China having become the world factory is why most products appearing in stores and households throughout the world have the label ‘Made in China’ attached to them. In recent decades products made in China have progressed from originally being associated with relatively poorer quality mass produced cheaper products, to those that now include high quality products such as smart phones, autonomous self drive electric vehicles, high speed trains, silicon chips, a functional three person space station and – not least, a modern land, sea and air defence force.
Being a practitioner of an Earth-based spiritual practice known as ‘PaGaian Cosmology’ – a seasonal celebration of the relatedness of Earth, Sun and Moon; China’s re-emergence as a major power on the contemporary world stage is no surprise to me, my daily practice enables me to readily relate to some of the more organic, down to earth features of Chinese cosmology, culture and ways of being. My spiritual practice occasionally finds me reflecting the origin of the ‘Yin-Yang’ symbol found within Chinese cosmology; if one measures the shadow a pole projects at midday, from the winter Solstice onwards, this shadow will become shorter every day, until, at the time of the Summer Solstice when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, the shadow will be the shortest. Afterwards the shadow will again increase gradually until the cycle is completed in the next Winter Solstice. If the increases in the shadow’s length are plotted in a circle because this is a cyclic, ever repeating phenomenon and the period of increased darkness that begins in summer is coloured, the image produced is that of the well known black and white ‘Yin-Yang’ symbol.
Within Chinese cosmology, the Yin-Yang dynamic is thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) natural forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. Such observation and thinking is a good example of our human capacity to synthesise the phenomenon of opposites that take place throughout cosmic creativity. Take for example one of our most profound discoveries cum inventions electricity; in the context of electric charge, it was discovered that planet Earth itself was found to be at the same natural potential everywhere, hence a reference point was given the name ‘earth’ or ‘ground’ because it is known to be an infinitely constant source of equal amounts of positive and negative charge.
From my personal PaGaian perspective, having this quality and depth of ancient cultural heritage to draw on is what better enables Chinese leaders past and present to synthesise the political, social and economic dynamics that we humans have been immersed in for millennia – for better and for worse. Hence for example, contemporary China’s ability to synthesise the political, economic and social dynamics of communism, capitalism and socialism and – so far at least, produce a form of socio-economic governance and productivity that is working relatively better than most if not all other forms. This is a most unlikely consideration let alone successful outcome within the relatively dualistic cosmologies and ideologies of the West, where the political and social dynamics of capitalism, communism and socialism are inevitably seen as a choice to be made between incompatible opposites.
We have plenty of historic evidence that being a major power on the world stage is not new to China. During the 13th Century Marco Polo was greatly influenced by Chinese culture; later during the 17th and 18th Century the so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’, European philosophers regarded ‘Chinoiserie’ as a force to be reckoned with, a time when the likes of Voltaire and Leibnitz believed that China had perfected ‘moral science’, and that Chinese statecraft was a model for the West to emulate if it too wanted to develop into an enlightened civilization. Adam Smith described China as “one of the richest, best cultivated, most industrious, nations on earth”. Unfortunately at the time, the rulers of Japan and the West saw Chinese civilisation and culture differently; mainly from their imperialist, profit driven perspective. The Chinese system of meritocratic government was deeply troubling to an 18th Century Western ruling elite built on stratified class privilege, to them a civilization without hereditary aristocrats was unfathomable; to some considerable extent this is still the case in our 21st Century. Hence over the past 200 years China and its people have been forced to make a huge sacrifice to overcome invasion and great adversity to once again become a valuable exemplar of how a high standard of statecraft is now being ‘Made in China’.
An important tradition underlying the governance of modern China is that of ‘seeking truth from facts’. The fact that the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has overcome centuries of adversity to now be consistently improving the livelihood of about 20% of the world population reveals a pertinent truth about ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’; namely that for the past three decades at least, it works. Knowing how to make socialism and capitalism work for and improve the livelihood of a population of 1.4 billion> people over a period of decades is no mean feat, knowing if it could work just as well indefinitely for 7 billion> people is therefor also well worth considering.
China’s productive force and market economy has progressed at a relatively rapid pace – compared to the rest of the world, to arrive in 2022 at a point where it is the world’s second largest economy, already having become the world’s largest purchasing power and is predicted to become the world’s largest economy overall within this decade. Be this as it may, China now has more to offer the world than the advanced mass production of goods and services; modern China is demonstrating to the world how a socio-economic form of governance and productivity can place sufficient emphasis on meeting the social and cultural needs of a massive wide spread and diverse population, while growing its economy at home and abroad, within the context of a global capitalism. Over the past three decades ‘Made in China’ has been developing a new socio-economic form of governance and productivity, formerly referred to by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) as ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’. This relatively new brand of socialism is unique to China and is often referred to by President Xi Jinping as being the ‘early stage’ of a socialism for ‘the new era’.
However, what Xi Jinping refers to as ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ is not without its risks; as a result of consistently applying the tenets of Marxist theory to their long term planning, the CPC knows only too well that there is no escaping the power and contradictory effects of capitalism; this is especially so while synthesising capitalism and socialism in order to develop China’s productive force which in effect has morphed into being a hybrid socialist/capitalist market economy. For this hybrid system to continue working for the PRC capitalism in China will need to remain strictly subordinate to socialism. If the power of capitalism is allowed to have its way with China then the CPC/PRC will end up with something more like a Capitalism with Chinese characteristics and their goal of achieving a modern socialist state by 2049, enjoying moderate prosperity in all respects could become difficult or impossible to reach. The negative effects of the power of capitalism are already evident within modern China, namely the emergence of billionaires and their obscene levels of privately owned wealth – including among senior Party leaders, monopoly capitalism in the private sector, social inequality between regional rural and urban populations, major real estate bankruptcies and the inevitable rumblings of class antagonisms.
It is worth noting here how and why the CPC subordinates capitalism to socialism; capitalism is such a great force that not even Marx’s ‘Capital’ could fully describe its complexity, nor could he have foreseen the power and influence of a fully computerised, globalised so called ‘monopoly capitalism’. Decades later however, Deng Xiaoping had the benefit of seeing for himself the power of capitalism and its potential for lifting China out of poverty. Known as the ‘Architect of Modern China’ Deng enabled what is known as a ‘Dual-track economy’ an economic system in which the government controls key sectors of the economy, while allowing private enterprise limited control over other sectors on a so called periphery of the economy. This has led to what the CPC refers to as a Socialist Market Economy (SME), based on state owned institutions such as banks, insurance, transport, education, energy, health and agricultural land etc; at the core of China’s overall market economy. The CPC maintains that despite the co-existence of private capitalists and entrepreneurs together with public and collective enterprise, China is not a capitalist country because the party retains control over the direction of the country, maintaining its course of socialist development. To date, capitalism remains strictly subordinate to socialism in China. If the rest of the world is going to reduce extreme poverty the way China has during the past decade, it too will need to subordinate (rather than try in vain to replace) capitalism to socialism.
As Deng Xiaoping put it in 1987, “only the socialist system can eradicate poverty”.
Domestically the extent to which the CPC/PRC upholds the political principle of democratic centralism – now also referred to as ‘whole process people’s democracy’, retains control over the great adversarial power of monopoly capitalism – thereby minimising social inequality and class antagonism; will determine whether or not the CPC can avoid economic collapse and the risk of being overthrown by the Chinese people and their army – the PLA.
Be this as it may, the collapsing of a neo-liberal political order throughout the world, combined with the negative impacts of climate change, a devastating global pandemic, and war in Europe, geopolitical tension is increasing among most if not all the so called major powers.
China and Russia recently issued a joint statement, saying that the two countries stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions and that they intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose colour revolutions, and will increase cooperation in the above-mentioned areas. A Sino-Russian alliance that focuses on trade, developing their respective domestic economies strengthening the informal BRICS alliance and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – especially now with Latin American states such as Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela benefitting from the BRI, while ensuring that they are capable of defending their aligned sovereign borders against an increasingly belligerent U.S. led NATO, QUAD and AUKUS alliance; now looks like being the only viable deterrent against war between the so called major powers.
The main difference cum contest between a U.S. dominated neoliberal world order and China’s relatively authoritarian single party governance is their respective foundational ideology; Neoliberalism is more of a top down god given theocratic ideology with a strong emphasis on individualism and state protection of privately owned property and wealth; Chinese governance is more of an organic bottom up ideology that places more emphasis on public ownership and the collective good rather than than the individual good. In the context of democracy, U.S. dominated neoliberalism no longer resembles Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 definition being ‘governance of the people, by the people for the people’; whereas China’s Marx/Lennin inspired ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ publicly advocates and demonstrates Lincoln’s definition of democracy.
Generally speaking China’s relatively authoritarian centralist single party form of governance and productivity is – almost by definition, more disciplined and efficient than Western neoliberal multi party forms of governance and thereby more capable of synthesising otherwise opposing economic and social dynamics; including and especially those within China itself and more importantly throughout an emerging new multipolar world order. It may well be that nothing less than the project for world peace and development is also now being; ‘Made in China’.
Southern Summer 2022.