What’s Communist about China?

by Jason -- January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! This reflection on China comes from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam where we enjoyed ourselves last night with lots of beer and locals in the park.

Before arriving in China, I had been thinking about a certain question; what does Communism look like? Additionally, what is it like for Chinese people living in communism? Will it be obviously different than the capitalistic places I’ve visited and lived?

This post answers these questions with my observations of visiting China for 30 days. I’ve also done a little research into what exactly is Communist about China.

I think it’s important to start with what I thought Communism would look like.

The utopian Communist society, in my mind, would consist of everyone having the same amount of “stuff”. Same house, same food, same car, socialized health care, etc. However, in reality, it always seemed that people would instead be motivated to do as little work as possible. In this utopian scenario, if you worked 100 hours a week or sat on the couch all day long, you would end up with the same lifestyle. Other than “for the good of the community”, there was no real motivation to work hard.

With these two very opposite scenarios in my head, I was excited to see exactly what China looked like.

Sharon and I only spent 30 days in China, but from this limited exposure we found that China seems as capitalist as they come. There are extremely wealthy people that drive Bentley and Aston Martin cars and live in large mansions, and there are people that sleep in tunnels underneath the street. People don’t live in similar government issued housing nor do they eat government issued meals.

The notion that in a Communist society people would not be hard working certainly did not prove true either. Chinese people seem as hard-working as they come. In each city we visited, shops were open at the crack of dawn, closed well into the night (a lot open 24 hours), and were open 7-days a week. Not only were shops open at all times of the day, it was very often the same people working during all hours of the day.

However, there were a couple “Communist” aspects that we did notice.

  • They block a lot of popular social websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube in order to regulate any potential criticisms about the government.
  • People in China litter a lot. One explanation given for this was the fact that littering creates jobs and that is why they do it. I found that to be an interesting thought, perhaps similar to how in Oregon it’s against the law to pump your own gas.

Being unsatisfied with my anecdotal observations I decided to do some research to find out what exactly makes China communist?

My research was by no means exhaustive, but the general consensus seems to be that China is, in effect, a Capitalist society. This wasn’t always the case though. Many reforms began to occur beginning in the late 1970’s such as ending collectivized agriculture, liberalizing pricing, developing a stock market, and opening the economy to foreign trade and investment. The government went from a centrally planned system to a more market-oriented economy1. It seems that the primary item that still remains Communist is simply the name the government keeps for itself.

The few things I came across that one might classify as being “Communist” were:

  • Despite China’s massive size and the fact that it spans several time zones, it has only 1 time zone for the entire country. The entire country is on Beijing time.
  • The Chinese exchange rate for a long time was pegged directly to the US Dollar. In 2007, they changed this to a basket of currencies, but the currency is not changed by market forces and instead is regulated by the government.
  • As mentioned previously, many websites are blocked by the Chinese government. They reportedly have over 30,000 people monitoring what’s published on the web as well as monitoring the activity of individuals within their country. Criticisms of the Chinese government are typically erased in a matter of minutes on some of their most popular websites.2
  • No substantial political opposition exists. The two primary parties, “the China Democratic Party” and “the Falungong spiritual movement” are not political opponents in the way the American Republican and Democratic parties are, for example.1

With my research now complete, the question I am now wondering is why does China even call itself Communist? Perhaps a topic for another post…but probably not.

Final Note: Much of this information is anecdotal based on my observations while in China for only 30 days. By no means am I an expert. For the research section, it was primarily done on Wikipedia and therefore could be completely wrong.

1 – Source: CIA World Factbook
2 – Source: Wikipedia

Photo Credit (2nd): Loungerie

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2 Responses to “What’s Communist about China?”

  1. I just stumbled upon your site and am thrilled to see you’ve taken the plunge. I’ll be following not far behind you and will be seriously combing your posts about China for tips. Best of luck and happy travels

  2. I would like to say that communism is not about the same; reading Marx it is a fair distribution of wealth. This means that if the Health sector needs more resources then resources could be channelled for the advancement of that area.

    Also even from the outside China is not communist as communism is by the people for the people. It could be argued that China is more of a right wing dictatorship. Also, communism would also mean that there is freedom of speech etc and websites such as the BBC or Facebook would not be blocked.

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