How successful has “socialism with Chinese characteristics” been in China?

By Ammar Younas

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, as a general practice in China and as a legal- political concept  has got worldwide attention in recent years. There is an increasing pressure on the Chinese government to adhere the international standards of legality and established forms of government. It means that the Chinese government is expected to build a legal and political system or to describe its form of government in terminologies which can be comprehended by political and legal scholars.

China has a history compromising of four decades to facilitate its populates by developing a legal and political system which fulfills the domestic needs and is as per the requirements of an ideal Chinese society. Chinese Communist Party is committed to the socialistic ideology for building a socialistic society which is relevant to the Chinese context. The particulars of Socialism and what are Chinese characteristics in terms of legal and political system has become an interesting research question for academicians. Many scholars such as Mo Zhang consider that the Confucian heritage rooted legal system and single party ruling system have significantly shaped the legal landscape of the country, making the route to the rule of law a long and thorny one.

China is determined to develop a legal and political system that is consistence with socialist ideologies as well as meet the demands of economic dynamics of the country. Whatever difference may exist between the Chinese concept of Socialism and the rest of the world, the development of governance in China that incorporates Chinese characteristics signals China’s determination to move the country toward a sound government system which is meaningful for Chinese populates and for the international community as well. Among many challenges, however, is the most concerned one is perhaps how to reconcile the traditional understanding of Socialism and the current Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ideology of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a new era.

Ever since, Deng Xiaoping, introduced “ Reform and Opening-up” into the Chinese politics and economic strategy, the official ideology of People’s Republic of China has adopted a couple of other new concepts as well. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Theory of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Belt and Road Initiative have spread China’s tentacles on the entire world.

The vivid pragmatism with which Deng initiated the reform process—”It does not matter whether a cat is a black one or a white one, as long as it could catch mice”—required it so. Some of these concepts, which constitute the core contributions made by the following generations led, respectively, by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, are “three represents,” “harmonious socialist society,” “new socialist countryside,” and “scientific outlook on development.” By means of these concepts, a road map is made up to achieve “a moderately prosperous society” by 2020, in a long, staged path towards Socialism, of which merely the first stage is being crossed now (Jesús Solé-Farràs).

The Communist Party of China emerged in response to the contemporary issues of that time and its evolution vividly shows that the party engineered the socialist ideology as per the demands of that era. The concept of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is nothing but a response to meet contemporary China’s social, political and legal demands. And these ideological interventions seem successful if we look at China’s economic progress and struggle in securing a respectable place in the world community.

According to the World Bank report, China is the world’s largest exporter and the second-largest importer as well. Its import market is roughly the size of other BRICS countries, Japan and Turkey combined. China is leading in other economic dimensions such as investments. It is vivid that unlike Ming Emperors, current Chinese leadership is aware of its economic deals. China has much more to offer to the world, but It has expectations from the other countries as well. In 2013, China’s decision to adopt an open market strategy for Belt and Road Initiative is well planned as well as an unprecedented move in order to embrace the international consequences of China’s rise.

Besides economical innovations,  China introduced some legal, social and political innovations as well under the flagship of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Unfortunately, the success rate or progress of these innovations cannot be monetized in numbers as it is being done for Chinese economic innovations. Whereas the critics of these innovations are not patient enough to comprehend the whole picture or contextualize these legal, political and socio innovations along with China’s economic progression. That is the reason that many Western legal scholars paint a very bad image of Chinese laws and political system.

Scholars such as Taisu Zhang claim that Chinese politics is becoming more and more law-oriented during last decade. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, CCP has centralized power and control to an almost unprecedented extent, but all these new patches have been put on in a highly legalistic manner. The centralization of authority has not only empowered the legal bodies against other state and party entities but also demonstrated a high level of legal professionalism. This has regulated the power which was traditionally possessed by the Party only. This legalism is more powerfully expressed in the 2018 amendments to the Chinese Constitution, which show that, even if China is indeed deepening its dictatorship, it is nonetheless doing so through harnessing the organizational and legitimizing capacities of law, rather than circumventing it.

So many questions about how this country managed to advance in a period of about 40 years to become such a success story on all fronts. Recent past or last 40 years of China are vividly showing that China has got a victory at all fronts and the list of Its achievements in increasing. GDP growth with trillions in reserves, a politically stable environment, technological advances in every conceivable field and also, socially having lifted so many millions out of abject poverty.

The consistent answer one gets when inquiring after the secret recipe from the Chinese is “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Which begs the question, what does this actually mean? Socialism in its classical sense means an equitable and inclusive distributive system of wealth while capitalism, as opposite to this is refereed as not an equitable and inclusive distributive system. Capitalism is more individual-oriented whereas Socialisms is considered more people-oriented.

Socialism with Chinese characteristics can be considered as the planning of the legal system in Chinese context. The fundamental aim of the law is to meet a moral demand for establishing a harmonious socialist society in an efficient manner. This moral demand is for which all Chinese populates, and leadership is striving. By providing a highly nimble and durable method of social planning, the law enables Chinese leadership to solve the numerous and serious problems that would otherwise be too costly or risky to resolve in a society of more than one billion people.

The size of the Chinese population demands justifiable allocation of resources which requires a strong commitment to bureaucratic legalization. This is possible either by recognizing some version of de-factor federalism in China or to combat local corruption and abuse of power at all levels. With the recent political turn away from decentralized administration, the Party Leadership has pursued the strategy of combating corruption and abuse of power. This is done by investing in legality which was wholeheartedly welcomed by the Chinese population because Chinese people historically attach sociopolitical legitimacy to law and legality.

These ideological changes or legal progression in China resulted into fundamental changes in Chinese policies in all spheres. Belt and Road Initiative and Chinese open investment in foreign markets, China’s international political rhetoric in last decade are vivid examples which are unprecedented in Chinese history and argue that China is willing to and has embrace changes at all level in all spheres.By bringing political-legal reforms, China has not only customized its social, political and legal systems but also tried to meet the western demands by answering them in the political jargon understandable by them. Rule of law, human rights, democratic governance and free and fair elections, free trade and sovereignty are some of the connotations which were considered highly personalized in nature to the west. Xi Jinping reforms not only protected China’s socialistic image by referring this form of government as “ Socialism with Chinese characteristics” but also proved its success through China’s tremendous economic growth.

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Ammar Younas

Ammar Younas is an ANSO scholar at School of Humanities, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is based at Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He studied Chinese Law as Chinese Government Scholar at Tsinghua University School of Law in Beijing, China. Ammar also holds degrees in Medicine, Jurisprudence, Finance, Political Marketing, International and Comparative Politics and Human Rights from Kyrgyzstan, Italy, and Lebanon. His research interests include but not limited to Societal Impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Regulation of AI & Emerging Technologies, and Central Asian Law.

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