China: Politically Communist; Socially Capitalist

China is one of five communist countries remaining in the world, but, on my visit, it was not so obvious what about China was communist. 

If anything, it almost seemed to be more capitalist than the United States.  

For example, pride in ownership is very prevalent.  People own their apartments and their cars, and they are proud to tell you how much it cost and the fact that they paid for it upfront without a loan.  Seemingly, everyone in China either owns their apartment or is working to own it.  It is expected that a man owns his own home before getting married.  Heck, even poor farmers in the countryside are expected to pay for government-built apartments. Nothing that I saw was government-subsidized; there are no “handouts” in China.  

In fact, there were almost no universal social-programs at all.  Health insurance is paid for on a monthly, biannual, or annual basis.  Garbage disposal and snow removal is the responsibility of the people to take care of.  There was no subsidized housing; if you cannot afford to live in an area you are simply expected to move somewhere else.  If you are really poor, you are expected to build a home in the countryside yourself on your own dime.  Also, there are seemingly no protections for renters.  If you rent a property, I was told, the landlord has the ability to knock on your door and tell you to move immediately without warning.  I asked why this is possible and was told that it is the landlord’s house, not yours, so that is why they can do it. (Note: This is a very rare occurrence and no one I spoke to knew of it happening, but it is a possibility in which a renter cannot protect themselves from).     

The only thing that is strikingly “communist” about China is that they are a one-party state entirely dominated by the Communist Party of China.   Voting is conducted by committees of party members rather than individuals, universities must adhere to party ideologies in their educational platforms, and, according to Chinese President Xi Jinping, “politicians run the newspapers”.  Freedom of speech is limited, freedom of press is nonexistent, and you cannot expect to make it far in China without a cutthroat business mentality or strong connections to party officials.   

There is no evidence that the government desires economic equality amongst its population.  China has the second highest number of billionaires in the world, only behind the United States, yet has a GDP per capita of barely over US$8,000. It is entirely normal for someone who lives in a US$600,000 apartment to be served by a waiter who lives on US$600 a month.  Farmers work for hours upon hours in the blistering sun using 19th Century equipment as world-class passenger trains scream by at 500km/hour.  Poor elderly pick-up plastic bottles to turn in for pennies as wealthy businessmen drink $200 bottles of wine after work.  

When I think of a communist nation, I do not think of these things.  

The only thing truly communist about China is its political scheme, and being a one-party state does not put it in the best of company.  There are only ten one-party states in the world, with examples including all five communist nations (China with Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam) and war-torn nations like Eritrea and Syria.  Historical examples of one-party states do not paint a prettier picture, either, with the most prominent 20th Century examples being the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy.  

Is China truly an exception to the rule, or are they a bubble waiting to burst?  While China has the world’s second strongest GDP, their GDP per capita is a lowly 71st, ten spots behind the world average, and right behind nations like Turkey, Mexico, and Kazakhstan.  Can a nation so bejeweled with new riches endure having a population so poor?  Can a communist government function as a world leader while its population fully embraces a capitalist mindset?  

These are questions I wish to ask party leaders, especially President Xi Jinping, to see what they think.  Unfortunately, these questions are likely to never be answered.  I fear, that instead of getting answers, we will just see strengthened efforts of muting the outside world’s voice in China and continued suppressions of dissenting opinions form within the country’s borders.  

Jake GavinComment