Socialist China, Capitalist China: Social Tension and Political Adaptation under Economic Globalization

By Piang, Tan Bee | International Journal of China Studies, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Socialist China, Capitalist China: Social Tension and Political Adaptation under Economic Globalization


Piang, Tan Bee, International Journal of China Studies


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Guoguang Wu and Helen Lansdowne, Socialist China, Capitalist China: Social Tension and Political Adaptation under Economic Globalization, London and New York: Routledge, 2009, 215 pp. + xii.

Since the end of 1970s, China's marketization reforms have greatly diversified China's social landscape. While the wealthy urban Chinese enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, the poor rural folks continue to struggle for basic public amenities such as education and health care. At the same time, there are also widespread social discontents in China today. Conflicts exist not only between the state and society, but also within the state and society respectively. Significant inequalities exist in the society, which raise the questions of "who gets what and why" in the process of market transition. Together with market reforms, China has deeply integrated with the global economy. Thus, an examination of China's changing social landscape cannot be isolated from economic globalization, hence the necessity to ask "who gets what through China's globalizing" (p. 5)? The analysis of China's social development needs to be approached from a variety of angles. How to explain and define the root causes of these conflicts in China, including its economic, social, religious and political dimensions? This edited volume tries to answer these questions.

Socialist China, Capitalist China draws from the papers presented at the "Socialist China, Capitalist China: Social-Political Conflicts under Globalization" conference held in October 2006, at the Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria. The organizing theme of the volume addresses the social tensions generated by China's socialist legacy and its embracement of global capitalism, manifested in the phenomenon of rising mass protests, inadequate healthcare, the growing numbers of xinfang (petition), the rise of religious communities, and many other issues. All these issues are well addressed in this volume, but the chapters vary in quality. Although all chapters are in general good, some chapters are definitely better and contribute more to scholarship than others.

The opening chapter by Helen Landsdowne and Guoguang Wu introduces the major theme. It contends that "a new form of authoritarianism is emerging" (p. 4), and this form, rather than being "market socialism", should be more appropriately termed "Leninist capitalism". Accordingly, the "state makes use of the façade of freer society that globalization appears to bring to various aspects of Chinese life, while in reality it employs underlying authoritarian mechanisms that ensure state control" (p. 6). However, authoritarianism under globalization contributes greatly to the rise of many social issues, in which political authoritarianism itself is unable to solve other than mere repression and coercion. Chih Jou Jay Chen provides an overview of the protest movements in today's China. He relies on a dataset he complies from press reports to illuminate the main causes and actors of more than 700 cases of rural and urban mass protests, and shows that much of these incidents were related to violation of people's rights (such as rural land seizures and urban forced relocation) and privatization (especially SOE workers). Xiaogang Wu looks at the socialist institution of hukou (household registration) and how it had meant to be an institution to keep rural villagers disadvantaged for the benefits of the urban working class during Mao's socialist era, and how it has become in today an essential tool to keep a vast army of cheap labour that makes Chinese production competitive in the world in post-Mao capitalist era. Feng Xu argues that in the field of unemployment policy, China has adopted the neoliberal international norms while maintaining its communist orientation. The result is that the authoritarian state is able to define "freedom" as being relived from dependency on the state.

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