The dragon has flown away, but still has red scales

Introduction: China’s tourism “poster cliché”

It definitely is a cliché.

You are a tourist, and you are coming back from China. You had a great time there: you went from Beijing airport to your Beijing hotel in one of the taxi provided by the hotel. You visited these wonderful places in and around Beijing, starting with the symbolic Olympic park and its Bird’s Nest Stadium. You enjoyed the relaxation and exhilarating disorientation of an “exotic” country; you’ve seen all the external signs of a large western city: tall buildings, the “banks avenue” and, of course, CO2 pollution resulting from the economic burst in car ownership. Every tourist has a very good idea about China: from observed facts, to well-known facts, to the discussions with their Chinese guides walking the Great Wall.

Eyes wide-open you can see buildings popping up from the ground. Beijing, Wuhan, Xi’An, Sanghai and, well, the whole China!, has become the playground of the world’s iron-clad caterpillars. Cars have long outnumbered bicycles and public transportation has encouraged the expansion of cities : green-and-white French Citroën cabs have taken over Wuhan. People go to the mall during their lunch-break, and they go out during the weekend. Many Chinese people, especially the younger generation, worship their favourite bands, dress-up like their guru-actors and frenetically follow their very-own TV shows: it decidedly has an air of déjà-vu. Some might add with typical socialist suspicion that China has indeed imported all the decadence of capitalism. Everywhere, free enterprise is encouraged, and TV adds certainly help boost the economy. In this context of economic growth, China has earned the “right” of being labelled “Capitalist.” As one add seen on the streets of X’Ian proclaims: “China rises and the world unites.” The dragon has grown indeed!


Signs of change

And then, coming back from your visit, one question will always be asked. You will be asked whether or not you think China is still a Communist country. You will also be asked what you think about China, and what impressed you the most. But before you can think, you will hear yourself affirm with the sanction of an expert: “No of course, China is a capitalist country now.” This answer too, is definitely cliché. Of course China is not a Communist country anymore. It’s a free-market economy! But I think this answer is too superficial to be relevant. In fact, if you are unfortunate enough to meet someone else who has been to China a few months before you did, you will soon realise that there is a fascination with China—one that is quite understandable. How fast can China grow? As large as its land-size, as fast as its urban immigration : no matter how, there is a growing fascination about China.[i] You might then wonder what is the reason behind this hype and realise with stupor that “the only thing rising faster than China is the hype about China.”[ii]

The fact remains: there are signs of change. On the eastern side of Communism a wind of change is blowing. And the most obvious sign is of course Capitalist China. By Capitalist China, most people likely mean that free-market economy, and a looser form of censorship, are evidences that China has left the Old Path. The New China has mutated into a New Modern China; the Old Guard is dead, not under tank tracks but under the tracks of economic freedom, not under the rounds of another bloody revolution but under the soft assaults of freedom—slowly acquired through technological liberty and openness to the world. At times you might offer this answer with an embarrassed reference to the current condition in China regarding social movements or protests for independence in Tibet or other autonomous regions of this huge country. But after all, the point is not that China is a perfect country—thus excusing a rather summary justice—but that China is a capitalist country—hence the praise of economic freedom. It is often assumed that “more than two decades of market-oriented reform has brought visible success and economic transformation to China.”[iii] The word is out: China has finally become a capitalist country: China is a “free country”! Only … the colours of its flag have not changed: the red and yellow flag of communism has been laid down before the red and yellow flag of MacDonaldism.

This would be a first answer, and an easy one as well, but not one that is unfounded. By all counts, China has changed, and most of all, China’s economy has changed. That is what people see: “In measurable terms of economic development and social change, China’s achievement has been unprecedented in speed, scale, and scope […] Additionally, as market-oriented reforms have made the Chinese economy less state-centered and more decentralized, economic development has turned Chinese society from one that was once tightly controlled by the state, into one that is increasingly autonomous, pluralistic, and complex.”[iv] Prasad and Rumbaugh, in the occasional paper #232 of the International Monetary Fund, give us a brief overview of recent developments in Chinese economy, emphasizing its mutation into a private-sector based economy—which is in fact quite similar to defining it as a free-market economy.[v] China’s entry in the World Trade Organization is supposedly proof of a “watershed reform.”[vi] Fiscal policy, prices dynamics and management, as well as the scope of China’s international trade, all these reforms and/or economic challenges point to the fact that China, through its government and private sector, is work to “update” the country’s economic market—not only in its content but in its very nature.

Another sign of change is the university. To some, the university has now become the “one child” of Modern China, and on this child much hope rests. Unfortunately, China is most likely still a Communist country and when the party demands, the university (too often) complies. Many students do not care, because they are granted a place in the Chinese university, even sometimes in the “Chinese Ivy League.” Moreover, Party membership is no longer what it used to be: it is not mandatory, but most people are members for the benefits it provides. Who would blame them? Of course we hear protest within the university—a welcome sign. The “one-child policy” (or “policy of birth planning” [计划生育政策]), and its Communist slogan “Zhi sheng yige haizi hao” (It is good to have just one child), is for example pointed out as the reason behind the economic crisis China is about to face in the decade to come. But whether the university is free of choosing its research topic does not seem to be considered a major problem. Consider this: PhD students being imposed research topics for use by a political agenda: how much more communism could we want?[vii]

You could also say that China is not Communist anymore because China’s government has lessened its control over the press and over communication. In fact, the technological revolution will lead, or so it is chanted, to a lasting change in China: “In this era of highly developed media culture, young people have more contact than ever with foreign culture. According to CNNIC statistics, by June 30, 2004, China had had 87 million Internet users, most of them young people. Coupled with the openness and diversity of modern society, this means that young Chinese people now seek their cultural orientation within the ambit of Western culture.”[viii] It is probably expected that we see that as an improvement, but whether or not it is an improvement, the reality is that China has left Communism and that this new stance of the government towards the medias is one of the clearest evidences.

Of course, the change in China should be seen through the eyes of the future. The shift in China’s society should be evidenced in the young generation, and it is. The youth is the scale for China’s change, and this new generation is autonomous, pluralistic, and entertains complex attitudes in their relation to Western culture and influence.[ix] Here, we supposedly find an example of how China is moving away from a Communist way of life. However, the question is rarely asked: does a change of life imply a social, political, and ideological turnover? Again, it would be easy to jump to the answer. But, to think clearly: is the young generation a witness to the change already at hand, or is it a sign of future reforms? As I have tried to show, some reforms have been implemented. China is certainly not the China of the ninety-seventies! But the attitude of the young generation is not evidence of a radical internal change.


Signs of hammer and sickle

Things are not that simple, unfortunately. Control of the press, for example, is not what it was, for sure, but notice that most of the headlines on all channels must still be approved—CCTV sanctioned—and are often word-by-word identical. Many TV stations are still government-run—like few of them are even in France, or the US for that matter. In China we can now find good first-rate newspapers which are quite independent from the government. Independent media are growing stronger, but they are not strong enough to avoid all pressure. Guangzhou based, Southern Weekly [南方周末],[x] for example, is “a popular and well-regarded weekly newspaper known for investigative exposés and a revolving door that lands editors in jail … In 2008, it expanded its opinion page to a full section and introduced a new section devoted to politics. Its editors cover stories that the authorities don’t want played up, harming societal harmony, while its columnists perennially push for a rapid increase in democracy, civil society, and freedom of expression despite their possible incompatibility with Chinese-style socialism.”[xi] This strong independence from the government in matter of media-coverage is one that should be welcome. However, censorship has not disappeared and not until the freedom acquired by few newspapers is made global will China qualify as a “free media” country.  All in all, it seems that even though there still is communist control over the media, freedom of communication has largely improved. This, along with the increasing rate of social protest should naturally lead the Chinese Communist Party (CPP) to expect a dangerous loss of power over the country.

Such is not the case. The government does not seem “afraid” of loosening its grip over the media, or opening up to free-market economy etc. If it really as afraid of losing control of the country, the CPP would never allow more freedom for the media nor allow any social protests. There are only two explanations: either, unaware and unconscious about the situation, unable to control it, or just indifferent to the changes, the CPP has decided to go along, albeit unwillingly, with these reforms. Either … it is not a concern. Why is the Chinese state not more concerned by, for example, the increasing freedom of speech? Simply, as French author Jean-Luc Domenach says: “the power does not feel threatened, because it is not threatened.”[xii] In fact, former Party Chairman and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping [鄧小平] had this word: “Plan and market are instrument …, they are not in themselves the standards of capitalism or of democracy.”[xiii] What are those then, if not the marks of capitalism or democracy?—both elements characteristics of the “West.” Thus we must ask: are the changes in China’s economy and medias indicators of the “consumerism-ation” or “capitalism-ation” of China?

Regarding the introduction of free-market economy, China cannot be seen to have left the path of Communism yet. To begin with, it seems that China has huge trouble accepting the rules of this free-market they officially welcomed. An example is the recent case of espionage raised by the Chinese government against Australia. This case involved four employees of the iron-giant Rio Tinto, including the Australian executive Stern Hu who, during a negotiation meeting in China, was held prisoner on the charge of “infringing business secrets and bribery.”[xiv] The story goes differently of course in Western newspapers. To some, the whole case is related to the discussion over iron ore prices. The conjunction of this important meeting between the first importer of iron and one of the greatest producer of iron and this charge of espionage is indeed suspect. It is quite possible to see in this move the ever-present control of the Chinese government over its economy and state-owned companies. In itself the presence of state-owned companies is nothing close to Communism, and most countries still own 51% of companies crucial to the maintain of public order and social structure.

However what is in cause here is the exterior protection that the Chinese state provides for its companies. In fact, to the author writing in the New York Times, “The case also seems likely to turn into a larger dispute between China and Australia about the nature of the Chinese state secrets law and whether it should apply to foreigners doing business with China’s state-owned companies.”[xv] This can be seen as an effort of China to strengthen its economy by preserving parts of its market from external fluctuations and/or dependence.[xvi] Already Australia officials and economists have noticed this and have taken steps to protect their own resources and GDP. The issuing conflict could not be resolved without the Chinese government taking radical steps to open its iron-market to the current rules of production, negotiation, and import/export. But that, it seems, requires an economy free from the Communist “all for the country” rule.[xvii]

As I have already said, a direct consequence is that China manifests the amazing ability of Communism to adapt itself to current global political and economic conditions. What we see is but the political modification of Communism along the lines of a demanding technological society—the controlling power of either “capitalist” or “Communist” countries. American scholar Michael Oksenberg spoke, before his untimely death in 2001, of “fragmented authoritarianism” to characterize this current evolution.[xviii] This is also the conclusion of scholar Minxin Pei who sets China’s economic development over against the sclerosis structure of China’s “Leninist” politics.[xix] China’s economy is not a proof of ideological change. Rather, its strong Communist thrust allowed for the modification of what was unnecessary or non-damageable to the essence of Communism. Chinese Communism is no longer the strictest and absolute vision of First Chairman Mao. It is a Communist vision of “developmental autocracy.”[xx]

Talking about economy and politics, one should not forget that many state-owned companies have been de facto excluded from the Chinese law on bankruptcy—even if that is changing also, and rather quick. To protect those state-owned companies, the Chinese government did not hesitate to sacrifice the private sector, leading to the dramatic paralysis of this section of the Chinese economy as well as an artificial management of the financial system.[xxi] Behind this, we can certainly find the problem of corporate government of Chinese enterprises—which takes its roots in the Communist ideology.[xxii] Behind the current fragility and enormous voracity of Chinese economy is a state-willed economy that does not function according to market-rules but according to national rules: the country first, the people first, the CPP first. The nation is the people and the people must be ruled together, as a body: the Chinese market cannot be ruled by independent economic laws, because it must always benefit the people.[xxiii]

However, if China is an economic phagocyte, it is in danger of implosion, of being consumed from within. China’s lack of competitive development coupled with an increase in competitive authority inside the CPP itself (and between more and more independent regions) will most probably lead China from a positive political development to a threat of fragmentation of its regional structure. Hence the danger of what Pei calls “decentralized predation.” The fragmentation of the central Communist authority does not necessarily imply the disappearance of all Communist authority but merely that this authority has been transferred or “taken hostage” by local and regional branches of the Party. In fact, by becoming more or less autonomous, regional Communist governments have become stronger regarding the exercise of political authority—without the strong control of the centralized government. In these regions, the Communist leaders of the Party, “back there in Beijing” behave more and more like local wolves. Local communism is a predator for its members, and so is a predator for the country itself. China is threatened to be destroyed from within because its own government cannot stop the very relative freedom it allowed in the first place. If not for the strong Communist ideology of the Chinese government, the disintegration of the social structure of the country—that has already long begun—would have occurred much faster. Ironical, that the relative stability of China is not due to its openness to free-market economy but to the remains of the Communist structure.[xxiv]

China also proves itself Communist in its disregard of personal identity, but that should be no surprise to those who know about Communist ideology. For example, at Davos, “the head of China’s biggest mobile phone company, which has more than 300 million subscribers, stunned delegates by revealing that the company had unlimited access to the personal data of its customers and handed it over to Chinese security officials when demanded.”[xxv] Further, China’s Government can still decide to block access to targeted websites such as Google or Wikipedia, even though this becomes more and more problematic. According to the UN’s Human Development Indicator, China only holds the 81st world position;[xxvi] while US-based Freedom House reports that, regarding both political rights and civil liberties, China is not a free country—China scores respectively 7 and 6 out of 7—the lowest being 7![xxvii] Some legitimately question China’s democratic change, mostly so on the basis of human rights and freedom of speech. Surprisingly, this is a somewhat overlooked factor in the fascination about China, to the point that French candidate to the last presidential election, Ségolène Royal, came back praising the Chinese judicial system for its expediency and efficiency! Considering the treatment of prisoners and the charges of violation of human rights, one might well feel offended.

But criticizing China’s present condition on the sole ground of human right is not going far enough. Merely pointing to what does not work does not quite do the trick. At this point the battle-line is usually clearly drawn between the “capitalist China” and the “communist China” experts. However, on either side, judgment lacks social observation. Obviously your tourist friend, who has met nobody else but his Chinese guide, will certainly take me for some radical socialist freak (I’m European, hence socialist), while my “human right activist” friend will suspect that I am sold to the capitalist oppressors (I’m European, hence capitalist). Both of course!

Have we moved towards an answer to our question? Is China still the old Communist country some still remember, or is China the eastern doppelgänger of Western capitalism? Agreed: all of this sounds rather cliché. But it is usually taken at face value. Is China a Communist country? Yes or No. Depending if you are an American Republican or a French Socialist! But what is really being asked? Are we asking if China has adopted a free-market economy, or are we asking about the nature of China itself?—in which case, the answer might much more complex than we could possibly think. The naïveté of the answers given result from a fundamental mistake in the question asked. What do we mean by “Communist China”? If we define “Communist” as a state-controlled society under close scrutiny without either the right of free association of persons or free enterprise, then “no,” China is not a Communist country anymore. But this definition of China makes it the identical twin of the USSR, which it is not! However, we could also define “Communism” by its true philosophical foundation, its education and ideology, the topic of the next paragraph. But to give a preliminary answer I would say that, no matter what we see or do not see anymore: this is not proof enough. It is neither a proof for “Capitalist China,” nor for “Communist China.” We must go further.


The essence of Communism

There is a paradox before us: China is at times hailed for the growth of its economy and the shift in its political direction. However, some main issues remain; and they seem to suggest that much about Communist China has not changed. That being said, how should we understand this paradox? How can the New China have changed and not changed at the same time? The root of this paradoxical change (or not-change) is found in the essence of Communism itself. As a reminder, we need to keep in mind the two philosophical foundations of Communism: materialism and dialecticism. This is no surprise: after all Communism is essentially Marxist dialecticism, which is composed of three principles.

The first principle is the “transformation of quantity into quality,” thus describing how ongoing changes (such as “class-struggle”) can lead to a societal shift (see the February Revolution, the Cultural Revolution, or, in its own way, the Long March).[xxviii] But this also explains why “class-struggle”, to take the most obvious example, while being an important part of Communism is not enough, in itself, to define Communism. In fact, Communism might survive quite well without “class-struggle.” It just needs to find another application for its principle of transformation of quantity into quality.[xxix]

What must be noted next is that Marxist dialectics, promoting a societal qualitative transformation, needs a directing principle. Transformation needs a “mover,” a “motivation.” This is the role played by the second principle of Marxist dialecticism: the interpretation of contraries, which should not be confused with a Hegelian “synthesis.” The basic line of this principle is: movement is the only stable phenomenon; contradiction is the essence of things and the mover of the world. Hence, the transformation previously mentioned is given historical motion.

Finally, the third principle of Marxist dialecticism, the negation of negation, in particular explains how China can be both one thing and its opposite.[xxx] Combined with the two previous principles (transformation in motion), Marxist dialecticism builds on the ongoing opposition of contraries. In fact, Communism, in any form, demands oppositions; it feeds on paradoxes; its historical and materialistic movement moves from one negation to the next. It does not necessitate any stable or “fixity” theory, even in economy. [xxxi] As Mao defined it, Marxist dialecticism, essentially, Communism demands, requires, permanent revolution, permanent change, permanent opposition and instability. Communism is by nature a “permanent contradictory transformation in motion.”

This permanent revolution is, in Marxist theory, integrated / joined with a radical materialism—which is precisely what differentiates Marx and Hegel.[xxxii] To several scholars, Marxist dialecticism is the achievement of materialism: it is radical and mature materialism, finally purged from all remnants of transcendent thought. Humankind has reached freedom from contemplative activity, humankind has reached adulthood in the understanding that they have the intrinsic capacity to produce their means of existence. The final nature of Communist dialectical materialism could be described this way: that to each period of history corresponds specific means of production based on material given.[xxxiii] Here is encapsulated the social implications of Communism that explain both the need for revolution and the ongoing strength of Chinese Communism. Of all Communist ideologies, only Chinese Communism has understood and found the way to apply, to live, Communism. Only Chinese Communism understood that it is dialectical materialism applied to historical means of production that is the essence of a Communist state, not the means of production itself. Hence, a Communist state can well be feeding on free-market economy.

A telling example overlooking the essential Communist nature of Chinese economy is the recent rise of economic-based evaluations regarding China and its development within the context of a globalized and WTO-run world-economy.[xxxiv] Such works often focus on the development, the challenges, the successes of China with respect to its entry in a new economic process. For example, a (more or less) recent evaluation on China’s WTO involvement focused almost exclusively on the challenge of globalization but left out the issue of the relationship between China’s economic state and its political / ideological condition.[xxxv] Further, much hopes are placed upon China’s adaptation to market-based economy and, even though the task is thought to be long–term, the possibility for achievement is widely accepted and its success often unquestioned.[xxxvi] When the possibility of the “social evolution” of China towards a “better” society is put forward, the answer is somehow naïve and/or optimistic. Richard Sanders for example asks:

Will it be possible to create a more humane, equal society within the extant political system dominated by the Chinese Communist Party, a society at ease with itself? Some observers think not, notably the Hungarian transitional economist Janos Kornai, who argues that a communist society and a humane society are incompatible. This book is designed too point the Chinese government in directions, through institutional innovation and adaptation and policy initiatives, which may make it possible. But only time will tell. And I expect we will know by the time the next twenty-five years are out.[xxxvii]

I believe Kornai is mistaken when he implies that a humane society is merely defined by its ideological system.[xxxviii] Our Westernized technological world might not be much more humane than a Communist one. Moreover, the book is mistaken in proposing to “point the Chinese government in directions,” while completely leaving out the question of the adaptive nature of Communism. In fact, the challenges to adaptation and policies are no challenges to the Chinese Communist Party. The task to adapt to a free-market economy and to change economic policies accordingly is bound to succeed! There is no doubt about it, because the very nature of Communism is to live out of paradoxes—as we have just seen. The more paradoxical the society, the more successful and adaptive China’s Communism will be.[xxxix]


China’s communist society: Technique comes East

Let us go further. I have just said that Communism has the capacity to adapt quite well to paradoxical changes, having by nature a need for oppositions and contradictions. I have also concluded that Communism is not in essence “class-struggle,” and consequently that it should not be considered as antithetical to a free-market economy.

In trying to separate itself from the economic obligation leading to the establishment of “classes,” New China applied true Communism: it transformed even the old “class-struggle” paradigm thus holding true to the “negation of negation” principle. In doing so, New China was founded on a perspective that, while trying to impress one economic direction (the typical Marxist one, as tried and failed in the USSR), was not subjected to any.[xl] The existence and nature of New China is not based upon the subsistence of “class struggle” ideology—or not anymore—as it was in the USSR.

Hence, the slow disappearance of “class-struggle” ideology some have pointed to, and supposedly evidenced by Chinese capitalism, does not undermine the existence of Communist New China. Here, Mao was most certainly wrong when he affirmed: “Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history; such is the history of civilization for thousands of years. To interpret history from this viewpoint is historical materialism; standing in opposition to this viewpoint is historical idealism.”[xli] Free-market economy becomes possible for party’s sake, for New China’s sake—no matter the propagandist nature of this new motto. As Jacques Ellul argued long ago the real difference between Communist China and Western markets is not their management of economy, and ideology, but that, while Western economy is privately-based, Chinese economy is state-based. The difference is not in their mode of economy but in their control of economy. Appearances can be deceiving.

In fact, the deception of China’s Communism runs deeper. Many essential features of Communism are not part of China’s ideology anymore. For example, the concept of revolution, or even permanent revolution, has dissolved into the mutation of China’s Communism. Indeed, Ellul had argued, already in 1972 and 1982,[xlii] that New China’s revolution was not a revolution. He argued that the revolution undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party was itself subjected to something higher, something more comprehensive than its revolutionary ideology. It was “technique-cized.” Chinese Communism, by focusing on an unlikely radical social transformation paid the high price: its “conversion” to Technique, the exclusive focus on the efficiency, autonomy, and self- augmentation of its structure and environment. Thus, in adapting Communism to free-market economy, China entered—if it was not there yet—the wonderful environment of Technique. By now, China has become World economy #2: the efficiency of its economic shift of the 1970s, the autonomy of its political economy, have all contributed to this ambiguous achievement.[xliii]

But the ultimate failure of New China’s revolution also explains how Communist China, disregarding its revolutionary nature, can mutate so easily from a state-controlled economy to a seemingly free-market economy. Communist China, like any other world economy, mutates through and in Technique—and Technique remains worldwide the same.[xliv] Technique’s efficiency allows for capitalism to be an integrative part of the China’s economic life: and efficiency mocks Capitalism and Communism alike. Economic autonomy and efficiency has no colour, it has no banner, it has no voters; it is not chosen, it is not revolutionized. It is “Technique-sized,” and China has been “Technique-sized” as well.

From a purely economic point of view the conclusions often held regarding the internal hindrance to China’s true potential might well be true. For example, there is no denying that “China’s neo-Leninist regime has formidable resources—but much more serious defects. State-directed investment, made to secure the political loyalty of key constituencies and advance personal careers, will prevent China from realizing its economic potential.”[xlv] However, should we consider China’s regime itself, along with all its unfortunate social and political consequences, as the key to China’s achievement of its economic potential.

The comprehensive, efficiency-focused and autonomous nature of Technique demands that, in order to assess the possibility of change in China, we first assess the possibility and scope of change within a “technological environment.” But we could also wonder if a precise evaluation of social, economic and political change in China is possible at all. If we follow Ellul, and consider that Technique as environment precisely means that we have few means of control over it and none outside it, any analysis about China’s future will be a “Technique-ist” analysis with only “Technique-al” proposals. We would be moving from one proposal to another, but always within the context of an autonomous and self-augmenting society, no matter its direction—Communist or Capitalist. The question should rather be that of human freedom within the context of a global Technique-al world such as the one in which we live. But that aspect of the “debate”—if debate there is—is completely left out.



Current evaluations on the state of China tend to concentrate on the political and economic aspects—if not solely on the economic one. As such, China and its challenges and reforms, poses a serious challenge to the global economy. In fact,

these moves to push reforms further are in line with the decisions announced as part of the Third Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2003 to complete China’s transition to a market economy. The more progress that can be made to establish a sound market economy, the less of an issue the WTO commitments and trade imbalances will become.[xlvi]

Because the sole focus of WTO and G20  “scholars” is on economic growth, we are easily led to disregard both the persistence of Communism and the pervasive technological environment of world-economies—including China. Unless these two issues be addressed, the proposals and evaluations offered might only be technical illusions.

I personally believe that the only answer to the Chinese challenge, both for China and for us, is an answer to these two questions. The essential answer will be found in an ethic of freedom, and in reaching personal and communal freedom within a environment “technique.” To be clearer, a personal ethical freedom cannot be achieved by purely human means, for, contrarily to Marxist dialectics, personal ethical freedom is not set over against the technological environment. However, taking into account the nature of Technique, a personal and communal freedom from/within Technique, must flow directly from personal given freedom.

The problem is not economic. It is first and foremost an ethical issue. As to our initial question: is China still a Communist country, the answer should by now be obvious. The dragon may have flown away, but it still has red scales.


[i] Article’s title by Paul Heytens and Harm Zebregs, “How fast can China grow?” in Wanda Tseng, Markus Rodlauer, eds., China, Competing in the Global Economy (Washington: International Monetary Fund, 2003), 8-29.

[ii] Minxin Pei, “The Dark Side of China’s Rise” Foreign Policy, March/April 2006,, accessed September 21, 2009.

[iii] Markus Rodlauer and Paul Heytens, “Introduction and Overview,” in Wanda Tseng, Markus Rodlauer, eds., China, Competing in the Global Economy (Washington: International Monetary Fund, 2003), 1.

[iv] Minxin Pei, China’s trapped transition: the limits of developmental autocracy, 1.

[v] See Eswar Prasad and Thomas Rumbaugh, “Overview” in Eswar Prasad, ed., China’s Growth and Integration Into the World Economy: Prospects and Challenges (Washington: International Monetary Fund, 2004), 1-5.

[vi] “China’s recent entry into the WTO marks a watershed for reform. A new push us needed to complete the unfinished reform agenda. WTO accession promises to stimulate such progress by increasing FDI, removing protection from inefficient industries, and spurring the development of the legal and regulatory framework necessary for a market economy.” Wanda Tseng, Markus Rodlauer, eds., China, Competing in the Global Economy (Washington: International Monetary Fund, 2003).

[vii] Even though I personally think this happens too often in our so-called Western countries as well, but in a more subtle manner. But whatever the manner, the technique used remains the same and the goal, political and economic efficiency, remains the same.

[viii] “Embracing Western ways while cleaving to tradition.” China Daily,, January 21, 2001.

[ix] “In contrast to the youth that wholeheartedly allied themselves with the liberal trends of the 1980s, however, today’s young Chinese have a more rational stance over Western culture. They do not unconditionally accept Western concepts, nor do they regard Western culture as the be all and end all of civilization; today’s young Chinese people absorb elements of both the East and the West.” “Embracing Western ways while cleaving to tradition.” China Daily,, January 21, 2001.

[x] Also called Southern Weekend, see Some news feed in English from Southern Weekend are available on China Digital Times, on

See also the related newspaper Southern Daily, see

[xi] “Under Pressure, Chinese Newspaper Pulls Exposé on a Charity.” The New York Times,, March 24, 2002.

[xii] Jean-Luc Domenach, La Chine m’Inquiète, 40.

[xiii] Quoted in Domenach, 54 (from South China Morning Post, July 19, 2002)

[xiv] Zhang Qi and Cui Xiaohuo, “Four Rio Tinto employees arrested.” China Daily,, August 12, 2009.

[xv] David Barboza, “Espionage Charges in China May Be Linked to Negotiations Over Iron Ore Prices.” The New York Times,, July 10, 2009

[xvi] Of course, Australia’s Foreign Minister has denied any link between this charge and the negotiation: “ ‘I’ve seen no evidence and I have no basis for any such speculation,’ he said. ‘But I do underline that when our officials were advised of the reasons for the detention, that came as a surprise to us, as it came as a surprise to Rio Tinto, Mr. Hu’s employer.’” See “Australian held in China on espionage charges.” CNN,, July 9, 2009. Interestingly enough, this charge of espionage intervenes few weeks before a Chinese citizen who had worked for both Boeing and Rockwell International was convicted of stealing state secrets for China. See “Engineer Convicted Of Stealing Trade Secrets” National Public Radio,, July 17, 2009.

[xvii] As an old slogan of the 1940s, still visible on occasion affirms: “Serve the people,” [为人民服务] that is, serve the communist state because it is the people. We should also remember that the constitution of China describes quite plainly what the Communist ideology demands in terms of economy: “Article 6. The basis of the socialist economic system of the People’s Republic of China is socialist public ownership of the means of production, namely, ownership by the whole people and collective ownership by the working people. The system of socialist public ownership supersedes the system of exploitation of man by man; it applies the principle of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”

[xviii] Kenneth Lieberthal and Michel Oksenberg, Policy Making in China: Leaders, Structures, and Processes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), esp. 137-151.

[xix] Minxin Pei, China’s Trapped Position, 4.

[xx] “Behind the glowing headlines are fundamental frailties rooted in the Chinese neo-Leninist state. Unlike Maoism, neo-Leninism blends one-party rule and state control of key sectors of the economy with partial market reforms and an end to self-imposed isolation from the world economy. The Maoist state preached egalitarianism and relied on the loyalty of workers and peasants. The neo-Leninist state practices elitism, draws its support from technocrats, the military, and the police, and co-opts new social elites (professionals and private entrepreneurs) and foreign capital —all vilified under Maoism. Neo-Leninism has rendered the ruling Chinese Communist Party more resilient but has also generated self-destructive forces.” Minxin Pei, “The Dark Side of China’s Rise” Foreign Policy, March/April 2006,, accessed September 21, 209.

[xxi] Minxin Pei, China’s Trapped Position, 118 ff. See also her report that “State enterprises are also miserably unprofitable. In 2003, boom year, their median rate of return on assets was a measly 1.5 percent. More than 35 percent of state enterprises lose money and 1 in 6 has more debts than assets. China is the only country in history to have simultaneously achieved record economic growth and a record number of nonperforming bank loans.” Minxin Pei, “The Dark Side of China’s Rise” Foreign Policy, March/April 2006,, accessed September 21, 209.

[xxii] “Study: Chinese Companies Have Inadequate Corporate Governance.” China Corporate Social Responsibility, September 18, 2007.

[xxiii] Nothing testifies more of this than the first article of New China’s constitution: “Article 1. The People’s Republic of China is a socialist state under the people’s democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants. The socialist system is the basic system of the People’s Republic of China.” This system is still current.

[xxiv] According to Minxin Pei, it is the “erosion of the state’s capability to monitor and discipline its agents” that is the key in understanding the rise of “decentralized predation.” Pei, China’s Trapped Transition, 147. No doubt this same erosion of authority and control has had some damaging effect on China’s foreign policy and international trade stance. Ironical again that what is seen as a threat in the West lead to the disintegration of the Chinese society itself.

[xxv] AFP, January 26, 2008. Of course some will argue that

[xxvi] “Human development indices.” United Nations Development Programme,

[xxvii] Freedom House, “Freedom in the World report,”, accessed September 21, 2009.

[xxviii] Engels commented that “probably the same gentlemen who up to now have decried the transformation of quantity into quality as mysticism and incomprehensible transcendentalism will now declare that it is indeed something quite self-evident, trivial, and commonplace, which they have long employed, and so they have been taught nothing new. But to have formulated for the first time in its universally valid form a general law of development of nature, society, and thought, will always remain an act of historic importance.” Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature (Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954), 91. Also quoted in Howard Selsam and Harry Martel, Reader in Marxist Philosophy (New York: International Publishers, 1987), 126.

[xxix] To my mind, one of the main mistakes made by scholars concerned with democracy in China is to focus on the move away from the ideology of “class-struggle.” Too often is this concept seen as the essence of Communism, which it is not. For example Yijiang Ding explains that, “without enemy classes, ‘the people’ ceased to be a social class concept and became more or less all-inclusive, and dictatorship lost its main target and rationale.” Yijiang Ding, Chinese Democracy After Tiananmen, 8. Of course I will not argue that dictatorship is and remains in China. But, one again, we are mistaken if we think that the disappearance of “class-struggle” will lead to a radical and lasting political and social change in China.

[xxx] Engels for example explains that this principle is “a very simple process which is taking place everywhere and every day, which any child can understand as soon as it is stripped of the veil of mystery in which it was enveloped by the old idealist philosophy.” Friedrich Engels, “Anti-Dühring,” Part I: Philosophy, ch. 13: ‘Dialectics Negation of the Negation,’ Marxist Internet Archive, accessed August 15, 2010.

[xxxi] One finds a good summary of these laws under Lenin’s pen: “A development that repeats, as it were, stages that have already been passed, but repeats them in a different way, on a higher basis (“the negation of the negation”), a development, so to speak, that proceeds in spirals, not in a straight line; a development by leaps, catastrophes, and revolutions; “breaks in continuity”; the transformation of quantity into quality; inner impulses towards development, imparted by the contradiction and conflict of the various forces and tendencies acting on a given body, or within a given phenomenon, or within a given society; the interdependence and the closest and indissoluble connection between all aspects of any phenomenon (history constantly revealing ever new aspects), a connection that provides a uniform, and universal process of motion, one that follows definite laws – these are some of the features of dialectics as a doctrine of development that is richer than the conventional one.” Lenin in On the Question of Dialectics: A Collection (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980), 7. Quoted from Kevin Anderson, Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 24.

[xxxii] Marx thus explained this difference: “My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e. the process of thinking, which, under the name of ‘the Idea,’ he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of ‘the Idea.’ With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.” Karl Marx, Das Kapital: A New Abridgement. Edited by David McLellan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 11. Marxism (not forgetting Engels!) tried to bring Hegel upside-down: for Marx did not think Hegel of no use but merely that Hegel’s philosophy could not lead to the needed dialectical materialism because of its idealistic nature. to Marx, there should be no negation of the being of man: man has no other origin and “generator” than itself.

[xxxiii] With respect to Chinese Communism, it is Lin Piao (林彪) who best explained this same principle, saying that, “to replace production by revolution is out of the question. But we will use revolution to guide, stimulate, and develop production.” I must here paraphrase and rely only on my memory. I am not able to provide the necessary reference.

[xxxiv] See for example Nicholas R. Lardy, Integrating China Into the Global Economy (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2002). Again, this works focuses merely on global economic challenges, within or outside the sphere of the World Trade Organization, and forgets the broader political issue of New China’s Communist nature. See also Supachai Panitchpakdi and Mark Clifford, China and the WTO: Changing China, Changing World Trade (Singapore: J. Wiley & Sons, 2002).

[xxxv] Shuming Bao, Shuanglin Lin and Changwen Zhao, eds., The Chinese Economy After WTO Accession, (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 2. See also Cheong Ching, Hung Yee Ching, eds., Handbook on China’s WTO accession and its impacts (Singapore: World Scientific, 2003).

[xxxvi] “China’s transition to market-based economy along the lines of North American and European capitalist economies has some way to go as the reform process, though radical and fundamental in so many respects, continues on its gradualist, pragmatic and experimental path.” Richard Sanders, “Introduction: China’s post-reform economy” in Richard Sanders, Yang Chen, eds., China’s Post-reform Economy: Achieving Harmony, Sustaining Growth, 3.

[xxxvii] Richard Sanders, “Introduction: China’s post-reform economy,” 10.

[xxxviii] Kornai’s mistake is to remain bound to the notion that inhumanity is the condition sine qua non of the Communist state. Janos Kornai, By Force of Thought: Irregular Memoirs of an Intellectual Journey (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008).

[xxxix] Chairman Mao was therefore correct in his assessment that contradiction in society is the strength of Communism: “Changes in society are due chiefly to the development of the internal contradictions in society, that is, the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the contradiction between classes and the contradiction between the old and the new; it is the development of these contradictions that pushes society forward and gives the impetu6 for the suppression of the old society by the new.” Mao Tse-tung, “On Contradiction” (August 1937) in Selected Works (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1967), I:314.

[xl] Somewhat the same point was made by Ellul.

[xli] Mao Tse-tung, “Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle” (August 14, 1949), in Selected Works (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1967), IV:428.

[xlii] Respectively in De la révolution aux révoltes (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1972) and in Changer de revolution: l’inéluctable proletariat (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1982).

[xliii] The efficiency of the CCP’s “plans” is an example of its collusion with Technique and, by consequence, its necessary failure. The four revolutions, visionary motto of Mao (Shixian sige xiandaihua, “Achieve the Four Modernisations”), was meant to be the application of Technique to the modernisation of science, industry, agriculture and defence. The result of these four modernizations did not produce, however, the expected benefits. There is no success for any revolution under the shadow of Technique. Regarding the “conversion” of New China to the efficiency and autonomy of Technique, see among other Changer de révolution, 111 ff. Mao commented: “In China the struggle to consolidate the socialist system, the struggle to decide whether socialism or capitalism will prevail, will still take a long historical period. However, we should all realize that the new system of socialism will unquestionably be consolidated. We can assuredly build a socialist state with modern industry, modern agriculture, and modern science and culture.” Mao Tse-tung, Speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s National Conference on Propaganda Work (March 12, 1957), first pocket ed., 2-3. See also Deng Xiaoping, “Shixian sige xiandaihua bixu jianchi sixiang jiben yuanze” (The four cardinal principles must be upheld in order to realize the four modernisations). Zhongguo Zhengzhi (Chinese Politics) no. 5 (1987). From the pen of Mao itself, Chinese Communism does not seem to be antagonistic to a more market-based economy.

[xliv] I speak here of Technique as the environment of contemporary societies. I am not concerned about technological instruments or technologies. See Ellul’s position on this subject.

[xlv] Minxin Pei, “The Dark Side of China’s Rise” Foreign Policy, March/April 2006,, accessed September 21, 2009.

[xlvi] Hung-gay Fung, Changhong Pei, and Kevin H. Zhang, eds. China and the Challenge of Economic Globalization: The Impact of WTO Membership (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2006), 47.