But while Bo’s Chongqing has become a capital for China’s New Left, it’s not the only model competing for the attention of China’s top leaders. Liberals and globally oriented modernizers have also drawn inspiration from local governments, especially reformist policies pursued by the governments of Shenzhen and Guangdong Province.
The city of Shenzhen, which has experimented with Western-style political reforms in a move toward the separation of powers, was the site of Premier Wen Jiabao’s controversial speech last August in which he forcefully argued for political change, while Wang Yang, the provincial leader of Guangdong and Bo’s rival for a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, has focussed on the catchy theme of ‘Happy Guangdong,‘ calling for measuring growth with a ‘Happiness Index.’
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So what exactly do New Left thinkers believe the next wave of Chinese socialism is going to look like?
For a start, they say, it’s going to be a lot less like capitalism. They call for a major re-entry of the state into the economy, and point to Chongqing as proof that a large public sector can co-exist with a dynamic market. Over the past few years, as Chongqing has become a popular destination for factories relocating from the more developed coastal provinces, where wages and costs are rising, its GDP has grown by about 14 percent a year—much faster than the national average–providing fodder for left-wing academics to cast it as a model for growth.
The political scientists of the New Left are using Chongqing, which has encouraged the expansion of state-owned enterprises, to respond to the economic argument shared by many market-oriented Chinese economists that state investment ‘crowds out’ private enterprise (guo jin min tui).
However, Cui Zhiyuan, a Qinghua University professor who has spent much of the last year conducting field research in Chongqing, argues that in Chongqing ‘It’s not the state crowding out private enterprise…In fact, the state and the market develop together (guo jin min ye jin).’
Wang agrees, citing the growth of private activity in the city, which has outpaced state investment. In fact he dismisses the idea of crowding out, writing ‘This kind of idea not only has absolutely no theoretical foundation, but it’s been also been proved absurd by the practical experience of Chongqing…As the state’s absolute role in the Chongqing economy has increased, its proportion of the economy has decreased.’
In the Chongqing model, though, everything links back to the issues of poverty and inequality, and the government of Chongqing has turned the market profits of state-owned enterprises toward traditional socialist projects, using their revenue to fund the construction of affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. It’s perhaps not surprising then that Bo’s biggest policy hit is the affordable housing initiative for the city’s poorest. The massive construction programme aims to provide cheap apartments to a third of the municipality’s 30 million residents, a programme that has received national attention and clearly impressed the central government, which is rolling out a similar plan at a national level as part of the 12th Five-Year Plan.
Bo has tried to cast his programme as a step past the single-minded focus on GDP that has defined Chinese policy since Deng. ‘It’s not about how many tall buildings you have, it’s how happy people are,’ he argued in a 2009 speech to Chongqing Party members.
Such comments have echoes of the Happy Guangdong talk, but the statist raft of policies is a sharp contrast with rival proposals. The export-focussed province’s recent reforms have lookedoutwards, fitting closely with current debates among Western policymakers on improving urban quality of life.
But Bo’s remarks also allow him to set himself apart from the wealth-driven culture of major coastal cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou, flagship cities of the reform and opening era that have accepted significant inequality as the cost of economic growth.