People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
|Mode of production||Primary stage of socialism|
|Government||Unitary Marxist-Leninist people's republic|
• President and General Secretary
• Vice President
• Unification of China by Qin Shi Huang
• Founding of the Yuan Dynasty
|1271 November 5|
• Establishment of the People's Republic of China
|1949 October 1|
• 2020 estimate
China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.4 billion in 2019. It is led by the Communist Party of China (CPC). The Chinese constitution states that the PRC "is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants," and that the state organs "apply the principle of democratic centralism."
The People's Republic of China is one of only five Marxist-Leninist states in the world today (alongside Vietnam, Laos, People's Korea and Cuba). Over the last few years it has emerged as the world's leading economic power, and as a result has been subjected to near-constant demonization from Western media and propaganda outlets.
In accordance with historical materialism, Chinese history can be divided into primitive, slave, and feudal eras. Modern Chinese historians do not, however, use the terms "capitalist era" or "socialist era". This is because the capitalist period of Chinese history fits into the broader New-Democratic Revolution period (1919–1949). The socialist era, which began in 1956, is likewise not considered an era of Chinese history but instead is considered part of the People's Republic period (1949–).
Semi-colonial and semi-feudal society (1840–1949)
The era of semi-colonial and semi-feudal society was divided into two parts: The Old Democratic Revolution, which began with the Opium War in 1840 and ended with the May 4th Movement in 1919, and the New Democratic Revolution, which lasted until the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. This 109-year period is also know by some as the "century of humiliation".
The Old Democratic Revolution period (1840–1919)
The Old Democratic Revolution was a period of establishing western "democracy" and dismantling feudalism, which is where it gets its name from. Rather than being a revolutionary movement by the people of China, it was a revolutionary change caused by the invasion and occupation of China by western powers. It began with the First Opium War when the feudal Qing dynasty tried to restrict the drug trade of opium in China. The United Kingdom, and later the United States of America, responded by declaring war on China.
The conditions during this occupation were terrible. Notably in the British settlement of Shanghai, signboards were hung up outside parks prohibiting Chinese and dogs inside. The occupying powers forced local Chinese to carry them from place to place, and they also engaged in foot-binding.
The New Democratic Revolution period (1919–1949)
The New Democratic Revolution was a revolution by the people of China against the weak Qing dynasty and the occupying Western powers. It is known as a democratic revolution because it still accepted the basic ideology of Western capitalism, but it was different in that it rejected colonialism and was fought by the people themselves. This revolution successfully brought down the Qing dynasty and established the Republic of China, but this state was even weaker than the Qing dynasty and most of the country was now ruled by warlords.
At that time, China was one of the poorest societies in the world, plagued by starvation and feudal oppression. The vast majority of the population was engaged in subsistence agriculture, and a survey on the causes of death conducted in 1929-31 revealed that more than half of all deaths were caused by infectious diseases. Famines were widespread and severe periods of hunger were lived by many Chinese peasants. During this period, China also suffered from illiteracy and high inequality. Estimates from this period suggest that, landlords and rich peasants taken together typically owned upward of half the land even though their share in the population typically did not exceed 10 percent. Poor peasants and agricultural labourers who owned little to no land formed the majority of the population.
Educational standards during this period were terrible, if not inexistent. In 1949, more than 80 per cent of China's population was illiterate. Enrolment rates in primary and middle schools were abysmal: 20 and 6 per cent, respectively. In addition, women's rights were highly curtailed and patriarchal norms were widespread, and this culture kept growing as Kuomintang rule took root in the Taiwan province.
The First Generation (1949–1976)
The first generation of leadership covers the extent of time that Zhou Enlai was the premier of the PRC. Mao Zedong was extremely influential in Chinese politics at this time, but he held the office Chairman of the PRC for only 9 years. For the rest of this 27 year long period, Mao Zedong was the General Secretary of the CPC. This generation was mainly characterized by Mao Zedong's political theory now known as Mao Zedong Thought.
The first generation marks the founding of the People's Republic of China, an event captured on film. The newly victorious socialist government promoted remarkable changes in Chinese society: establishing land reform, providing equal rights for women, seeing through campaigns for disease prevention and decreasing infant mortality. During this period, China's growth in life expectancy ranks as among the most rapid sustained increases in documented global history, mainly because of the socialist government's radical commitment to the elimination of poverty and to improving living conditions of the people; an effort which has brought the elimination of widespread hunger, illiteracy, and ill health, remarkable reduction in chronic undernourishment and child mortality, and a dramatic expansion of longevity. Systematic efforts to vaccinate the population against polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, scarlet fever, cholera and other diseases were rapid and reputedly successful, virtually eradicating smallpox within the span of only three years.
The land reforms led to the destruction of feudal relations of production in agriculture, leading to virtually universal access to land and a dramatic reduction in poverty and hunger. Education also improved dramatically in this period. During the 1950s, investments in primary and secondary school infrastructure increased considerably, and dramatic increases in attendance followed. Primary school enrollment rates rose to 80% by 1958 and to 97% by 1975, and secondary school rates increased to 46% by 1977.
Even though China achieved many positive changes in society, the first generation has experienced problems in their governance, most notably during the Great Leap Forward, which was a colossal failure, contributing to the Great Chinese Famine, which had major long-term effects on health and economic development in China, leading to reduced population height, and having a negative impact on labor supply and earnings of famine survivors. Another campaign, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution resulted in overzealous local cadres taking the situation out of control, destroying sites of heritage and recklessly denouncing people in their community.
The Second Generation (1976–1992)
The second generation of leadership covers the extent of time that Deng Xiaoping was influential in Chinese politics. Deng Xiaoping only held two positions of power during this time: Chair of the Central Military Commission of the PRC for 4 years, and Chair of the Central Military Commission of the CPC for 8 years. For the rest of this 16 year long period, Deng Xiaoping held no positions of power but was still considered the most influential figure in Chinese politics. This generation was mainly characterized by the development of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The reform programs introduced in this period produced impressive results. The Chinese economy saw a rapid expansion in both investment and consumption, rapid rises in both productivity and the wage rate, and rapid increases in job creation, which provided the necessary material conditions for broader social development, including the reconstruction of a publicly-funded healthcare system and acceleration of the process of urbanization.
The Third Generation (1992–2002)
The third generation of leadership covers the extent of time that Jiang Zemin was president of the PRC. It was mainly characterized by Jiang Zemin's political theory known as the "Three Represents".
The Three Represents theory refers to the following:
- Representing the development trend of China’s advanced productive forces.
- Representing the orientation of China's advanced culture.
- Representing the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.
The Fourth Generation (2002–2012)
The fourth generation of leadership covers the extent of time that Hu Jintao was the president of the PRC, and that Wen Jiabo was premier. It was mainly characterized by Hu Jintao's political theory known as the scientific outlook on development.
The Fifth Generation (2012–present)
The biggest project of the fifth generation of leadership has been the Belt and Road Initiative. Other endeavors made during this generation include the Chinese Space Station, the Two Centennial Goals, and Green Development.
China has 34 province-level divisions: 23 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities directly under the Central Government, and 2 special administrative region.
|Name||Seat of Government||Area (100,000 km2)||Population (100,000)|
|Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region||Hohhot||11.830||236.2|
|Guangxi Autonomous Region||Nanning||2.363||471.3|
|Tibet Autonomous Region||Lhasa||12.200||25.6|
|Ningxia Autonomous Region||Yinchuan||0.664||54.3|
|Xinjiang Autonomous Region||Urumqi||16.000||177.4|
|Hong Kong Special Administrative Region||Hong Kong||0.01092||68.4|
|Macao Special Administrative Region||Macao||0.00024||4.3|
While this section is under development, here are a few sources for us to take a look:  China controls strategic resources such as rare earth minerals as well as silicon chips, which are both valuable to high-technology industries.
In the Maoist period, China built one of the developing world's most robust public healthcare systems, based on rural primary care, barefoot doctors, and regular mass campaigns, known as "patriotic health campaigns." Since the beginning of the reform period, China's healthcare system has gone through a number of phases. After an unfortunate period of regression and privatization, China has spent the last decade making rapid progress towards a new universal healthcare system. A 2020 study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) summarizes many of the goals and programs of China's recent health reforms:
Priority was given to expanding the scope and health service package of the basic insurance coverage, improving provider payment mechanisms, as well as increasing the financing level, fiscal subsidies and reimbursement rates. [...] The government has increased investment in primary care, with initiatives that include strengthening the infrastructure of primary healthcare (PHC) facilities, expanding human resources for primary care through incentives and supporting projects, establishing a general practitioner system and improving the capacity of PHC personnel through training and education, such as general practice training and continuous medical education programmes. [...] The ‘equalization of basic public health services’ policy implemented the national BPHS programme and the crucial public health service (CPHS) programme. [...] This policy seeks to achieve universal availability and promote a more equitable provision of basic health services to all urban and rural citizens.
The study goes on to note that China has made significant progress towards meeting its reform goals, and building a developed and equitable universal healthcare system:
During the past 10 years since the latest round of healthcare reform, China made steady progress in achieving the reform goals and UHC [i.e. universal health coverage].
Another paper, also from the BMJ, summarizes the recent improvements in China's health outcomes, as well as access to, and cost of, healthcare:
The results include the following: out-of-pocket expenditures as a percentage of current health expenditures in China have dropped dramatically from 60.13% in 2000 to 35.91% in 2016; the health insurance coverage of the total population jumped from 22.1% in 2003 to 95.1% in 2013; the average life expectancy increased from 72.0 to 76.4, maternal mortality dropped from 59 to 29 per 100 000 live births, the under-5 mortality rate dropped from 36.8 to 9.3 per 1000 live births, and neonatal mortality dropped from 21.4 to 4.7 per 1000 live births between 2000 and 2017; and so on.
In short, while China's healthcare system is not perfect, it is certainly moving in the right direction. As with many other aspects of China's socialist construction, this provides a model for other developing nations; according to the aforementioned BMJ study:
The lessons learnt from China could help other nations improve UHC in sustainable and adaptive ways, including continued political support, increased health financing and a strong PHC system as basis. The experience of the rapid development of UHC in China can provide a valuable mode for countries (mainly LMICs) planning their own path further on in the UHC journey.
This is another benefit of China's rise to prominence on the world stage. China demonstrates to the world that it is possible for a desperately poor country to rise from poverty, develop its economy, and meet the needs of its people.
Democracy and Popular Opinion
Polls conducted by Western researchers have consistently found that the Chinese people have a high level of support for their government, and for the Communist Party. A 2020 analysis by the China Data Lab (based at UC San Diego) found that support for the government has been increasing as of late. Similar results were found in a 2016 survey done by Harvard University's Ash Center:
The survey team found that compared to public opinion patterns in the U.S., in China there was very high satisfaction with the central government. In 2016, the last year the survey was conducted, 95.5 percent of respondents were either “relatively satisfied” or “highly satisfied” with Beijing. In contrast to these findings, Gallup reported in January of this year that their latest polling on U.S. citizen satisfaction with the American federal government revealed only 38 percent of respondents were satisfied with the federal government.
It is worth noting that the Chinese people are significantly less satisfied with local government than they are with the central government. Still, these results disprove the common notion that the Chinese people are ruled by an iron fisted regime that they do not want. Indeed, one official from the Ash Center noted that their findings "run counter to the general idea that these people are marginalized and disfavored by policies." As he states:
We tend to forget that for many in China, and in their lived experience of the past four decades, each day was better than the next.
In addition, most Chinese people are satisfied with the level of democracy in the PRC. A 2018 study in the International Political Science Review notes that "surveys suggest that the majority of Chinese people feel satisfied with the level of democracy in China." However, the study notes that "people who hold liberal democratic values" are more likely to be dissatisfied with the state of democracy in China. By contrast, those who hold a "substantive" view of democracy (i.e. one based on the idea that the state should focus on providing for the material needs of the people) are more satisfied.
While the Chinese government contains authoritarian elements, it also has elements of genuine democracy. An example of this may be found in the National People's Congress, China's primary legislative body. While Western media has typically labeled the NPC as a simple rubberstamping body for the Central Committee, the facts indicate that this is not entirely true. A 2016 study in the Journal of Legislative Studies found that the NPC "is no longer a minimal or ‘rubber-stamp’ legislature," noting that "the NPC does play an important role in the whole political system, especially in legislation, though the NPC has typically been under the control of China's Communist Party."
Many of the other claims surrounding authoritarianism in China are highly overblown, to say the least. For instance, an article in Foreign Policy (the most orthodox of liberal policy journals) notes that the Chinese social credit system was massively exaggerated and distorted in Western media. An article in the publication Wired discusses how many of these overblown perceptions came to be. None of this is to suggest that China is a perfect democracy, with zero flaws; it certainly has issues relating to transparency, treatment of prisoners, etc. That being said, it is far from the totalitarian nightmare that imperialist media generally depicts it as being.
Contrary to the popular perception that China's growth has been the result of a transition to capitalism, the evidence shows that public ownership continues to play a key growth-driving role in the PRC's economy. According to the aforementioned 2020 study in the Review of Radical Political Economics, "strategic industries, which Lenin called 'the commanding heights of economy,' are still state-owned and have played a very important role in China’s economic development." The author notes that "after decades of market reform, China’s state sector, rather than disappearing or being marginalized, has become a leader in strategic sectors and the driver of its investment-led growth." To learn more, we would recommend the book The Basic Economic System of China, which goes into this issue in much more depth.
Growth and Poverty Reduction
According to a 2019 report from Philip Alston (UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights):
China’s achievements in alleviating extreme poverty in recent years, and in meeting highly ambitious targets for improving social well-being, have been extraordinary. [...] Over the past three decades, and with particular speed in recent years, China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. This is a staggering achievement and is a credit to those responsible.
Similarly, a 2020 study in the China Economic Review notes that income growth has been "widely shared nationwide," resulting in "substantial, ongoing rural poverty reduction" throughout the country. A major milestone was reached with the recent announcement (acknowledged in Western media outlets, such as CNN) that the last poverty-stricken counties in China have been delisted, "leaving no county in a state of absolute poverty countrywide."
Malnutrition has continued to decline massively in China over the last several decades. According to the University of Oxford's Our World in Data project, China now has a lower rate of death from malnutrition than the United States, as well as a lower rate of extreme poverty, despite having a significantly lower GDP-per-capita.
Economic growth has also increased dramatically. According to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, "reforms yielded a significant growth and structural transformation differential. GDP growth is 4.2 percentage points higher and the share of the labor force in agriculture is 23.9 percentage points lower compared with the continuation of the pre-1978 policies."
"Imperialism" and the Belt and Road Initiative
China is often accused (typically by Western pseudo-leftists) of being an "imperialist" state, due primarily to its investments in Africa, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. These critics ignore the actual views of the African people themselves, who overwhelmingly approve of China's role in their economic development. In addition, the extent of Chinese involvement in Africa is smaller than often believed; according to a 2019 paper from the Center for Economic Policy Research, "China’s influence in Africa is much smaller than is generally believed, though its engagement on the continent is increasing. Chinese investment in Africa, while less extensive than often assumed, has the potential to generate jobs and development on the continent."
A 2018 study in the Review of Development Finance also found that Chinese investment in Africa raises incomes in the African nations that receive the investment, in a similar way to foreign investments by other nations. The author state that these results "suggest that the win-win deal China claims when investing in Africa may hold, and Chinese investment contributes to growth in Africa. Put differently, Chinese investment is mutually beneficial for both China and Africa."
The economist Yanis Varoufakis discussed the topic in a recent lecture given at the Cambridge forum. He helpfully debunks a number of myths on the matter.
Abandoning of Marxism
In 2020, Xi Jinping gave a speech to the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, in which he made clear the continued importance that the CPC places on Marxist political economy. To quote:
Marxist political economy is an important component of Marxism, and required learning for our efforts to uphold and develop Marxism. [...] There are people who believe Marxist political economy and Das Kapital are obsolete, but this is an arbitrary and erroneous judgment. Setting aside more distant events and looking at just the period since the global financial crisis, we can see that many capitalist countries have remained in an economic slump, with serious unemployment problems, intensifying polarization, and deepening social divides. The facts tell us that the contradictions between the socialization of production and the private possession of the means of production still exist, but they are manifested in ways and show characteristics that are somewhat different.
He goes on to list a number of principles guiding the implementation of Marxist political economy in the PRC:
First, we must uphold a people-centered approach to development. Development is for the people; this is the fundamental position of Marxist political economy. [...] Second, we must uphold the new development philosophy. Third, we must uphold and improve our basic socialist economic system. According to Marxist political economy, ownership of the means of production is the core of the relations of production, and this determines a society's fundamental nature and the orientation of its development. Since reform and opening up... we have stressed the importance of continuing to make public ownership the mainstay while allowing ownership of other forms to develop side by side, and made it clear that both the public and non-public sectors are important components of the socialist market economy as well as crucial foundations for our nation's economic and social development. [...] Fourth, we must uphold and improve our basic socialist distribution system. [...] Fifth, we must uphold reforms to develop the socialist market economy. [...] Sixth, we must uphold the fundamental national policy of opening up.
From this, it should be quite clear that Marxism (specifically Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought) retains a dominant role in the People's Republic of China, serving as the guiding ideology of the Communist Party.
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