Pao-yu Ching: Mao's Legacy in China's Current Development





A Chinese worker said,"This is not socialism with Chinese characteristics as Deng Xiaoping told us. Instead, what we have here is capitalism with Chinese characteristics."

A Chinese peasant said,"When Chairman Mao warned us about the restoration of capitalism, we really did not understand what he was talking about. Now we do."

In China & Socialism -- Market Reforms and Class Struggle[i], Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett argued successfully why the so-called"market socialism" in China is in fact the restoration of capitalism, and that China's economic Reform of the past twenty-five years can not serve as a socialist model of development for other less developed countries. Hart-Landsberg and Burkett's research on this topic in current literature (in English) is very thorough and includes perspectives from the Left liberals and some progressives, who had mistaken China's economic development since the Reform as socialist. Hart-Landsberg and Burkett also give a detailed and accurate account of the Reform itself from 1979 to the present.

Hart-Landsberg and Burkett give credible reports on how the capitalist restoration in China has dismantled the social welfare system and other protections the working population enjoyed before the Reform, and thus resulting their tremendous hardships and sufferings. They also report how workers and peasants in China have resisted the Reform, and the different ways by which they have fought back.

Hart-Landsberg and Burkett's book and other studies listed in their references give us an overview on the West's (mostly the US) current debates on China's Reform. These debates are timely, because workers, peasants, and intellectuals in China have themselves been actively engaging in similar debates.

However, I do not agree with Hart-Landsberg and Burkett on their view expressed in the"Historical Context for Post-Mao Economic Reform" (27-30); this view is inaccurate and is inconsistent with the rest of their analysis. The reasons Hart-Landsberg and Burkett state in the"historical context" for the post-Mao Reform, are the very same excuses that Deng and his supporters used to embark on their capitalist restoration. If we were to agree with Hart-Landsberg and Burkett's negative evaluation of the socialist period (1949-1979), why would it even matter to those on the Left, whether the current development in China is socialist or capitalist? And more importantly, why would workers and peasants in China fight so heroically in the last twenty-five years against the Reform that is designed to deconstruct socialism?

Capitalism, as it has developed in China in the two and half decades, has its distinguished characteristics and is a product of China's past: - the long feudal history, over a century of foreign domination that condemned China to a semi-feudal and semi-colonial status - and the 1949 revolution. The radical changes in post-revolution society and the legacy of Mao stand out as the most important factors affecting China's current development. It was the suffering endured and struggle engaged by the Chinese people from 1840 on that made the revolution of 1949 a reality. It is the legacy of those years between 1949 and 1979 that has played a determinate role in shaping China's current development. Without an understanding of this time period and the legacy it has left, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to understand the current class struggle taking place in China. China's socialist past and Mao's legacy makes its current situation different from other less developed countries, and I believe it will continue to have a dominant influence on its future development.

While Hart-Landsberg and Burkett contribute much to our understanding of China's development in the past two and half decades, I believe they are mistaken in their evaluation of China's past. In response, this essay will discuss the following: I) the origin of Deng's Reform-using labor reform as an example, II) Mao's legacy, and III) the relevance of China from the Left perspective.


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