It is often supposed by today’s talking heads that the “rise of China” is explained by a sudden turns toward democratic and liberal institutions, and that her adherence to a mixed state-capitalist system (often called ‘authoritarian capitalism’ by globalist critics of China) is either an innovation or a weakness in the system.
In reality, China’s adherence to a system of mixed private-public ownership – social nationalism – underlay all the Marxist rhetoric. The Chinese Communist Party, like the early Republic of China, was dedicated to overthrowing despotism at home and abroad; and instituting a people’s pottage. That it has risen so high today is not the result of a marked turn, but of a continuous policy of national independence.
To demonstrate this I will refer to The Long March: An Account of Modern China by Simone de Beauvoir.
Dark Ages: Imperialism and Feudalism
An Anglo-French Club where the white elite…when drunk, another of their distractions was to go down and urinate on the corner policeman-who, though in uniform was only a Chinaman underneath it all.
“At the foot of this palatial establishment, heaps of ungodly rubbish litter vague banks of flowers, filthy beggars swarming amidst an army of coolies, whose rickshaws are lined up as though for a review, spit, pluck at their lice, and howl their lamentations.”
1867: I walked down streets, or rather canyons, gouged twenty feet deep by wagon wheels; looking up, the ancient gutters, smashed or dangling in space, seemed like giant stairs leading to the narrow path bordering the house-fronts on each side of the precipice…I walked up to my thighs through a fetid drift of secular impurities.”
1895: Extraordinary place, this city: a cloaca of stenches, filth, and decrepitude. Vermin, rags, running sores, a grievous neglect and decay. Buildings tottering to ruin, tattered crowds against a grandiose decor…The city, a good third of which is garden or wasteland, has more of the look of a forest, of an immense park surrounded by crenelated walls, with, here and there, an occasional clearing, or a village.
1934: For the traveler, the word hutung designates tiny streets strewn with virtual pitfalls, where a rickshaw outing means aches and pains, ungodly smells, ordures, half-naked beggars, and entirely naked children.
Under the Koumintang, small businessmen were the regular victims of organized gangs and corrupt officials; suffered from staggering inflation that brought economic crises in their wake; during the Chiang regime’s final years, the shop-keepers, obliged to dispose of their goods in exchange for an utterly valueless issue of paper money, saw their shops literally pillaged…their only hope of survival lay in borrowing, and usurious rates of interest hastened them toward bankruptcy.
Open to Foreign Observers
Chou En-lai had made an invitation good not only for the Conference nations but extended to include every country in the world: “Come and see.”
Anti-Communists apply themselves to discrediting eyewitness accounts which, in their virtual unanimity, are favorable to the regime….anti-Communists reject it a priori, they do so in the name of a curious thesis: that which one sees with one’s own eyes, they hold, is necessarily sheer mirage. China takes her chances, and I have at no moment felt myself under any obligation to her except to be fair. The Anti-Communist saw properly dressed peasants, highways, factories, a hygiene, an order, achievements which amazed him. Never once was my freedom of movement hindered. A journalist L___ while out gathering material for a story stops in whatever villages he pleases, talks freely with the peasants;…the authorities find nothing to object to. They did not hide China…they had us see China.
I read Li Fu-chuan’s “Report on the Five-Year Plan”; the obstacles to be overcome, the mistakes that had been made, the lags and gapes and deficiencies were stressed with an outspokenness and a sharpness the equal of which one is not apt to encounter in any other country.
Madame Cheng represents a typical example both of the Chinese intellectual and of the Chinese woman of her generation. Keenly intelligent, exceedingly cultivated, a remarkable observer, she furnished me with all sorts of precious information on all sorts of subjects. Never a word of nonsense of propaganda from her lips; she is so firmly convinced of the benefits conferred by the regime and of its necessity that she has no need to tell fibs to herself or anyone…she knows nothing of self-censorship…
I went…through the literature aimed against People’s China…apart from ill-willed and malevolent commentaries, I found scarcely anything in it by way of information…It all comes from one source: Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the headquarters for translating, scissoring, deforming, or forging the texts that are then exported for use by Formosa and America…
Social Nationalism is Not Xenophobia
China…was this stirring and reasonable revolution which had not only delivered peasants and workers from exploitation, but had rid an entire land of the foreigner…The Chinese know that the foreigners they see in their streets nowadays are “good” foreigners, friends of the Chinese people.
The problem at present was to industrialize a country where out of six hundred million inhabitants more than five hundred million till the soil and seventy-five million gain their livelihood from handicraft.
The beginnings of such a transformation…in a very unusual social and economic context. China is profoundly unlike the other People’s Democracies. Directed by the Communist Party, capitalism, private property, profit, inheritance still remain.
Rewi Alley was convinced that…the only salvation for the Chinese was to win their economic independence. The scheme of decentralizing Chinese industry by setting up production co-operatives in the interior of the country. The CIC – Chinese Industrial Co-operatives, the movement known as Gung Ho [had] about 2,300 workshops scattered through sixteen provinces, as far as Mongolia and 300,000 persons actively participating in it. Alley organized many additional centers in the guerrilla-controlled zones as far down as Kansu. This movement was actively establishing a new type, a popular type, of economy.
In China this transformation is taking place in a unique fashion, adapted to the unique situation of the country.
Potentially, though, china is rich: she possesses abundent as-yet-unexploited natural resources. Eighty-five per cent of her land surface is uncultivated, including the fertile Sinkiang with three times the area of France; the Chinese subsoil contains great deposits of coal, oil, iron…when tractors make large-scale agriculture feasible, when rail-roads make ore fields accessible, when China has the necessary equipment and power, then immense possibilities will open up for her. Thanks to…economic planning, and to the last five years’ effort, she has started the process that is to lead toward prosperity.
When the system that is being put together gets properly under way and finally hits its stride…harvests obtained, due to tractors, fertilizers, and new methods, will feed better and better an ever greater number of peasants and workers; exports will facilitate new investments, the rhythm of industrial output will accelerate; the economy will develop along the snowball pattern; between the end of the Third and the Sixth Five-Year Plans, China will have made such progress that, by the close of this century, she will find herself on a par with the most advanced powers…
Chinese political and economic strategy in every domain is dominated by this imperative: close the gap. China must pull herself up by the bootstraps out of misery to opulence. China has realized that the entire undertaking calls first of all for an extreme prudence; the essential thing is to see to it that no ground is lost, that the situation does not worsen; care must be taken that nothing is wasted…an overnight scrapping of the country’s old economic and social structure would be the surest way not to transform but to wreck it.
China is still too poor to blow its past to smithereens; she must make use of it. Peacefully, skillfully, she is obtaining service from a very weary old horse. Had the authorities undertaken to expropriate the merchants and artisans with one stroke of the pen, they would have created a terrible mess and gravely imperiled the country’s economy. Mao Tse-tung declared, “To bear up under imperialist pressure and to emerge from her inferior economic situation, China must utilize every element of urban and rural capitalism which, for the national economy, constitutes an asset and not a danger.” He won the co-operation of the merchants and artisans by conceding them the private ownership of their funds. The Chinese economy is made up of three kinds of enterprises: state enterprises, joint state and private enterprises in which capital shares are…divided between the state and individuals, and private enterprises. The number of businessmen still operating on a private basis stood at seven million, the state stores fixed their prices to match those of small business in order not to ruin it. The great majority of the artisans were still independent. They number between fifteen and twenty million, furnish one fifth of the country’s industrial product, 15 per cent of its income. From 60 to 80 per cent of the articles used by the peasants are manufactured by artisans.
The government at once took control of the market by creating purchasing and selling agencies for basic products-coal, furs, building materials. It established a monopoly on grains and vegetable oils, on cotton. In numerous branches of light industry the government is either the producer or the producers’ principal or unique customer. For the distribution of commodities-together with the state stores and jointly run firms-it utilizes private retailers.
Li Fu-chuan’s “Report on the Five-Year Plan” specifies: “Private wholesalers are authorized to continue to sell certain products in which the state organisms do not deal and for which the State constitutes only part of the market…Retailers make up the overwhelming majority of private tradesmen. Most of them are vendors, little shopkeepers, peddlers who operate alone, without employing help. To these must be added the artisans who sell their own products…”
The elimination of gangsterism and corruption, the suppression of usury, the stabilization of the currency guaranteed them all an inestimable blessing: security. The state lends them money in return for an extremely modest rate of interest, buying and selling prices have remained stable.
The merchant has lost the liberty to speculate and the possibility to cheat. Against the exactions of private capitalism prices of important commodities are fixed by official regulations. If one shopkeeper charges exorbitant prices, the others criticize him severely; the case is rare, the imperative of a fair price has been taken to heart: every traveler has remarked the scrupulous honesty of the shopkeepers.
Capitalism survives; socialism is under way. New state stores are being created. The state is investing ever-increasing amounts of capital in private enterprises so as to transform them into joint enterprises. The definitive stage is being approached at which the small owners will become employees of the government.
The artisans are encouraged to form co-operatives. 1,130,000 members, but the movement has been picking up speed. All of the artisans in Beijing belong to co-operatives. The advantages of this collectivization are many. It brings about an increase in productivity and a hike in the profits of those involved; permoitting a general reduction of costs and a more rational and efficient distribution of labor, it creates the leeway needed for plowing capital back into the enterprise. In order that they not suffer unemployment the regime has decided to encourage the handicraft, the state helps find outlets and place orders.
Revolution and Results
Life in the China of today is exceptionally pleasant; travelers who had found Moscow austere had extolled the loveliness of Beijing. A country where the government pays the people’s way through school, where generals and statesmen are scholars and poets. China, at once orderly and fantastic, where poverty had the mildness of abundance…despite the severity of the tasks to be performed, enjoys a freedom unknown in other Eastern places. [T]rue China had infinitely exceeded the concepts and the words with which I had tried to visualize and foregauge it.
“Soon this quarter will be razed; it’s called for in the plans.” This disdain for the picturesque, this confidence in the future assure me that I am in one of the progressive countries.
I understood their stubborn desire to show me public works, hospitals, factories, laboratories…what is extraordinary is that these things exist in China today.
Without being in any apparent haste, the Chinese work in a remarkably efficient manner.
The principle of the equality of the two sexes is being received in the villages…the younger generation’s independence with regard to the elder…In the nurseries, in the schools, the children are not punished…Between factory directors and workers, never any conflicts.
These streets are beyond all comparison with the rattrap vennels of Naples, Lisbon, or Barcelona. All of the children are properly, carefully dressed. The least scratch or scarpe is painted over with mercurochrome or covered with a bandage.
I was able to understand what a victory a paved street, decent houses on solid foundations, telephone poles, the absence of odors and waste can represent. In the past one went long distances to fetch polluted water; today pure water runs from a tap placed at every intersection in Beijing. No more open sewers, no more flies, no more rats; where there used to be swamps they have built parks.
You no longer hear any screaming or shouting when two bicycles or pedicabs collide,; those involves exchange smiles. This general good humor is, in my view, one of the charms of the city. Those who were carrying burdens looked cheerful, all of them. In Beijing there is a happiness in the air.