Was China’s amazing rise due to ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ or ‘capitalism with a Chinese facade? Or a little of both?  

23 Dec

There has in recent months many discussions centering around the proper characterization of China from an ideological point of view. The Chinese leadership has its own reasons for doing this, seeking to present what it deems a glorious self-image. In contrast, the West, especially the United States has wanted to offer an ideological explanation of its confrontational stance with China. Part of the ideological confusion is whether or not China can be considered to be a type of ‘democratic’ state, which it sometimes claims to be. China was not invited to take part in Biden’s Summit of Democracies, but questionable democracies as Israel, India, and the Philippines received invitations. What the United States has refrained from doing is to attribute China’s success to its mastery of and reliance upon maket-managed economic policy.

In my judgement, China’s self-identification as ‘a Communist state’ in certain contexts is no more misleading than the U.S. assumption that it possesses all the credentials to be claimed the world’s leading ‘democracy.’ There are features of both political systems that defy such labels from a descriptive perspective. China accelerated its amazing development process of the last 50 years by sometimes defining its system of governance as ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics,’ which was a coded way of expressing its participation at home and internationally in the capitalist world economy guided by a perspective usually described as ‘neoliberal globalization.’ Such an identity was underscored by Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), widely accepted as an institutional body entrusted with overseeing and promoting global capitalism in its neoliberal phase. It is became common for economists to describe China after the market friendly reforms to attract foreign investment and promoted trade associated with Deng Xiaoping leadership in 1991 as establishing a ‘socialist market economy.’ To ideological militants in the West to be ‘socialist’ amounts to being ‘communist,’ a negative characterization applicable not only to China but also to social democracy in Scandinavia or liberal tendencies of the Democratic Party in the United States.

It is obvious that invoking the label ‘Communist’ by a party leader in Beijing is quite different than its use as a political slur by right-wing politics in Europe and North America. When Chinese officials insist on ascribing a Communist identity to China it functions as a claim of  legitimacy, confirming fidelity to its founding ideology and recalling its revolutionary struggle. When agitators inside and outside of government in the West call China ‘Communist,’ or even ‘Socialist’ it is meant as both as an insult and a warning about an alien ideology that poses a domestic threat by way of leftist and even left liberal politics.

Looked at differently, China exemplifies the Communist political tradition after the Cold War associated with Marx and Lenin, and later Mao, in certain crucial respects. The Communist Party provides authoritative ideological guidance in relation to its own governing process, overseees one-party rule, provides guidance for political education and citizenship, and entrusts leadership to a single person essentially for lifetime. The current leader, Xi Jinping exemplifies this tradition in all respects. No political alternatives are accepted as legitimate challengers to Communist rule. In periodic five-year high-level conferences of the Chinese Communist Party leadership ideological articles of faith are reaffirmed and adjustments made by expressions of consensus seemingly shaped by the leader.  The Chinese government from the moment of its takeover of the Chinese mainland in 1949 has suppressed dissent, and insisted on an extreme form of secularism that has regulated religious movements strictly, sometimes harshly, particularly if they dare to exhibit political ambitions.

Despite some superficial resemblances to the Soviet Union, and the Cold War, it would be deeply misleading to view China through a Soviet lens or by way of post-World War II geopolitics. Two extraordinary differences highlight the gaps between the Cold War era and the present confrontation with China: first, in contrast to the Soviet Union, China has compiled a remarkable record of administrative competence, which has overseen the greatest economic and geopolitical ascent of any country in all of history, a story confirmed by spectacular growth, alleviation of extreme poverty, and increasing dominance of the most significant technological frontiers of 21st innovation; secondly, China’s expansionist foreign policy has been completely reliant on soft power instruments of influence, producing many win/win solutions, including its hyper-ambitious Belt and Road Project, and contrasting dramatically with the Western rise and Soviet attainment of superpower status which were based on military conquest and imperial forms of coercive control. It is the U.S. hostile reaction that confronts China rather than cooperates that seems mainly responsible for

inducing China to place an ever greater emphasis on military capabilities to maintain its national interests by discouraging U.S. provocations. The West should be learning from China rather than treating China as the second coming of the USSR, necessitating an ideological and militarizing mobilization for a new cold war that the world cannot afford, diverting attention and resources from a series of urgent global challenges posed by climate change, pandemics, global migration, gross inequalities that did not seriously impact on international relations.

Only the costly arms race, especially its nuclear dimension, made the last half of the 20th century vulnerable to catastrophe on a global scale, threatening species survival, prepared the public sphere for its present policy agenda.

Xi Jinping has been claiming that he is adapting Marxism to contemporary condition under the banner of ‘Marxism for the 21st Century.’ As near I can tell this terminology is used mainly as a way to identify and highlight the charismatic relevance of Xi Jinping personal leadership, and in the process elevate him to the status of the most eminent of revolutionary leaders, above all as the equal of Mao Zedong. Xi’s  ideological viewpoint has been also associated with explaining what is meant by the phrase ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ In ideological discourse, especially internationally, Xi commonly refers to the ‘socialist’ nature of the Chinese approach rather than to claim its ‘communist’ character.’ Xi clearly wants his various audiences to believe that Marxist thought remains as dynamic and relevant as ever, being ‘full of vitality,’ and thus the key to future human happiness.


The Chinese references to 21sst century Marxism is also a way of entering dialogue with Marxist political parties in other societies and creating a common global discourse. It also seems a way to be faithful to Markist-Leninis traditions of thought without having to comment critically upon the Soviet-led interval as a departure from Marxism. Put in positive terms Marxism in the 21st century calls for dedication to ‘human progress’ focused on building ‘a shared future for humanity’ in collaboration with congenial forces around the world

Whether China is viewed as a Communist center of power or not is less important than for the West to relate to China in a manner that is mutually beneficial for world peace and multilateralism. The policy emphasis on the West should be on not only learning from China but on bringing out the most constructive responses in relation to China’s potential indispensable contributions to world order. Such a view is not blind to Chinese violations of human rights or the excesses of Han nationalism, but it views these undeniable blemishes as best left to dynamics of internal reform and to the pressures mounted by global civil society, rather than as presently, a form of geopolitical harassment and anti-Chinese mobilization.

7 Responses to “Was China’s amazing rise due to ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ or ‘capitalism with a Chinese facade? Or a little of both?  ”

  1. Ray Joseph Cormier December 23, 2021 at 7:42 pm #

    Richard, another Common Sense Good for Humanity Treatise.
    Richard, All Reasonable, Peaceful People of Good Will should take this latest of yours to heart, and implement the Principles in their own Lives 1st, while learning how to expand and embrace our Common Humanity.
    The Christ says to those who would do it his Way, “Be as wise as a Serpent and as harmless as a Dove!”

    This would be the Sensible Way to go, “for the West to relate to China in a manner that is mutually beneficial for world peace and multilateralism.”

    Of all the Nations in Human History reaching Military-Economy Superpower Status, the US is the latest, greatest of them all in achieving Global Hegemony/Imperialism.
    AS it becomes more apparent Full Spectrum Dominance is slipping from America’s grasp, it will also be the most short lived Hegemony of all World Empires. The US will not give it up Peacefully accept the Signs of the Times.

    Since the US version of Capitalism was exported to Russia in 1991, parallel with the rise of the Unique Chinese blend of Socialistic- Communism the same year, The Chinese student surpassed the Master and the US resents it.

    Both Russia and China have now recognized if their Billionaires are not reined in, the growing Economic Inequality would eventually present an Existential THREAT to their Societies.
    Russia and especially China’s President Xi, ushering in “Common Prosperity” is now Taxing their Billionaires, while Democrats talk about it, but don’t do it.

    Reading the printed Word, there is no doubt the Religious Establishment saw Jesus as a threat that had to be eliminated.
    The Religious Establishment these Days ignore even talking about why Jesus said, of all the minority groups on Earth, ‘hardly ever will a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven.’
    He doesn’t exclude them, but he knows most of them love and serve money more than they love and serve God.

    Most Christian America is BLIND in it’s Patriotism. It’s only 1 line in the whole printed Word of God, but since their Congressional Representatives just gave the DoD and Military-Industrial Complex $778 BILLION to spend next year, never mind the next 10 years, but can’t find the money for a Child Tax Credit.

    America’s Business is WAR being the BIGGEST ARMS MERCHANT this World ever produced. The Abraham Accords were about US Weapons sales to undermine Peace.
    Do American Christian Leaders cite and exhort their sheep to consider this in ALL Bibles?
    ‘Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.

    That’s a MAJOR insight of the Word of God of Jews, Christians, Muslims and unbelievers.

    Most Christian America refuses to acknowledge the Spirit of these letters in their Bibles,
    The 1st Century Christians living closest to the Time when Jesus walked through Occupied Palestine, is recorded in Acts of the Apostles.
    And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
    And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
    Acts 2:49-50

    And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
    Acts 4:32

    Jesus went even further with the record of the workers bringing in the Harvest at the End of the World, where the labours who worked only 1 hour, were paid the same as the workers who agreed to work all day long, as described in Matthew 20.

    Fundamentally, those Literal words from the Bible describe God led Communism, Centuries before the Communist Manifesto brought out in the 19th Century after Christ, when Marx, seeing the gross economic inequality between the Nobility and the Masses in
    1850 London, wrote it after seeing and developing his Manifesto based on the verses cited above in his Bible.

    I think Russia and China are applying many Christian Principles doing, more than talking. The US and the nominally Christian West is on the Wrong side of History.

    https://rayjc.com/2021/12/13/americas-business-is-war/

  2. Julius Skoolafish December 25, 2021 at 1:22 am #

    Hello Richard. Just sharing this selection of topical links:

    • Selection and election: How China chooses its leaders

    • Thomas Carlyle – “Heroes and Hero Worship” (6 Lectures) – 1841

    In Lecture (or Chapter) 5 – “Hero as Man of Letters” – Carlyle writes:

    “By far the most interesting fact I hear about the Chinese is one on which we cannot arrive at clearness, but which excites endless curiosity even in the dim state: this namely, that they do attempt to make their Men of Letters their Governors! […] There does seem to be, all over China, a more or less active search everywhere to discover the men of talent that grow up in the young generation. […] The youths who distinguish themselves in the lower school are promoted into favorable stations in the higher, that they may still more distinguish themselves,–forward and forward: it appears to be out of these that the Official Persons, and incipient Governors, are taken.”

    Who would have thought that in 1841 (!) Thomas Carlyle was virtually writing the script of the rise to power of President Xi Jinping?

    • Xi Jinping: Scholar in a cave

    One more topical link

    • Eric X. Li: A tale of two political systems – TED Talks July 2013

    • Richard Falk December 26, 2021 at 3:25 pm #

      Thanks for illuminating historical pre-1949 insight into Chinese leadership and recrrutment patterns.

  3. Kata Fisher December 31, 2021 at 10:29 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,
    These are events from 1945 and on, and this is the evidence:

    Nuclear testing/Nuclear explosions = Nuclear Warming.

    If I were to commit to anything, would I have to know that this anything would have to be a true cause to do anything about? Would one true cause be, or could mean UN Probe on Nuclear Warming?

    If I am to go back to the International Relations and/or International Relation study at LU, could I believe in such thing as Global Warming? I do not think that I would or could believe in Global Warming apart from the Nuclear Warming.

    I do know that I will and can point finger at US and China as main contributors to the Nuclear Testing / Nuclear Warming – our competitive heroes. What about anyone else, and our powers and authority’s? But, I do assure you that we do have it – we have it in the past, and in the present, and in the future.

    Now, Geopolitics between US and China seem to be a bit off, and bringing about a dialog between them on Nuclear Warming would be very difficult? The rest of the world? Is this a hush, hush thing – that only scientist knows and do not tell anyone about – not even elected leaders?

    China has figured it out – they are a self-correcting system? What a strength of a governance that future world-wide elect leaders can count on in order to go about Nuclear/Global Warming correction in more humane and effective way – a Sunshine rays that are exposing the lies.

    I know, I will never – not ever commit to anything that is part of the big lie.
    In my understanding, whatever cause, the cause must be in some true factors, and that rational truth will bring about a dialogue that will bring small part, and possibly everyone on the same page because there can be some rational understanding to go about.

    We are to ask regions, territories that are truly hit hard with contemporary Global Warming / Post Nuclear Warming – what is their understanding on the Nuclear Warming as housekeeping item for them?

    I am sure they will be saying, “Let us figure this out for ourselves?” I do not think so.

    Therefore: I believe in such things as Rational Righteousness.

    As nasty as things are … they all did what they have done. Within the Next 25 years – what will be done? and may nothing be done about what it was done? I do not think so.

    There must be UN probe on Nuclear Warming. I am sorry, but Global Warming is misunderstood – and no one is on the constructive, and the same page on whatever the cause. Thank you, K.F.

  4. Ray Joseph Cormier January 4, 2022 at 5:41 am #

    FBI is Recklessly Misusing Trump-Era Espionage Policy to Create “Climate of Fear” Among Scientists
    The Justice Department’s China Initiative was established by the Trump Administration to crack down on Chinese economic and scientific espionage. It has led to numerous miscarriages of justice……………..[…]

    On the Tuesday before Christmas, Dr. Charles Lieber, the former chair of Harvard’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, was convicted by a federal jury of lying to the U.S. about his involvement with China’s government and failing to disclose income from China on his tax returns. He faces up to five years in federal prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

    “I think these cases are about scaring the scientific community,” he said. Dr. Timko, who attended stretches of the weeklong trial, said he was troubled by the way Dr. Lieber’s work had been “twisted” by prosecutors. “Charlie spent his whole career trying to help the world, and a handful of individuals who don’t even understand how science works tore the whole thing down,” he said. “And that is just not fair.”

    https://portside.org/2022-01-03/fbi-recklessly-misusing-trump-era-espionage-policy-create-climate-fear-among-scientists

  5. Kata Fisher January 4, 2022 at 8:08 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk and Ray , I have here a small correction: the main contributors to the Nuclear Warming were US and former Soviet Union. I gave a wrong fact about China’s extent of the responsibility for the Nuclear Warming. I have confused the flags. It’s a human error. Thank you. K.F. https://www.boredpanda.com/history-maps-of-nuclear-explosions-peter-atwood/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic&fbclid=IwAR16ObfWFGipUphZhVtzXLWtd5D6lEOPavboeaErGv_FiZ-tCM2–v5kJ3I

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: