MORE FROM THE MIDDLE KINGDOM:
After three weeks in China — my first visit — I came away wondering: is this really a communist country?
A more thriving capitalist culture could hardly be imagined, at least in the big cities. The broad avenues are lined with stores of every description, stocked with all manner of consumer goods, high-end and low, imported and locally-made. The skyscrapers springing up in Shanghai and Beijing are crowded with new business enterprises, from Chinese start-ups to western banking giants. And, as all the world knows, China makes everything …and sells it to the rest of us.
After the hardships of the early years of the communist party’s takeover in 1949, the famine of the Great Leap Forward, and the suffering and shortages of the Cultural Revolution, the former leader Deng Xiaoping shattered socialist orthodoxy and famously declared: “To be rich is glorious.” Today’s Chinese, especially the young, have taken him at his word.
Huang Guangyu, a smiling, crew-cut 37-year-old is a case in point. The son of a peasant, he moved to the big city and founded an electronics retailer, Gome Appliance Holdings. Today he is worth an estimated $1.7 billion dollars and is considered to be China’s richest man. To the generation coming behind him, he is a hero.
His is not the only success story. China is now said to have seven billionaires, some 400 entrepreneurs worth $60 million or more and 300,000 garden-variety millionaires. Its economy has expanded at a white-hot average of 10.1 per cent annually for the last 15 years. The accounting firm Price, Waterhouse, Cooper recently forecast that China will outstrip the U.S. and become the world’s largest economy by the year 2050.
And yet the inequities are as glaring as the glitter. The income gap between urban and rural Chinese is large and growing. Some 200 million Chinese still live on less than $1 a day, according to the World Bank. Corruption is endemic at every level and the pollution that is choking the big cities threatens the whole country’s economic future as well as its health.
Frankly, it all seems pretty capitalist to me. I recognize that the CCP, or Communist Party of China controls the purse strings and cracks down hard on any signs of dissent. Just ask some of the Chinese journalists who have stepped out of line.
So the country is arguably authoritarian, and undeniably socialist in some respects. But communist? Not in any fashion that Marx or Lenin or even Chairman Mao would recognize. Not China. Not today.