Socialism 3.0 in China
Image Credit: Chen Hualin

Socialism 3.0 in China


As China’s 2012 power transition approaches, politicians and academics are racing to find the theme that will define the country’s direction for the next eight years. The inclinations of Xi Jinping, heir apparent to the presidency, are still unclear, but his recent visit to Chongqing suggests that he’s taking a particular interest in the ‘Red Culture’ policies of municipal Party Secretary Bo Xilai.

Bo is the highest-ranking Party member of the Chongqing Municipal area, an administrative zone four times the size of the US state size of New Jersey. It embraces acity of 10 million, as well as a vast rural hinterland that contains more than 1,200 towns and villages. Over the past few years, Bo has made himself the centre of media attention with eye-catching initiatives such as a ‘red song’ campaign and a ban on advertisements on local TV. 

But the significance of Chongqing runs much deeper than socialist gimmicks—Bo has tried to rewrite the social contract of Chongqing with an attack on economic inequality, an expansion of the state role in the economy, and political moves taken straight from Mao Zedong’s playbook. 

People often say that politics in China have stood still while the economy has raced ahead. But the placid surface of single-party rule conceals vigorous debate within the Communist Party over China’s future. Policy experimentation at the local level provides fodder for arguments that will determine the shape of Chinese socialism during the next administration and beyond. The approach of the 2012 handover has spurred risings stars like Bo, a Politburo member and likely candidate for promotion to the top-rung Politburo Standing Committee, to jockey for top leaders’ attention with striking new policies.

This conversation doesn’t always move in liberal directions. China’s ‘New Left’ has seized upon Bo’s ideas to argue for a radical shift away from the market-oriented policies of the Reform and Opening period, citing Chongqing as proof that China can combine growth with economic equality in a vision of socialism that looks to a more statist past.

New Left proponents argue that Chongqing’s experience is the beginning of a path for China that will break radically with capitalist reforms begun by Deng Xiaoping.They hope to restore the state as the centre of China’s economic system with a focus on poverty reduction and to revive Maoist political techniques. In doing so, they claim to have a blueprint for a new era in China’s history.

Socialism 3.0

In a political system where slogans matter, coining a new buzzword is a delicate business, and Bo has been careful to tie himself to the history of the Communist Party. ‘Some people say that “Red Culture” is a move to the left,’ Bo said at a 2009 municipal party meeting. ‘In fact, it’s just about serving the people. That’s why the Communist Party was founded.’

Yet leading members of China’s New Left are beginning to look beyond the theme that has defined Chinese politics for the last 30 years.

Wang Shaoguang, a mainland-born professor of political science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has labelled this new period ‘Socialism 3.0’ in an unpublished article focusing on Chongqing, casting it as the successor Mao’s radical egalitarianism and Deng’s reform and opening.

Controversial Peking University political scientist Pan Wei, for his part, describes Chongqing as proof that China is moving into a ‘post-reform and opening era,’ returning to the traditional socialist focus on equality. Arguing that the growth-centred policies of recent decades have created an unacceptable gap between rich and poor, he says the time has come for a radical rethinking of Chinese politics—but he isn’t sure the time has come to say so publicly.

May 13, 2011 at 05:53

Great Article.

I read a lot chinese Leftest articles. I must say that this is a fair article that reflect the political current scenarios. Currently, the Rightest are in power and has been in power since Deng Xiaoping. They have all the propogenda tools and political resources. However, 30 years has accumulated a lot of problems that they can not solve. The leftest only got this small playground now to express themselves.

One thing I felt good is that this shows that china now has this self correcting ability. With this ability, the sociaty can perfecting itself and move forward. After 3.0, there will be 4.0, 5.0 and so on

May 5, 2011 at 18:20

Thank you for this insightful article on a very important topic. I heard about this new phenomenon in Chongqing in another major newspaper, which dismissed it as nostalgic red flag waving.

Wilsonian Don J.
April 30, 2011 at 15:17

Fascinating article– although I don’t see anything maoist about Bo’s approach. sounds like social democracy to me.

April 27, 2011 at 16:12

I agree that you need to read Chinese if you want to be serious in knowing China – but you also need to go beyond the official version as with any other country. Similarly, to really know India, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil … is also required – depending on which part of India you are interested in. But there is still plenty in English about both countries (and most other countries). Yasheng Huang and Minqi Li both write in English about China and books that are worth reading, also giving some idea of the diversity of debate.

April 27, 2011 at 13:28

Not really.

If you cannot read Chinese and Chinese historical books, you will never understand China.

Ji shiyu
April 27, 2011 at 12:09

The officials will keep looking for ways to remain popular, so long as they and their families can keep living the priviledged lives they so cherish. Whatever social equality is achieved between rich and poor, it is clear who the rich are going to remain…those connected to the top level of everything. Still, Bo’s popularity could be useful…it is rare to see a Princeling who is also “popular” like the “populists”.

April 27, 2011 at 01:18

I agree, very insightful article!

April 26, 2011 at 15:45

Good article. We know too little of the debates that occur within China and within the CCP and it is good to see some of those debates aired. When I talk to friends from China, I am always taken by how open and robust the debates are among them – but getting little airing in the wider world. Nothing is taboo. Ordinary Chinese I speak to sometimes make comparisons with the Mao era and say “He looked after us ordinary people, not like now” but are also alive to the benefits of the high growth model. I remeber one said of socialism “shi hui zhu yi hao bu hao” (“it is good and not good”). The only book in English that covers these kinds of debates within China is Mark Leonard’s “What does China think”. Does any one know any other sources?

April 26, 2011 at 13:07

Great job, very interesting article.

In a way, I think the whole promotion of red songs is a way to cover a deeper debate that´s going on in Chongqing, like a new less market oriented China with a bigger intervention of the State.

I´ve heard one of the main actors in this new Chongqing political ideas is Cui Zhiyuan, who studied at the University of Chicago.

April 26, 2011 at 09:53

Thank you for pointing this out and we are sorry for the oversight. As you note, although he held the position of paramount leader, he was never formally president. We apologize for any confusion.

The Diplomat

April 26, 2011 at 09:32

It didn’t state that one method was the definite way forward, rather it simply listed a few ideas being thrown around by different sides. Also it never suggested anything about democracy.

April 26, 2011 at 06:15

You can order officials to do just about anything and so long as they’re not actually held accountable by the people it doesn’t matter what the orders say, especially in far off parts of the country where the concerns of the CCP don’t have so much weight on local leaders.

Xujun Eberlein
April 26, 2011 at 02:41

“New Left proponents argue that Chongqing’s experience is the beginning of a path for China that will break radically with capitalist reforms begun by former President Deng Xiaoping.”

Deng Xiaoping was never the president of China, though he ran the country.

April 26, 2011 at 02:28

While a concern for the less well-off is admirable, playing with Maoism is dangerous. It is difficult to encourage business investment when the official top government policy is hostile to free enterprise. Going too far down this road will lead to a cul-de-sac. Even the USA under the Obama regime has faced the problem of killing off jobs, investment and growth with hard-left socialist rhetoric.

A good companion article is at Stratfor:

China and the End of the Deng Dynasty is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

yang zi
April 26, 2011 at 02:17

I am impressed.

This is an import write up that tells the direction of China. Just hope the 3.0 version will be democratic and free

April 25, 2011 at 23:34

great article and i enjoyed reading it very much. Bo’s policy may indeed have a place in whole China’s society. There’s nothing wrong with building affordable housings and more equity among the masses.

April 25, 2011 at 21:48

Wouldn’t be easier to just run sham elections, fiddle with the chads and then steal all your opponent’s ideas for running the country?

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