Looking at the title of the book Understanding Capitalism - Competition, Command and Change, what immediately comes to my mind is whether Chinese experts have ever exhaustively researched what this term as an economic system is exactly about.
I doubt that the Chinese people in the nearly three decades before 1978 really made an effort to research capitalism although it had been used as a label of all things bad and considered as the source of all evils.
Our attitude toward capitalism has been ambiguous in more than three decades after the economic reform and opening up policies were adopted in 1978. No matter how many capitalist elements have found their way into the market economy, Chinese people have never called its economy capitalism. They have instead called it a market economy to make it distinct from the nation's planned economy in the decades before 1978.
A stinky but tasty food called choudoufu (preserved fermented bean curd) was used to describe capitalism before 1978, meaning it sounds bad but makes a difference in economic development.
It sounds bad because it had been denounced as a decadent mechanism of production that pursues profits by heavily exploiting workers and fueling greediness. The negative ideological connotation has overshadowed what it actually means as an economic term and has in the least amplified its faults.
But behind the equivocal attitude has been the fever of economic reform that has adopted the stimulating capitalist mechanisms to promote the enthusiasm of laborers. Land was contracted to farmers. They were also given the right to farm the fields and make an income from their harvest. It became an incentive to stimulate them to work hard. Further economic reform has privatized some businesses and many factories in urban areas.
Without talking about capitalism, some in the early 1980s considered it as a panacea to all the problems that we faced. Chinese people were too depressed from constant underdevelopment and disheartened by the repeated political campaigns that weighed both the positive and negative sides of market economy (their euphemism for capitalism).
The market economy did work pretty well. Its combination with the country's current political system created an economic miracle in the past two decades - the two-digit economic growth rate for more than a decade and the substantial improvement of living standards.
Yet, do we really know enough about capitalism? It doesn't seem so.
Many problems have arisen in step with our rapid economic growth. Corruption has never been so rampant, resources of various kinds have never been so overexploited, the gap between the haves and have-nots has never been so wide and the interests between different social groups have never been so tilted to people with power.
The central government and Party leadership realize the severe situation they are facing and are making great efforts to solve the aforementioned problems.
It has never been so urgent for decision-makers in this country to sit down and bury themselves in the efforts to know more about capitalism, which is not as bad as we used to believe but is also not as good as some of us think.
As in medication, the right dosage of a drug and its timeliness makes a difference. Capitalism, like socialism, is just a drug for economic development and social progress and it won't work well unless it is used with the right dosage and at the right time.
The Wall Street financial crisis and the following economic slowdown are still impacting the global economy, further proving that free competition is not always trustworthy. And when economists and political experts in the West are discussing whether regulation of the free market by the government needs to be intensified, our experts probably need to reflect on how well we have used the remedies of capitalism and how combining capitalist measures with socialism have fared in the past decades.
Emancipation of the mind is always necessary. We still need to put capitalism and socialism in the most accurate perspective and to make the most suitable policies for economic development and social progress.