Schol­ars are look­ing to cre­ate a ‘Chi­nese School’ of thought. But can it stand up in­ter­na­tion­ally?

NewsChina - - FRONT PAGE - By Xie Ying

“There is no al­ter­na­tive” – a fa­vorite slo­gan of late Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher in the 1980s – epit­o­mized the “Iron Lady's” be­lief that rad­i­cal cap­i­tal­ism was the only path for any na­tion's con­tin­ued de­vel­op­ment. The idea was built on by Fran­cis Fukuyama, a Ja­panese-amer­i­can pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor from Har­vard Univer­sity, in 1989 when he pub­lished his book The End of His­tory and the Last Man, in which he con­cluded that cap­i­tal­ism had com­pletely beaten so­cial­ism and there­fore brought to an end the his­tory of ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tles.

His idea was pop­u­lar­ized by the 1991 dis­so­lu­tion of the Soviet Union and the civil war that led to the break-up of Yu­goslavia. At the same time, China was un­der­go­ing its own sweep­ing, na­tion­wide cam­paign of Re- form and Open­ing-up. Its daz­zling eco­nomic achieve­ments cer­tainly caught the eyes of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity – China's of­fi­cial data shows that GDP grew by an av­er­age of 9.6 per­cent year-on-year from 1978 to 2016, and 790 mil­lion es­caped ex­treme poverty from 1981 to 2016, mak­ing up 71.8 per­cent of the world's to­tal poverty re­duc­tion.

Many an­a­lysts world­wide de­scribed these

achieve­ments as re­mark­able and be­lieved it did not hap­pen by chance. They, in­clud­ing Fukuyama, be­gan to re­think their old ideas on China and tried to ex­plore the “China Model” or the “Chi­nese Path.” Among them, a group of Chi­nese aca­demics who wit­nessed and ex­pe­ri­enced China's enor­mous change went fur­ther – turn­ing the field of study into a the­o­ret­i­cal sys­tem.

Those aca­demics are la­beled the “Chi­nese School” do­mes­ti­cally. They at­tribute China's suc­cess to its open­ing a new road that fits the coun­try's sta­tus quo, as well as be­ing able to guide China's fu­ture de­vel­op­ment, and they even claim the model can be ap­plied to other de­vel­op­ing na­tions. Although their ideas have been ve­he­mently chal­lenged by many other aca­demics, both at home and abroad, Chi­nese School aca­demics are try­ing to make their voices louder and more in­flu­en­tial by de­liv­er­ing speeches and pub­lish­ing books.

From ‘West­ern’ to ‘Chi­nese’

When the Great Way Pre­vails: the Com­mu­nist Party of China and Chi­nese So­cial­ism is one such book. Au­thored by five Chi­nese School aca­demics, the book has been pop­u­lar since it was pub­lished in 2015.

The key to its pop­u­lar­ity lies in its at­tempt to dis­pel the im­pact of West­ern the­o­ries and in­ter­pret China's sit­u­a­tion from a Chi­nese an­gle. It clearly an­a­lyzes the fea­tures of the China Model and their roles in China's decades of Re­form and Open­ing-up. While re­spond­ing to some main­stream op­po­si­tion against the China Model, the book also lists an ar­ray of prob­lems that the aca­demics think their coun­try should quickly solve to make the China Model more con­vinc­ing.

“Shift­ing from a ‘West­ern an­gle' to a Chi­nese one is one of the fea­tures of the Chi­nese School,” said Yan Yi­long, one of the au­thors of When the Great Way Pre­vails and a re­searcher at the In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary China Stud­ies, Ts­inghua Univer­sity. “The his­tor­i­cal task of the Chi­nese School is to form a knowl­edge sys­tem that em­bod­ies Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics and is able to ad­dress the prob­lems China faces, and also to pro­vide some ‘Chi­nese' so­lu­tions for the de­vel­op­ment of hu­man­ity,” he told Newschina.

“The Chi­nese School is not lim­ited to one dis­ci­pline, but cov­ers all sorts of fields, in­clud­ing phi­los­o­phy, his­tory, eco­nom­ics, pol­i­tics, laws, so­cial­ism and eth­nonymics. It is es­sen­tially a rad­i­cal ‘thought revo­lu­tion,'” he added.

His idea is shared by Pan Wei, di­rec­tor of the Center for Chi­nese & Global Af­fairs, at Pek­ing Univer­sity. He told Newschina that there were two premises on form­ing the Chi­nese School: to un­der­stand for­eign coun­tries and their sys­tems of knowl­edge, and then, to use it to learn how China is dif­fer­ent from the West.

That ex­plains why most Chi­nese School aca­demics, such as the five au­thors of When the Great Way Pre­vails have work or study ex­pe­ri­ence in the West, with some hav­ing stayed abroad for a very long time.

“It is the ex­pe­ri­ence of study­ing and work­ing abroad that has broad­ened those aca­demics' hori­zons and con­firmed their de­ter­mi­na­tion to study China based on China's sta­tus quo,” Pan ex­plained.

A Road of China’s Own

The Chi­nese School, Pan said, was formed when more an­a­lysts and aca­demics found it hard to ex­plain China's fast eco­nomic growth by us­ing West­ern the­o­ries or ideas.

“Along with China's rock­et­ing eco­nomic growth, China un­der­went enor­mous changes in many as­pects that West­ern the­o­ries or knowl­edge sys­tems could not ex­plain or in­ter­pret,” He Jianyu, an­other au­thor of When the Great Way Pre­vails, told Newschina.

After grad­u­at­ing from the me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing de­part­ment at Ts­inghua Univer­sity, He be­came im­mersed in West­ern so­ci­ol­ogy as an un­der­grad­u­ate which drove him to shift to lib­eral arts for his post­gradu-

ate study. He still re­mem­bers how amazed he was by the ideas of Paul Sa­muel­son, a No­bel prize-win­ning Amer­i­can econ­o­mist. Such ad­mi­ra­tion, how­ever, ended at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong where he stud­ied com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics at the post­doc­toral level. “The the­o­ret­i­cal sys­tem I learned was based on the ex­pe­ri­ence of West­ern coun­tries, but they couldn't ex­plain China's sit­u­a­tion. They al­ways la­beled it as an ‘ex­cep­tion,'” he said.

Such trou­bling thoughts were shared by other Chi­nese School aca­demics. “The Westo­ri­ented thought sys­tem has been chal­lenged since some non-west­ern coun­tries like China are ris­ing, and the Chi­nese School emerged against this back­drop,” Yan told Newschina.

Truth be told, the lead­ers of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) re­al­ized that no West­ern model fit China long ago. As early as 1956, Chair­man Mao Ze­dong pro­posed in his re­port On the Ten Ma­jor Re­la­tion­ships ex­plor­ing a path of so­cial­ist con­struc­tion that suited China's sit­u­a­tion. It was con­sid­ered the first at­tempt by Mao and the CPC to break through the Soviet Model they had fol­lowed for years.

For­mer Chi­nese leader Deng Xiaop­ing, the ar­chi­tect of China's Re­form and Open­ing-up pol­icy, is held as the ma­jor ini­tia­tor of the China Model. At the 12th Na­tional Congress of the CPC in 1982, Deng clearly claimed that China should not copy any other coun­try's de­vel­op­ment model and must walk on a “so­cial­ist road of Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics.”

How­ever, such ideas and con­cepts seem to have re­mained at the top-lead­er­ship level un­til China shocked the world with its record-break­ing eco­nomic growth. In 2004, Joshua Cooper Ramo, a renowned Amer­i­can ex­pert on China is­sues, trig­gered heated de­bate about the China Model after pub­lish­ing a pa­per called “The Bei­jing Con­sen­sus,” in which he claimed that the Bei­jing Con­sen­sus would be an al­ter­na­tive to the well-known “Washington Con­sen­sus” char­ac­ter­ized by the free mar­ket, free trade and loose govern­ment con­trol. Ini­ti­ated in 1989 by John Wil- liamson from the In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Eco­nom­ics, the Washington Con­sen­sus aimed to pull Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries out of their heavy debt and aid their shift to cap­i­tal­ist moder­nity, but it ac­tu­ally un­der­mined them, ac­cord­ing to Ramo.

Yet China's path, Ramo said, speaks for it­self. “Tac­ti­cally speak­ing, the Bei­jing Con­sen­sus de­mands that ideas such as pri­va­ti­za­tion and free trade be ap­proached with in­cred­i­ble cau­tion. It is de­fined by a ruth­less will­ing­ness to in­no­vate and ex­per­i­ment (see China's spe­cial eco­nomic zones); a lively de­fense of na­tional bor­ders and in­ter­ests (see Tai­wan); and by the in­creas­ingly thought­ful ac­cu­mu­la­tion of tools of asym­met­ric power (see the US$400 bil­lion in cur­rency re­serves),” he ex­plained.

“China's peace­ful rise strat­egy is not in­tended as a chal­lenge to the US… it is the power of a model for global de­vel­op­ment that is at­tract­ing ad­her­ents at al­most the same speed as the US model is re­pelling them,” he added.

The Bei­jing Con­sen­sus or China Model has at­tracted wider at­ten­tion since the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, in which China took the lead in tack­ling the prob­lem, thanks to govern­ment as­sis­tance. At that time, even many West­ern aca­demics and an­a­lysts be­gan to re­think how gov­ern­ments can re­act to mar­ket vi­cis­si­tudes, es­pe­cially when the lat­ter is de­pressed, an idea that goes against free mar­ket the­ory which be­lieves that the mar­ket and the govern­ment are al­ways in op­po­si­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to He Jianyu, the dis­cus­sion about the China Model was a pre­cur­sor to the Chi­nese School, which is a much deeper and more spe­cific the­ory. Now, although Chi­nese School aca­demics still have dif­fer­ences on what ex­actly the China Model is, they have reached a con­sen­sus on the gen­eral idea. The China Model, they say, is a “so­cial­ist road of Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics” which eco­nom­i­cally in­sists on keep­ing a pub­lic-owned econ­omy and sup­ports govern­ment mar­ket reg­u­la­tions, and po­lit­i­cally, up­holds the lead­er­ship of the CPC which be­lieves in so­cial­ism and adopts so-called “demo­cratic cen­tral­ism,” a rul­ing model which the Chi­nese School be­lieves is more “sci­en­tific” than West­ern democ­racy with multi-party sys­tems.

“We in­tend to tell young [Chi­nese] peo­ple that our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is very cool and pi­o­neer­ing in gov­er­nance; So­cial­ism is a mod­ern cause and is the tide of the times around us,” Yan Yi­long told Newschina.


How­ever, the China Model came un­der fire from the start – Many an­a­lysts ar­gued that China's rapid eco­nomic growth is largely a re­sult of its huge pop­u­la­tion, which means a cheap la­bor force and a huge mar­ket.

They also point to its shift to a mar­ket econ­omy from the old planned econ­omy, once re­garded as a fea­ture of so­cial­ism be­fore Deng's era.

Skep­tics es­pe­cially op­pose “govern­ment reg­u­la­tion” which they would rather de­scribe as “govern­ment in­ter­fer­ence.” The Chi­nese School aca­demics of­ten point to the govern­ment's four tril­lion yuan (US$586B) stim­u­lus plan in the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis as one of the ad­van­tages of the China Model. Op­po­nents blamed the govern­ment for ig­nor­ing the long-term im­pact of the plan, such as high debt ra­tios in State-owned en­ter­prises (SOES) and over­ca­pac­ity in some in­dus­tries.

In 2010, China sur­passed Ja­pan to be­come the world's sec­ond-largest econ­omy, trig­ger­ing a new round of dis­cus­sion around the China Model. As the Chi­nese School aca­demics deemed the rise as more proof of vic­tory for the China Model, many other aca­demics warned that it was too early to de­fine what China has done as a “model.”

Renowned econ­o­mist Xu Xiao­nian, for ex­am­ple, is one such naysayer. At an eco­nomic fo­rum held by Hong Kong-based news por­tal in 2010, Xu at­trib­uted China's eco­nomic suc­cess to less govern­ment in­ter­fer­ence. “The Chi­nese econ­omy al­ways goes well when the govern­ment does less. Com­pared to other de­vel­oped coun­tries, I don't

think there is a unique China Model. Even if there were, the model would be loos­en­ing con­trol and fur­ther free­ing the mar­ket to en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of pri­vate en­ter­prises. This is the key to China's suc­cess,” he said.

His ideas are not ac­cepted by the Chi­nese School who em­pha­size that the China Model is char­ac­ter­ized and ad­van­taged by so­cial­ism which could help con­trol – or to put it more ac­cu­rately – “so­cial­ize” cap­i­tal.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with Maya X. Guo, a well-known Chi­nese pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor who sup­ports the China Model ideas and wrote the pop­u­lar book The Chi­nese Path and the Chi­nese School: In­ter­views with Lead­ing Chi­nese Aca­demics in 2015 which con­tains her in­ter­views with nine Chi­nese school aca­demics, Hu An­gang, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary China Stud­ies, Ts­inghua Univer­sity, ex­plained that the govern­ment has to join in the mar­ket dis­tri­bu­tion to nar­row the in­come gap and to fi­nally re­al­ize com­mon pros­per­ity – a key fea­ture of so­cial­ism that Chi­nese School aca­demics be­lieve is one of China's ma­jor tasks in the years to come.

When The Great Way Pre­vails echoed this as­ser­tion. “So­cial­ism can­not suc­ceed with­out the power of cap­i­tal, but with­out so­cial­ism's con­trol, cap­i­tal will be­come a dread­ful mon­ster. Cap­i­tal is like a good horse which will pro­mote so­cial­ism, but we have to fas­ten the ‘horse' with the ‘hal­ter of pub­lic in­ter­ests,'” the book said. “The govern­ment can use the pub­lic-owned econ­omy to guide blind cap­i­tal and to buffer the self­ish­ness of cap­i­tal.”

Of course, West­ern na­tions en­act reg­u­la­tions dur­ing times of fi­nan­cial cri­sis, and also put or guide cap­i­tal into sec­tors of pub­lic in­ter­est. The core of the dis­pute ac­tu­ally lies in how and by how much to reg­u­late, or how to de­fine the re­la­tion­ship be­tween govern­ment and the mar­ket. While Chi­nese School aca­demics like Justin Yifu Lin sup­port ac­tive govern­ment that plays a proper role in the mar­ket, complaints about the Chi­nese govern­ment's ex­ces­sive in­ter­fer­ence are ris­ing.

Shen Jian­guang, a Chi­nese econ­o­mist and also a colum­nist for the Chi­nese website of the Fi­nan­cial Times, for ex­am­ple, wrote an ar­ti­cle on the Chi­nese govern­ment's 2008 stim­u­lus plan, claim­ing that the stim­u­lus it­self was not a mis­take, but the prob­lem lay in im­proper reg­u­la­tion. He pointed out that the neg­a­tive im­pact of the 2008 stim­u­lus plan was partly due to China's lack of con­trol of lo­cal govern­ment's fi­nan­cial moves – many lo­cal of­fi­cials did not use the money in needed fields, and be­cause of the banks' lack of au­ton­omy – they were pres­sured to give loans to en­ter­prises that ac­tu­ally did not have the abil­ity to re­pay their debts.

At the same eco­nom­ics fo­rum that Xu Xiao­nian at­tended, an­other Chi­nese aca­demic, Xiao Gongqin, warned that ex­ces­sive govern­ment in­ter­fer­ence in the mar­ket had cre­ated a “rich State with poor peo­ple” and fa­cil­i­tated SOES to form mo­nop­o­lies. In fact, complaints that lo­cal gov­ern­ments have im­posed too many de­lib­er­ate, and even il­le­gal re­stric-

tions on pri­vate en­ter­prises have never ceased in China.

Chi­nese School aca­demics did not deny the prob­lems. When The Great Way Pre­vails, for ex­am­ple, lists “clearly defin­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the mar­ket and the govern­ment” as a lead­ing prob­lem that the China Model should solve. But they mean­while em­pha­sized that such prob­lems do not mean that the Chi­nese econ­omy does not need govern­ment reg­u­la­tion and pub­lic-owned sec­tors.

Po­lit­i­cal Dis­putes

Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese School aca­demics, the core of so­cial­iz­ing cap­i­tal is to in­sist on the lead­er­ship of the CPC, since un­like West­ern po­lit­i­cal par­ties, which have to so­licit do­na­tions from cap­i­tal­ists to win elec­tions and some­what have to speak for them, the CPC rep­re­sents no cap­i­tal and thus has a “pub­lic heart.”

How­ever, this is an­other point that op­po­nents ve­he­mently chal­lenge. Chi­nese School aca­demics be­lieve that this type of rule is good to im­ple­ment long-term pro­grams and easy to fo­cus on big or urgent is­sues like post­dis­as­ter re­con­struc­tion, op­po­nents ar­gue that it is more open to is­sues like cor­rup­tion due to poor pub­lic su­per­vi­sion.

In 2010, Yao Yang, then deputy dean of the Na­tional School of De­vel­op­ment at Pek­ing Univer­sity, pub­lished in For­eign Af­fairs an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “The End of the Bei­jing Con­sen­sus,” in which he claimed that a “dis­in­ter­ested” or “neu­tral” govern­ment does not mean it is “de­void of self-in­ter­est.” In­stead, the govern­ment might of­ten be “preda­tory to­ward cit­i­zens” re­gard­less of their iden­ti­ties and so­cial sta­tus.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with Chi­nese news por­tal Netease in 2011, Yao's ideas had slightly changed. He ad­mit­ted that China's past eco­nomic growth ben­e­fited from a “neu­tral” govern­ment, but he also warned that eco­nomic growth will be ob­structed if the govern­ment al­lies with in­ter­est groups. Un­like West­ern coun­tries, where the demo­cratic sys­tem will help bal­ance dif­fer­ent in­ter­est groups, China's al­liance be­tween of­fi­cials and cap­i­tal will be very hard to break. To this ex­tent, he be­lieves that it is eas­ier for West­ern demo­cratic gov­ern­ments to be neu­tral.

For decades, the CPC has been con­stantly crit­i­cized by the West for not be­ing “demo­cratic,” while Chi­nese School aca­demics ar­gued that West­ern democ­racy does not equal “good democ­racy” and that democ­racy should not be judged by its form, say, whether or not a govern­ment is formed by a gen­eral elec­tion, but by the re­sult of the gov­er­nance.

The Chi­nese Path and the Chi­nese School by Maya X. Guo cited aca­demic Wang Shaoguang as say­ing that Chi­nese-style democ­racy fo­cuses on how govern­ment gov­erns and ad­min­is­trates the State, or more specif­i­cally, how well the govern­ment re­sponds to the de­mands of the pub­lic. From this “Chi­nese an­gle,” Wang be­lieves that so­cial­ism is more demo­cratic, since it cares more about the poor and aims to re­al­ize com­mon pros­per­ity.

But China to­day seems far from achiev­ing com­mon pros­per­ity. Rather it is caught in wide in­come gap – data from China's Na­tional Bureau of Statis­tics shows that China's Gini co­ef­fi­cient – a mea­sure of the in­come gap which is in di­rect pro­por­tion to eco­nomic in­equal­ity – was 0.465 in 2016, the same level as that of the US. Mean­while, as Yao Yang warned, col­lu­sion be­tween govern­ment and busi­nesses has been in­creas­ingly ex­posed by the me­dia, lead­ing many peo­ple to doubt whether China is able to deepen its re­form to break vested in­ter­ests, as the CPC has pledged.

Strug­gle to Stand

The biggest fear of the Chi­nese School aca­demics is that in the face of so many prob­lems, many Chi­nese peo­ple seem to have lost con­fi­dence in the China Model and hope for a turn to the West­ern model.

“If you look at a tree too closely, you can only see the in­sect holes on its leaves, but if you step back fur­ther and watch again, you will see a tree that stands green and flour­ish­ing. China is that tree, and the other trees, in­clud­ing that of the US, the Euro­pean coun­tries and Ja­pan, all have holes too,” Wang Shaoguang once said. He warned that China still re­mains weak in speak­ing out about its ide­ol­ogy, and com­pared to the West, China lacks a widely-ac­knowl­edged value sys­tem that can compete with that of the West and be shared with the world.

His words were echoed by Zhang Wei­wei, a Chi­nese pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor from the Shang­hai-based Fu­dan Univer­sity. In an in­ter­view with Maya X. Guo, he said that China keeps con­sum­ing the knowl­edge pro­duced by the West and China's the­o­ret­i­cal re­sources de­pend on West­ern the­o­ries so much that Chi­nese peo­ple lack the con­fi­dence to set up a sys­tem of their own. “Chi­nese aca­demics should feel an ur­gency and a re­spon­si­bil­ity to study Chi­nese the­o­ries. A na­tion will not truly rise with­out a rise in the the­o­ret­i­cal sys­tem,” he warned.

It is a strong rea­son for Chi­nese School aca­demics to try hard to pop­u­lar­ize and work on their ideas and the­o­ries. How­ever, as West­ern the­o­ries still dom­i­nate Chi­nese aca­demic cir­cles, and as China is still rid­dled with all sorts of prob­lems that tear the pub­lic away from the Party, such as cor­rup­tion, in­creas­ingly hard-to-break so­cial stra­tum and un­bal­anced re­gional de­vel­op­ment, many peo­ple refuse to buy the Chi­nese School ideas, with some even ac­cus­ing the aca­demics of fawn­ing on the govern­ment.

“If the Chi­nese School merely stays at the dis­cus­sion level and re­mains un­sup­ported by se­ri­ous re­search, it might sub­side into just a tem­po­rary con­cept and soon dis­ap­pear into the an­nals of his­tory,” He Jianyu told Newschina.

Wang Shaoguang, chair of the De­part­ment of Gov­ern­ment and Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong

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