In a recent essay, Immanuel Wallerstein, senior research scholar with Yale University, describes how common Americans think about China. The sociologist and world-systems analyst says Americans may have had similar opinions about China 30 years ago, but today their views differ. They are no longer sure whether China is a developing country or a world power, or whether it is a socialist country or a capitalist country.
This difference of opinion over China is not restricted to Americans. People in many other countries share their uncertainty. So is China a socialist country or a capitalist country.
This answer depends on how socialism and market economy are defined. Scholars who perceive socialism as a "dynamic" concept proclaim that socialism, at least ideologically, is a social form with continuous changes and developments, and hence China is a socialist country. In other words, socialism with Chinese characteristics is indeed a socialist model of society.
According to Marxism, socialism denotes an economic system of state/public ownership of property, workers' ownership of the means of production and equality of labor relations. There can be no discussion on the "developing socialism" without the adoption of these criteria. And China is still moving cautiously forward on the road to socialism, for which it has to put in great efforts.
On the other hand, market economy is more suitable for development in capitalist societies, because it allocates and uses resources rationally through competition among market entities. Yet huge amounts of resources are wasted because of permanent economic rules and cyclical economic crises.
So it's better to blend economics with politics while defining socialism and capitalism. The Chinese government is committed to pursuing and developing socialism. But the great economic pressure it is under has prompted it to adopt a flexible policy by allowing some people to get rich first. This fact has drawn the most attention of Western academics, who, with due respect, still lack the depth to understand that the combining of socialist principles with market economy is a historical choice for China.
Now, let's see whether China is a developing or a developed country?
True, China's economy has grown massively to become the third largest in the world. But its per capita GDP shows it is still a poor developing country and cannot shoulder more international responsibilities. And if it is forced to do so, its wealth distribution system could become more uneven and cause more harm to low-income groups.
As a developing country, China is in transition toward social economy. But it still needs international economic cooperation and understanding to complete the transition. Unfortunately, the prosperity in some of China's cities and the wealth of a few rich Chinese have prompted some people abroad to consider China as a developed country.
That brings us to another controversy: Is China a leading anti-imperialist and anti-hegemony state, or is it an imperial power trying to impose its hegemony on the rest of the world?
China has never pursued and will never pursue imperialism or hegemony.
Being a large agricultural country, China had long been a self-sufficient economy. And though it has implemented reform and undergone industrialization during the past couple of decades, it is still weak in finance, services and trade sectors. It cannot change the global economic, political and military orders nor does it have any ambition to impose its hegemony.
Some scholars' worry that China's economic rise could turn it into a hegemonistic power, for history tells us wealth is the source of hegemony. But the truth is the opposite if we look at the future. International politics has already undergone a fundamental change. Environmentally friendly modes of production are replacing traditional methods of industrialization. In such a scenario, how can China's prosperity harm other countries? For one, China is still struggling to catch up with the developed countries in terms of technology and green modes of production.
The international community has been judging China from many angles, some of which are objective and friendly, while others are biased and hostile. The difference in the premise of their analyses has naturally led them to different conclusions. A biased view and a preconceived notion can never be conducive to developing relations, knowing or benefiting from each other and contributing to the integration of the world economy.
The author is the head of Social Development Research Center at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.
(China Daily 02/02/2010 page9)