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Hou Huiqin: Methodological Premises for the Discussion of the “China Model”

  Hou Huiqin, Academy of Marxism, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

  Undoubtedly, there is a great deal of divergence among thinkers and scholars regarding whether there is a “China Model” and what exactly it means. While existence of disagreement is quite normal, I find that one common standard is adopted in majority of the apparently different opinions, i.e., “Universal Value”. The argument denying “China Model” is quite explicit: “the U.S. still represents the universal ideal people all over the world yearning for freedom and democracy. Americans have been conveying a clear idea to the whole world. Unlike the Americans, the Chinese people do not even have definite values of our own, let alone having the capacity to have an actual impact upon the world.” Or, “due to the various problems which occurred in the Wall Street, people are likely to forget that the success of China’s economy is in fact a success of capitalism. In the past decades, China has been learning from the West, and is currently practicing capitalism as a matter of fact. Though China is exploring the so-called ‘Market Economy with Chinese Characteristics’, it is in fact a practice of trial-and-error method. China has not established an economic model evidenced by the fact as one which can endure long-term examination.”

  People supporting the existence of “China Model” would say: China has already formed the “Universal Values” which can confront the western ones. “The core of the value of China’s development model stems from the political tradition lasting for thousands of years, which can be summarized as ‘responsible power system’. This tradition is at a level as a result of historical development which can hardly be reached by the West: the first aspect is a powerful state of central authority, with the state apparatus and military forces controlled by the central government, instead of by the feudal lords or churches in the European countries; the second aspect is a highly administrative and bureaucratic system, with the officials selected via fair and general examination system, instead of being manipulated by hereditary or family status in the countries of the West or the Middle East; the third aspect is accountability of politics to the people, which reflects the ‘people-based principle’ and emphasizes that the power holders have moral obligations to the people, instead of the power allocation within the privileged stratum in the West.”

  Part I

  The question I want to ask is: will the debate centering around “General Values” bring about any real results? When we are discussing “China Model” and relevant issues, are there any better platforms for communication? Otherwise, the ultimate outcome can only be “a silent result”. As we all know, the social and historical studies can not be separated from “subjectivity”. If a criterion of “objectivity” can not be established, such studies can not be categorized as scientific research. Therefore, scholars, from Hegel to Marx, all devoted to seeking the “intrinsic necessity” of history, which was called “objective spirit” by Hegel and “law of history” by Marx. The common feature of the two lies in their refusal to regard this type of “objectivity” as the product of individual will. The explorations made after Marx which are against Marx almost all attempted to explain history by means of “individual” (or individual will), the most typical of which were those given by Max Weber and Karl Popper. Weber firmly renounced the historical materialism of Marx as “only able to dominate the mind of layman and superficial person”, while Popper claimed the historical materialism to be “the Poverty of Historicism”. It is interesting that they were both reluctant to consider history as “caprice” of the subjective will of individuals, and thus simultaneously place “objectivity” in the general values which penetrate into the heart of individuals. It seems to Weber that “objectivity” in the field of history can only be the value judgment hidden deeply in the heart of individuals. “It is exactly the innermost elements of ‘individuals’ which regulate our activity, endow our life with the supreme and ultimate value judgment of meaning, and are what we feel to possess the ‘objective’ value.”

  However, the “universal value” preserved in the mind of everyone, once taken as the condition of the historical “objectivity,” has its obvious pitfalls. Despite the cross-ethnic and cross-era “virtue-oriented” pursuit that underlies human morality and values, history never assumes linear development according to our moral expectations but rather moves forward in a roundabout way with ups and downs. Those who perceive history with “universal values” fail to account for the historical fact that the once “universally recognized values” have always been overturned at one time or other, nor can they demonstrate whether we are at the “high-point,” “low-point” or “turning-point” of history. Therefore, there is no evidence for the superiority of this value (e.g., democracy and freedom in the West) over other value systems.

  It has been repeatedly illustrated in history that human society might as well remain in its primitive stage if the law of history is defined by the recognition by the majority (as in the “universal value”). The initiation of a new system or new path has always experienced a process from small to big and weak to strong. Historical trend is not determined by number at any point of time, but by the conformity to the objective truth and the law of history. To some extent, every progress made in history presupposes the overturning of certain “universal value.” Engels once spoke highly of Hegel’s perception of the role of “the evil” in history. He pointed out that “in Hegel, the evil is the expression of the driving force of historical development, which is two-folded in its meaning. On the one hand, every new step forward necessarily means a form of profanity against some sacred object and rebellion against some aged and declining order that is still worshiped out of sheer habit. On the other hand, since the very beginning of class struggle, it was precisely the evil human desire – greed and lust for power – that functioned as the drive of historical development. The history of Feudalism and Capitalism has continuously provided unique evidence in this respect.” Other than the role that greed has played in history, the challenge is evident posed by progresses in history to what was once a “value consensus.” Capitalism must overthrow such recognized values as “royal blood” and “family honor” in Feudal society, while there should be no misunderstanding that scientific socialism will inevitably replace the value consensus with regards to “freedom” and “democracy” as the embodiment of the power of capital with the “elimination of class,” “common prosperity” and “liberation of labor.” In a reverse way, the scientific socialism that has successfully overturned social values of capitalism is naturally demonized as “evil” by the still dominant “value consensus” today.

  As far as I am concerned, value system is not the dominant force and fundamental cause of historical development. Since, nearly everyone (including Webber) acknowledges the relative nature of values (“active relativism” as Webber calls it),there must be some other cause that lies behind it. Some people today consider the value of freedom as absolute that we cannot live without. Yet what Erich From calls the “escape from freedom” has repeatedly leaved its marks in the memory of history. For example, Engels referred to the surrender of freedom by German serfs in the 17th century to seek protection from Feudal lords and pointed out that individual will is the product of concrete historical conditions rather than the other way around. “Voluntary serfdom had existed through the whole middle ages and was still observed even after the Thirty-year War in Germany. When Prussia abolished dependent serfdom as well as the responsibility of benevolent lords to take care of poor, ill, aged, and weak serfs after its defeat in 1806 and 1807, serfs at the time appealed to the King for the continuation of their serfdom – who will take care of them if they will ever be in mischief?’”

  We must admit that it is no better to explain history with individual will or core value system than to do so with the conditions of productive forces. Undoubtedly, the foundation of human civilization lies in the condition of the productive forces. As is pointed out by Marx, “Social relations are closely bound up with productive forces. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.”

  It is worthy to note that the relationship between production instruments and production relations is not a simple one-to-one corresponding one, but rather a contradictory one that contains both antagonism and unity. In other words, the reason why production forces always intend to break certain production relations is that the highest level of production forces can not be attained within the current production relations. It is only in the emergence of new production relations that such production forces can be realized, which forebodes the revolutionary trend. Just as the production relation fitting best to “hand mill” is not feudal manual workshop but capitalist handicraft workshop, the one fitting best to machinery mass industry is not capitalist industry but socialism mass production. In terms of coercing workers to adjust to the speed of machine (so as to increase the labor intensity) and generating surplus labor force, machinery mass industry does meet capitalists’ need to maximally save labor costs and unlimitedly expand production. This is why there’s widespread “struggle between workers and machines” at the beginning of the application of industrial machines. However, since such application does not conform to the nature of machinery mass industry, profound “economical paradox” emerges, i.e. “the most powerful instrument to shorten labor-time, becomes the most unfailing means to replace every moment of laborer’s time and that of his family, at the disposal of the capitalist for the purpose of expanding the value of his capital.” Therefore, according to Marx, “it took both time and experience before the workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and to direct their attacks, not toward the material instruments of production, but toward the mode in which they are used.” Created from machinery mass industry, socialism mass production, is after all the inherent strength of self-negation of capitalism and in essence belongs to future society which is superior to capitalism.

  Part Ⅱ

  Erroneous judgments on China are inevitable if the country is viewed with “universal value perspective”. For example, China’s adherence to the guiding role of Marxism is firmly deemed as “ideology autocracy” equivalent to medieval “theocracy”. People with “universal value perspective” are blind to the fact that, apart from other positive effects, the guiding role of Marxism is irreplaceable in stimulating and sustaining Chinese citizens’ thought and spirit, most of whom don’t have religious belief. For instance, “universal value perspective” identifies socialism democratic politics with Chinese characteristics as “totalitarian politics”, “party-state system” and “politics dominated by party”, the future of which is either transformation to Western parliamentary democracy or “collapse”. These people can’t accept the facts observed by Naisbitt, “without adopting democracy advocated by the Western world, China did not fall into political struggle. Instead, unique vertical democracy was formed in the process of modernization through one-party system ... China will not only change the global economy, but will also challenge Western democracy with its own model.” Again, adhering to the traditional free-market economy based on the private ownership, the “universal value” perspective has always been suspicious of Chinese-style market economy and simply can not recognize the broad prospects that could be brought about by Chinese exploration of breaking the limits of market economy. Just as Marx pointed out, “the higher the level to which capital has developed, the more it appears as a barrier to production – hence also to consumption – quite apart from the other contradictions which make it appear as a burdensome barrier on production and commerce.” “The universality for which capital ceaselessly strives, comes up against barriers in capital’s own nature, barriers which at a certain stage of its development will allows it to be recognized as being itself the greatest barrier in the way of their tendency, and will therefore drive towards its transcendence through itself.” In fact, if one doesn’t insist on the stereotype of “universal value perspective”, the following view is not hard to be identified with, “Maybe the most profound effect of China model is that it provides another roundabout way to move forward while bypassing the economic problems in the western world.”

  The misunderstanding of universal values inevitably leads to misestimates on china’s future. The typical one is from a report of German magazine FOCUS in 2009. It asked the physicist and professor of sociology Rolf Kreibich, head of the Berlin Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment, to take a look at China in the year 2030. He designed two extreme realistic scenarios. One was that the reformers’ voice within the Chinese government and the Communist Party became louder and demanded a change towards a sustainable economy, a civil society and democratic structures. In 2020, the central government power was democratized in a Chinese style. Numerous NGOs had taken over the important public functions neglected too long or ignored consciously by the state. The other was that the hardliners gained power in China because of the dramatic increase in price, unemployment and poverty, the collapse of stock markets and overheated real estate sector in mega-cities, the move-out of foreign companies and the economic stagnation. In 2017, mass protests broke out across the country. Military and security services brutally clubbed them down and arrested tens of thousands. They were sentenced to long imprisonment for endangering state security, treason, planning and carrying out a violent coup. The ringleaders were sentenced to death. Two years has passed since this prediction and no evidence can be seen for what was predicted, which could be judged as incorrent.

  In the research on social issues, we should clearly distinguish two different problems. One deals with whether a problem can be resolved through reforming and self-regulating inside system, or have to be settled by overturning the existing system. The other deals with those problems that emerged during the process of development and the one of stagnation. The cleavage between Kreibich and us lies not in denying various problems in China and their severity. However, if the issues belong to the first typle, the societal coherence generally exceeds the social antagonism, i. e. people’s confidence in the future wins over the discontent with present difficulties. In fact, the mature institutions of public opinions, democratic deliberation and policy-making have come into being in Communist-Party-led-China. These can be seen in the procedures of drafting and issuing all reports of the Party Congress, the government and the People’s Congress at various levels. Thee latest session of 2011 People’s Congress mainly discussed the 12th five-year plan. ‘From December 2010 on, the National Committee of Development and Reform had launched a two-month movement to collect advices for proposals. The people presented 64, 709 pieces of advice or initiatives through the Internet, text messaging, mails and hotlines. It took two and half years to finish the draft of 12th five-year plan after endless field work, seminars, consultations and colleting suggestions. The formal document printed had nearly 20 versions and went through more than 160 times of revision.’

  More importantly, the societal issues concerned by the public such as unjust distribution, serious corruption in some sectors, transformation of economic development model have to be resolved so as to maintian our fundamental systems. There is no room to contain them. In 16 September 1993, Deng Ken, younger brother of Mr. Deng Xiaoping, said, “The issue of how to realize affluence and fair distribution for 1.2 billion people is vital. It’s more difficult to resolve the problem than to achieve development. We want to prevent polarization. While polarization appears naturally, we should use all kinds of measures, means and schemes to deal with this problem. …a small proportion of people get a large part of wealth while the rest have nothing, which will give rise to severe problems sooner or later. In the past, we gave priority to development. However, at present, the issues after development are no less than those during the development.” It is under the guide of this idea that many local governments have explored ways to remove unjust distribution and achieved preliminary success. For example, Chongqin government has suggested an approach that the lowest income is doubled, the middle increased to a level higher than the increase in GDP, and the highest income group make more contribution to society. The present slogan is “For each of the 200 million peasants, there is 10 thousand Yuan income growth”. I believe we have no reason to become pessimistic despite the long way ahead.

  Part III.

  Another reason for the misjudgment on the China issue is the superstition with abstract data and formula. For example, according to the World Bank, 5% of the population in the United States own 60% of the wealth, while in China 1% of households control 41.4% of the country's wealth, and its degree of concentration of wealth is far higher than that as reported in the latest U.S. report, one might say that China has become one of the most seriously polarized countries in the world. Based on the growing number of the Gini coefficient which rose from 0.28 at the beginning of reform and opening to 0.47 in 2009 and is still on the rise, conclusions might be made that the social benefit-sharing mechanisms have severely fractured, or even worse, and the society has had a serious split. I have to say, none of the Gini coefficient, Engel's coefficient, per capita GDP, or international standards, etc., can be the ultimate basis for the judgment about China. In order to speak on the China related issues, one should really understand China's real social structure and way of life of Chinese people. Because developed countries in Europe and North America might balanced, homogeneous society with unified way of life, which can be illustrated by abstract numbers. In other words, people whose average daily income is 10 dollars enjoy higher quality of life than people whose daily average income is 5 dollars, while people whose average daily dollar is less than 2 dollars belong to the poor population. But until today, the development China is still very uneven. In the meantime, China is a true pluralistic society, with diverse "mode of live" among groups in different regions and different communities.

  Therefore, people with the same income level might have different quality of life. One whose income is slightly higher does not necessarily enjoy higher quality of life, while one who is certainly under the survival level according to the "international standards" can not only survive in China but also have joys of life. I am not denying or ignoring the problems in China today, but I would like to stress that if people determine and predict China just on the basis of statistics or formulas, their conclusions will inevitably be biased. China Today has no sign of "crash".

  In conclusion, when we discuss the “China Model,” the essence is “how China develops” and “how the world develops”. There are two key categories: certainty and uncertainty, particularity and universality. From the aspect that China is discovering and reforming the mode of development, we do not think China’s experiences can be defined as being complete. And it is understandable to deny the existence of “China Model” from this view. However, it does not mean that the development of China is unable to form any experience. On the contrary, some definite experiences have been formatted, and should be the basis of further development. President Hu Jintao had expounded them as “10 links”. Among them, 3 items are of great importance. The first one is that “We must link adherence to the basic tenets of Marxism with promoting the Sinization of Marxism” (The nature of it is that we should link the concrete conditions of China with the characteristics of our times and create a new path surpassing capitalism). The second one is that “We must link adherence to the four Cardinal Principles with carrying on reform and opening up” (this item ensures that China could go through a quite different process of modernization from the Western countries). The third one is that “We must link respecting people's initiatives with strengthening and improving the leadership of the Party” (this stands for the political institution which is an easy object of attach but nonetheless is the most outstanding Chinese characteristics). As far as the question about the Chinese experience or the universality of the China model is concerned, we have never thought that other countries should copy China’s experience. People in different countries have their own right to choose the development path fit for their conditions. Nevertheless, since all parts on the earth have been inextricably tied together, the development situation of China is not the business of China alone. Therefore, we could understand the concern over China’s development expressed by the countries around the world, and regard the better development of China as China’s responsibility to the world and human beings. Deng Xiaoping said in 1980s: “By the end of the middle of next century, China could get close to the level of developed countries. That will be a major change. By then, socialist China will be more influential and powerful, so that we could contribute more to the development of human beings.”

  I would like to conclude by citing part of an foreign newspaper article, which partly summarizes the logic of the “China Model”: “So what exactly is the 'Chinese model' and can this model be exported? At a national conference on the 30th anniversary of China's opening to the outside world, President Hu Jintao attributed the country's success to 10 crucial factors. Simply put, they are: a concept of the state that combines Marxism and Confucian thought; a political system that has CCP as the central leading force; the introduction of elite leadership into CCP's structure; maintain the political system while reforming the economic system; a developmental strategy that centers primarily around economic growth; a combination of socialist ownership (including public, collective and private ownership) and the market mechanism; preserve social stability as the prerequisite of economic growth; guarding national sovereignty and security while participating in global economy; letting the people play a greater role while enforcing party leadership; promoting core socialist values against capitalist ones. These 10 main factors are clearly different from what Americans would stress in their own country.[1]


[1] Ching Cheong. Success of the Chinese model, Straits Times, May 28, 2009. Quoted from Reference News, June 1st 2009.



发布时间:2014-09-30 16:41:50