China Power

The China Model

Is China unique? And could its governance model be exported? Chinese intellectual Pan Wei shares his views.

David Cohen speaks with Peking University's Pan Wei, a political scientist who has written extensively about the 'China Model'. This is the first part of an interview conducted on behalf of partner site the Lowy Interpreter.


Will Millard asks: The traditional imperial examination system was vital for identifying able elites in ancient China. What role does education have in helping to combat corruption in modern China?

It’s just like in traditional China, to find capable people, and people with good moral principles. Because China has no social cleavages — at least no clear-cut and persistent social cleavages — Chinese society is just like a heap of scattered sand. So the government has to be composed of a few good people, who are advanced, or outstanding, from society.

They have to be advanced in three ways: first, ideologically. Organisationally advanced, because all of them have to go through this meritocracy system. Whenever there’s a selection, there must be an examination; whenever there is a promotion, there must be an evaluation. Thirdly, within the governing group, they have to compete in performance, and also they have to compete in policies of the different regions. So in that way, you can see politically and organisationally they are unified and advanced. So that means they aren’t neutral. Neutral is not a good word for the government, because the society is not separated into classes.

Pamela Hunt asks: Do you think capitalist reforms have now gone too far in China?

I think that reform has had different emphases and tasks, but the general target is a strong country and a wealthy people. So it hasn't changed.

Before the reform, the emphasis was on equality, against the background of the 100 years of war and inequality. Then there were three decades of the effort to build social equality. But this exhausted itself by the last decade, that is from 1970 to 1980, so people wanted efficiency and more consumer goods, that is production efficiency. So they changed.

So for the past three decades the emphasis has been more on efficiency, that is on market efficiency. So in the past decade, inequality has become more of a problem among people, mainly in terms of income, housing, medical care, and pensions. So now the new emphasis is on rebuilding equality.

Meg He asks: I would like to know his opinion on the role of financial services and banking in a socialist market economy?

Whether you call it socialism or not, the banking system is mostly under the control of the state. It has shares held by the common people through stock exchanges, it has shares sold to the foreigners. But the state maintains a controlling share. So the whole financial system is somehow under the control or influence of the state. Whether you call it a socialist system is another thing, but it seems that the government is determined to maintain some methods of micro-control. The purpose is to prevent market failures, particularly in financial areas, and to prevent the alienation of the banking system — that is to say, the banking system becoming an economic animal by itself, instead of serving the real economy.

Ellen Goodman asks: Would your 'model' of government envisage a tenured judiciary not appointed by the Communist Party, with the power and jurisdiction to decide legal questions?

Actually, there are two separate issues: in the Western media, there is more interest in seeing judicial independence in terms of balancing the Communist Party in the political area. But as I see it, real judicial independence isn’t in the political area. The independence of the judiciary is preserved only if they keep their distance from political affairs.

So technically we see more and more judicial independence in the technical areas, like economic disputes. Usually they are more and more independent and professional, and getting less and less interference. So I think the Chinese judiciary is becoming more trustworthy to merchants.

Lena Schipper asks: Do you think that China's political system can be exported to other countries?

I don't think so, because the social structure is different. I don't even think the Anglo-Saxon model could be exported, and actually it's had a lot of failures already. It all depends on social conditions. In a society like Thailand, with its urban/rural divisions, it's dangerous.  And in some Latin American countries, there's a fierce class structure. In a tribal society, the majority principle wouldn't fit. In China, it is that there are no social cleavages.

Is China unique in terms of having no social cleavages? I think every country is unique, but I think China is truly unique in having no social cleavages, clear and stable social cleavages. All the poor people identify with the rich, or with the aspiration to be rich, and the rich people identify with common people, so that's quite unique. All the rich people have got rich only in the last two decades, and their relatives are average people.

The original version of this article appeared here.