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Zhiyuan Cui, “How to Comprehend Today’s China”

Billet d'Olympiu Lui

Zhiyuan Cui, “How to Comprehend Today’s China”, Contemporary Chinese Thought, vol. 37, no. 4, Summer 2006, pp. 41–47.

Cui Zhiyuan is a professor at the School of Public Policy and Management in Tsinghua University, Beijing, with a MA and PhD in Political Science from the University of Chicago. He specializes in political economics and political philosophy. Besides being on the board of many journals and publications, he has been a fellow and guest professor at many notable universities, such as MIT, the National University of Singapore, Harvard University Law School, the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, and Cornell University. Additionally, he is also one of the principal member of the Chinese New Left.

Cui’s main question is in his title “how to comprehend today’s China?”, but I believe that he pushes it further, by proposing his solution to help China advance economically and politically on the global stage. Ultimately, Cui believes that to do so, there needs to be a “new conceptual framework” of petty bourgeois socialism (the class of small proprietors) in China. To argue his point, he uses examples of “modern enterprise system” and “land reserve system” to construct what he calls “relatively well-off society” and “socialist market economy”.

With John Stuart Mill’s theory on modern system enterprise, Cui expresses that even after Marx’s reform, workers and laborers would not remain the proletariat. Relationships and dynamics between employers and employees changed and thus creating partnership relationships. People who worked for an enterprise, would all eventually own shares of it. To exemplify this, he mentions that on American ships, seamen all profit from the trip. The “joint-stock cooperative system” that has been in place in rural China since the 1980s resembles this.

The other example Cui takes is of “socialist market economy”; he demonstrates that the combination of opening up the market and socializing assets (such as land) has helped develop China’s enterprises. This has been the situation in places such as Hegang city since 1996, and despite having higher unemployment, there has been a strong economic growth through real estate development due to their zero land price policy.

These concepts combined with concrete examples that Cui gives show China’s potential ability to advance economically and politically through having what he calls a new conceptual framework.

Cui’s sources are research based, he mentions beliefs philosophers and economists such as John Stuart Mill, Henry George, and PJ Proudhon, and links them to examples of situations and reforms in modern China. The author is able to take theories and facts in history as well as more recent known information to support his personal (and new) argument. In my opinion, Cui’s significant status in academia has probably shed more light on this article and has given it more importance.  

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