctions, but the reality is that some investment is already taking place.

Earlier, I copied the initial article about the team of Korean lawyers touring China, but I have now replaced it with this follow-up, called ‘Chinese entrepreneurs eye new opportunities in N. Korea economy’:

With North Korea stabilizing its economy and giving development a high priority, Chinese companies and entrepreneurs have been actively but cautiously exploring more investment opportunities in the North Korean market.

They are more inspired as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on Monday reported to have visited the renovated and expanded Taesong Department Store in Pyongyang, which is seen as a positive sign for the country to further develop its economy.

According to nkews.com, Kim said the new “modern department store” would provide Pyongyang residents with “fine quality” goods including groceries, clothing, shoes, housewares and stationery. He was also reported to have said that the shop will “sufficiently produce and sell quality daily necessities and mass consumer goods for the convenience of the people,” the report said.

Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that the move could inspire many Chinese companies, since it could be seen as a sign of North Korea’s willingness to import more daily necessities as it strives to improve its residents’ living standards.

Li Guang, foreign trade manager of Hot Tex Woolen Co, a fabric supplier in East China’s Jiangsu Province, told the Global Times on Monday that North Korea has huge demand for textiles, and the move is a positive signal for companies like his that always want to ship more products to the country. “But since uncertainties remain, our export volumes are limited,” Li said. Li’s company exported fabrics worth $20,000 to North Korea last year.

Li said he’s also planning to attend the Pyongyang International Trade Fair to assess the situation and look for more opportunities in the country. North Korea offers “an ocean of opportunities,” said Li.

Apart from export opportunities, Chinese investors have also shown increasing interest in the market by taking trips to North Korea to get “a full understanding of the investment environment of the country,” an insider told the Global Times on Monday.

The insider noted that most investors still have a “wait-and-see attitude” since UN sanctions have not been lifted yet, but “they expressed willingness to invest in the country.”

The willingness is also bilateral. “Local authorities in North Korea also provided foreign investors with much convenience and they particularly welcome Chinese investors,” the insider said.

In a move to attract Chinese investors, a North Korea-based law firm visited China on April 1 to introduce its foreign investment laws and policies, and it promised to protect the rights of foreign investors in accordance with the laws.

Lü said that as neighboring countries, China and North Korea also enjoy certain advantages on business cooperation given their sound bilateral ties, well-established cooperation foundation and convenient transportation.

“There are many sectors where Chinese investors could invest, such as electricity and transportation,” said Lü, adding that bilateral trade will also gradually increase as tensions on the peninsula ease.

“Until then, China will continue to adhere to the UN sections, as it does now,” Lü added.