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Debate on the China Model

Last month the British Prime Minister David Cameron visited China. After he had delivered his speech at Peking University, a student asked him what he could learn from China. The question was, “When Western leaders come to China, they always tend to lecture China about democracy, human rights, and other things. I would like to ask: what can you learn from the Chinese system?” Cameron answered by referring to the successful organization of the Beijing Olympics.

The episode has stimulated a hot discussion on the Internet and traditional media. Some criticized Peking University students for being “political correct” in their questions. Some discussed what exactly does the “China Model” mean? Although later it has been clarified that the student who asked the question is a foreign student and he had not used the term “China Model”, it is still worth looking into the debate.

Similar to the official interpretation of the China Model [cn], Han Zhengfeng, a professor on Marxism, traces the origin of the term to former statesman Deng Xiaoping. However, Han stresses that Deng's political project in developing “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” was an attempt to differentiate China from the Soviet's Communist model and that the China Model could not be exported to other countries:


In May 1980, when he (Deng) talked about relations with other parties, he pointed out that “the Chinese revolution did not follow the October Revolution in Russia”. “The success of the Chinese revolution is a combination of Marxist universal theory and the concrete practice in China. We should not demand that other developing countries have revolutions according to the China model and we should not demand that advanced capitalist states adopt the China model.”

Politicallly liberal thinker, Qin Hui, however, points out that if there is a “China Model”, its characteristics cannot be depicted by any economic theory “ism” but by the political system or platform:


Chinese characteristics are not about “ism”, it is all about the political system or platform for political contest: in the West, the Left and the Right are contesting in a democratic system while in China the Left and the Right are in a completely different system or platform. As a result, both the Left and the Right are thinking for the “emperor” not for the people — I am not trying to condemn anyone here. The moral conscience of the Left and Right in China is similar to those in the West, but their survival mechanisms are different. That's why both the Left and the Right are performing a totally different role when compared with their western counterparts. Our Leftists encourage the government to tax their people, or else China will be forced into the evil path of “neo-liberalism”; while our Rightists discourage the government from spending money on people or else China will be trapped in the disgusting path of the “welfare state”….

这就有了咱们的“模式”!其实中国并不比别的国家更左或者更右。只不过,中国“左”起来给政府扩大权力很容易,但追问它的责任却很困难;中国“右”起来呢?推卸政府的责任很容易,但限制它的权力却很困难。这 样搞,当然也有优越性,那就是原始积累的速度快,此外应付事态的能力也特别强,手中集中了巨量的钱,要搞刺激经济计划当然容易,要摆平什么人什么事,出手 也特别阔绰。可是这样搞的后果是什么?通常人们都会说像这样加速投资会不会加剧产能过剩,垄断部门谋取利益会不会导致两极分化的加剧,人为压低居民消费导 致内需不足,以及权力集中的种种风险等等。这些我们就姑且不论。现在我要讲的是:假如这样的模式,以及以这种模式和前面说过的西方那种模式的互动为特征 的、现在我们看到的这种全球化可以一直延续下去的话,中国和世界的未来将会怎样。

Here comes our “Model”! Actually we are neither more Right nor more Left than other countries. However, when we turn Left, the government can easily expand its power but it is difficult to hold them accountable. What about turning Right? The government can easily get away with its responsibilities, while we cannot limit its power. Such a path of course has its advantages, we have very rapid growth that is very effective in dealing with unexpected incidents. With so much money in hand, it is very easy to stimulate our economy and settle down all the problems. However, what will be the consequences? Some say that the excessive investment will result in overproduction, the profits gained by the monopolized sectors will result in increased disparity between rich and poor and the suppression of consumption will result in the shrinking of the internal market. The centralization of power will also create other risks. I am not going into details about the above consequences. What I want to stress here is that if such a model exists and the China model is defined by its differentiation from the West, what will be the future of China and the World in the context of the current trend in globalization?

Zheng Yongnian, a China expert based in Singapore tries to argue that the “China Model” is not against democracy, but its democracy has Chinese characteristics:


China is in a weak position in terms of political development. Western countries still condemn the human rights situation and development of democracy in China. China does have many problems, but the issue is also related to the influence of western ideology.

Many developing countries have a different viewpoint. Human rights and democracy in the West have not given their people their political rights. The so-called political system has not given them political order and economic development but resulted in political corruption and social disorder.

Moreover, the China Model does not deny human rights and democracy. It stresses the phaseal development of people's rights. Any society should have an economic base before people can acquire their political rights. Our political system depends on the economic and social infrastructure. Economic reform has brought more political rights to Chinese people than other countries which have chosen or been forced into western democratic models. That's why the China model is so attractive to many developing countries.

Tang Zhileng does not believe that “China Model” had ever existed because China is still undergoing political and economic transformation:

到目前为止,我国高速发展的经济社会还只是国内外各种理论的“实验场”,还并没有形成一套有效的理论体系来解释我国近三十来年的经济发展现实。而有些学者 认为我国经济高速发展得益于对外开放、国际合作、大力发展市场经济、强调政府的有效干预等因素,然而这些还只是我国经济发展的一些零散的经验总结,而不是 系统化的理论体系。

Up till now, our society, with its rapid economic development, is still an “experimental field” for foreign theories. We don't have a coherent theory to explain the reality of our 30-year economic development. Some scholars have derived some factors, such as open door policy, international cooperation, market economy and effective government intervention to explain our economic development. However, it is just a summary of our experience, not systemic theory.

如果现在“中国模式”已经形成了,那么该模式就必然会蕴含尊重生命、责任、良心、诚信、公平正义等基本道德价值理念,然而,看看我国经济社会的现实,虽然 我国政府高层时刻在强调科学发展观、以人为本、和谐发展、有尊严的生活等理念,然而,在地方政府和企业层面,却经常看到相反的事实,如,假酒、地沟油、毒 奶粉、矿难等频发的食品安全和生产安全事故;严重的环境污染;屡禁不止的暴力强迁;高企的房价;巨大贫富差距,以及整个社会拜物主义横行,等等,…这也进一步说明了我国还正处于道德价值体系 重建的关键时期。可见,缺乏这些基本道德价值理念的内涵,又何来什么“中国模式”,如果说我国已经形成了中国模式,那这种模式对广大人们又有什么意义,因 为这模式主要是为精英阶层服务的。

If the “China Model” has come into being, the model should have embedded basic moral values such as respect for life, conscience, responsibility, credibility, fairness, justice. In spite of the fact that the central government has been stressing values such as scientific development, human oriented and harmonious development, and respectable living environment, our social and economic reality is completely opposite to the above values. At the local government and corporate level we have: poisonous alcohol, cooking oil and powdered milk; mine and industrial accidents; devastating environmental pollution; violence; property market bubbles; huge disparity between the rich and the poor, the dominance of fetishism in the society… We are still reconstructing our moral value system without which the “China Model” cannot be accomplished. If we insist that we have already developed the “China Model”, what are the implications of such a model for common people? It is just a model to serve the elite class.


  • Chinese democracy is an oxymoron right now! I have friends, who were not allowed to enter China because they attended pro Tibet demonstration – and I am not quite sure whether I myself would be issued a visa if I wanted to visit the country. Chinese system goes against their own citizens – what shall we learn from them? returning to Dickens times, abusing religious groups and reintroduce concentration camps? no thanks…

  • […] on the China Model by Oiwan Lam, Global Voices, Dec 8, 2010 […]

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