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Cui Zhiyuan, "Comparatively Well-Off China"

Billet de Sakinah Chevrier

Cui, Zhiyuan. "How to Comprehend Today's China: An Interpretation of the" Comparatively Well-Off Society"." Contemporary Chinese Thought 37.4 (Été 2006): 41-47. Originally published in 2004.

Zhiyuan Cui, teacher at the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University, is the auteur of numerous articles in Chinese and English about political economy of the Chinese reform, comparative perspectives on privatization, game theory and the social sciences, the Beijing Consensus, liberal socialism, and tax policy. This article compares perspectives on privatization in the Chinese reform context.

In this text, the author wants to comprehend today’s China though a new perspective. He is on a quest for a new conceptual framework and explores the concept of “comparatively well-off society”. Its theory and practice requiring abundant spiritual resources and critical reference to humankind’s existing theoretical achievements, he uses “petty bourgeois socialism” as part of the spiritual resources of a “comparatively well-off society”.

Communism is designed to do away with bourgeoisie and proletariat alike, thus “petty bourgeois socialism” couldn’t guide a proletarian revolution to success, but “comparatively well-off”, or “common prosperity” could be taking to mean “universalization of the petty bourgeoisie”. The central economic viewpoint of “petty bourgeois socialism” is the “modern enterprise system”, meaning the combination of socialism and market economy, with the important feature of limited shareholder responsibility (which originated from “petty bourgeois socialism”). Cui agrees with Mill that all those who contribute to an enterprise, whether in the form of money or work, should possess shares in the enterprise, irrespective of the size of their contributions. The universal establishment of limited liability stock holding was important in allowing workers to share profit, seeing as before its establishment, workers couldn’t share profit if they did not assume responsibility for losses.

The new theoretical framework of “petty bourgeois socialism” makes it easier to see the rudiments of the systemic innovation in China, such as the innovative systemic significance of the share-holding cooperative in rural areas. It also makes it possible to promote further experiments on them and provides descriptive language, allowing us to analyze the existing systemic innovations and strengthen Chinese self-confidence as these innovations are explored.

According to Cui, “social democracy” has become a subconscious mainstream policy. Social democracy “is giving consideration to both efficiency and fairness under a set system”, but here fairness is only paid attention in the secondary distribution. In terms of primary distribution (systemic dispositions or innovations), it further promotes privatization, while giving laid-off employees some basic livelihood guarantees.

Though the opinion in the West is that Chinese reforms rely on privatization and marketization, in the light of petty bourgeois socialism, the success of those reforms cannot be explained by privatization or marketization. One of the systemic mechanisms for this success is the “socialist market economy”, meaning the operation of socialized assets in a market economy. For example, township enterprises can emerge when the land is collectively owned because of the reduced land rent. In “petty bourgeois socialism”, land policies consist of “public ownership of land, “socialization of land rents” and market operation. The city of Hegang made systemic innovations in combining public land ownership and the market, which explains the high rate of its economic growth because it relies on real estate development to stimulate other industries. It is an innovation in “primary distribution” and not “secondary distribution” as found in social democracy.

In conclusion, useful references can be found in the “petty bourgeois socialism” for the theoretical construction of the “comparatively well-off society” and of the “socialist market economy”. The usual conceptual frameworks, such as traditional socialism, capitalism, or social democracy, cannot be used to explain China’s reforms, making it necessary to explore new conceptual framework.

This text does not allow the neophyte to acquire concrete knowledge, as it is designed for the well informed academics, assuming the reader has a fairly good understanding of all the concepts seen, which are poorly explained in the text itself, making the ideas very abstract and hard to grasp to the amateur.

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