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Questions I've not really heard good answers to while in China

By Ezra Klein

One of the questions my group has repeatedly asked is whether China can still be considered a communist country. The answer we've gotten is yes: Development-inducing capitalism is a necessary waypoint on the glorious road to communism. Then one of my colleagues followed up: But why should Intel -- or anyone else -- invest in China if their plant is ultimately going to be taken over by the state?

I haven't really heard a good answer to this one yet.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 1, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  China  
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Stalin said it best:
“When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope”.

Posted by: arnoldob | June 1, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

well, another question might be, "was China ever really a communist country?" I think there's a decent argument that for at least large portions of the 20th century it was incorrectly self-described as such.

Maybe it never was and now with capitalism on the rise that thin veneer is coming off completely.

Speaking of which, the Mao biography by Jung Chang is really good,

Posted by: ThomasEN | June 1, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

"But why should Intel -- or anyone else -- invest in China if their plant is ultimately going to be taken over by the state?"

Two words. CHEAP LABOR.

If the short term pluses outweigh the potential that the government will take over the company then it makes complete sense.

Posted by: visionbrkr | June 1, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Ezra-- To suggest an answer to your question: companies invest in China because they feel they can't afford not to. The potential of the Chinese market has been tempting American businesses since our country's birth. I think companies feel it's worth the risk and hassles of dealing with the Chinese government because the size of the Chinese consumer market is so vast.

Posted by: Tbel | June 1, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Aside from the short term calculation (which is probably true) just because China intends to go full-socialist at some point doesn't mean they actually will. There's been a rather explicit hope among Westerners that China's authoritarian quasi-capitalism will inevitably segue into democratic proper capitalism. China has one version of historical materialism, we have ours.

Posted by: usergoogol | June 1, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Because when the state does take ove the plant the guy who made the decision to go to China already made his money and could give a fig.

Posted by: obrier2 | June 1, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

No, China is not communist and won't return to communism. It's just that the people you speak to don't want to be quoted saying that. Or they have some emotional loyalty to the concept.

Posted by: neilinottawa | June 1, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Hi Ezra, There are two comments already posted here that are the clearly obvious answers to why businesses will risk investing in communist China. One, new and increasing demand for the rising middle class in China. And two, cheap labor.

There are two other ideas that I believe are a part of the answer to this question... First... is that there are effectively two financial systems in China, that's why they have two sets of currency. Apparently one is communist and one is quasi-capitalist.

And then in subcontext - but always prevalent in the minds of the Chinese - the Chinese justice system (sic) is another piece of this puzzle. If someone is caught embezzling, or something of that nature in China there is speedy justice, often a 3-day trial with an execution on the fourth. (And organ donation on the fifth?)

For those businesses who intend to abide by all the Chinese laws, the justice system in China gives the feeling that you won't ever in a million years be ripped off by your business associates. Not if they value their lives anyway.

In that regard - yes, China is still a communist country.

Posted by: creativegenerations | June 1, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Is there any party in the Chinese political system other than the communist? No? Then it's a communist country. One party rule is the hallmark, the mark of Cain, of communism.

Posted by: truck1 | June 1, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

I've had this discussion with Chinese uni students before (in Xian) and they seem to equate 'communism' with 'rule by the Chinese Communist Party', ie. devoid of any ideological content. I've tried comparing the role of the state in western capitalist countries - free healthcare, free education to the end of high school, welfare for the unemployed, disabled and elderly - with China, which has none of these things. They were interested in the comparison but couldn't see the relevance to communism/capitalism.

Posted by: jamesa81 | June 2, 2010 3:28 AM | Report abuse

couple of problems: first, China was never, and never even claimed to be, a communist country. It was socialist and moving towards communism. Second, Jiang Zemin said in the late 1990s that it would take at least 5000 year for China to reach communism, so I think Intel can relax. Anyhow, there are very few actual communists in China. It is a capitalist country ruled by an authoritarian party that is pro-capitalist (even if it is named a "communist party").

Posted by: michiganmaine | June 2, 2010 4:57 AM | Report abuse

Strictly speaking China never claimed to be a communist state. Like the USSR it was a "socialist" country, with communism as a utopian ideal to be achieved in the future.

Intel are investing in China because they don't believe the propaganda, they know the government isn't interested in communism any more.

The modern Communist Party is intellectually and morally bankrupt. Marxism-Leninism was a terrible idea, but at least you could believe that party members were wrongheaded idealists. The modern party believes in nothing except its own power.

That is why it has turned to demagogic nationalism as its guiding ideology; if the plebs become restless then get them excited about Taiwan or Tibet.

Posted by: Modicum | June 2, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse


No, communism is a specific ideology. Not a synonym for oligarchy.

Posted by: Modicum | June 2, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

They are called the Chinese Communist party in all the literature. THEY call themselves communists. Their "martyrs" if you want to call them that, in the struggle with the nationalists, died singing the Internationale. The fact that the party is corrupt and not pure does not make them not communists. They may say they have not reached the perfection of communism (would take 5,000 years) but if the regime in China, now about 62 years old (the same age as communism was in Russia when it died, btw) is not communist, then nowhere has there been communism on earth.

Posted by: truck1 | June 2, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

They just plan to bypass socialism on the road to communism, a state of plenty where goods and services become too cheap to be worth charging for. Like Ezra Klein's writing, or mine. I'm sure the Chinese CP don't have any clearer a road map to utopia than the old Marxists did. But the communist sector of the economy of the USA - more than that of China - is already large and growing fast. In the long run, this may be more significant than the small shift to socalism (government allocation) in the US economy under Obama's health and financial reforms.
Slightly more formal thoughts on the prospects for communism here:

Posted by: JamesWimberley | June 2, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

"Is there any party in the Chinese political system other than the communist? No? Then it's a communist country. One party rule is the hallmark, the mark of Cain, of communism."

Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath party would be very surprised to find out that they were actually communists.

"...the mark of Cain..."

Why is that you guys always talk like the mother character in Stephen King's Carrie?

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 2, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Obviously, not every one party state is communist. BUT every truly communist state is one party. They will tolerate no other way. The Baathist state was, well ,Baathist, despite the fact that I'm sure many people said they had not reached the utopian point of pure Baathism. The "mother character."? That's the only being you can come up with who labels things as bad? You can find moralizing galore in this administration. You don't have to go back to Carrie.

Posted by: truck1 | June 2, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

"Is there any party in the Chinese political system other than the communist? No? Then it's a communist country."

"Obviously, not every one party state is communist."

TROLL FAIL: One party rule is the test, but "obviously" it is not the test.

Inconsistency is the hallmark, the mark of Cain, of the right wing troll.

Yea, verily, the mark of Cain!

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 2, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

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