Any casual Chinese observer will tell you that the traditional ideological divide set out by Karl Marx in the 1800s between two forms of social and economic organisation called capitalism and communism is not a problem for those who dream up the official party line in the People’s Republic of China.
The simple answer to the seeming contradiction of a communist country pursuing capitalist policies was put forward early on in the revolution – China has a communist system with ‘Chinese characteristics’. This short qualification has allowed leaders from Deng Xiao Ping onwards to liberalise the economy to enrich the country, mobilise the massive workforce, unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the people, open the markets, allow private ownership and set up a stock market.
The results have been widely acclaimed as ‘miraculous’. Commentators have marvelled how in 20 years China went from an introverted, basket case economy to one of the world leader’s in terms of GDP, foreign exchange reserves and the other indicators of financial might. China is challenging the USA, Japan and Europe for economic supremacy. The Chinese authorities limited the damage of the 2008 financial crash and have avoided austerity and crippling debt re-payment. Despite the slowdown in demand for Chinese consumer goods, China is doing very well economically.
Nobody cares if this is real communism. The popular belief is that hard work, private ownership and starting up your own business is the way to achieve a workers’ paradise. It is not sharing, communes, state ownership that is going to lead to universal prosperity.
The only problem is that the freedoms necessary for a successful economy are challenging the hegemony of the Chinese Communist Party. While the ideological contradictions bother no one, the restrictions on people’s freedoms do. Artists want full freedom of expression. Artists, writers and musicians are pushing the boundaries of what is and what is not acceptable according to the party. They struggle with censorship, house arrest and state pressure.
It is here that we see the real contradiction between communism and capitalism. Is it market forces in charge of the economy or is it an elite and unelected group of leaders?
A good example of this friction was recently exposed in the incident of the Uniqlo viral video of a couple having sex in a changing booth. (See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/16/uniqlo-sex-video-film-shot-in-beijing-store-goes-viral-and-angers-government) Marketing is leveraging the massive power of the internet to increase sales. TV ads, radio, billboards, expos etc. are still relevant but less cost effective (and perhaps less far-reaching) than using SEO, viral marketing and marketing psychology. We all know sex sells. We also know that ‘no publicity is bad publicity’.
Chinese authorities arrested 5 people over the Japanese clothes store sex scandal. “The vulgar video had spread like a virus online and clashed with socialist core values,” Xu Feng, a director at the Cyberspace Administration of China said.
The government has a clear moral code they are upholding. They want to control public mores, and to limit the effectiveness of advertising to use sex. Since it is a Japanese company involved in this particular clash of values, the government has nationalist feeling on its side; although, many Chinese have bought commemorative t-shirts of the infamous incident.
How long before the majority of Chinese citizens evolve their morality to tolerate modernity – homosexuality, transgender people, pornography, obscenity, political satire, cynicism? The West has shown that these things seem to attend laissez-faire politics and neo-liberal politics. Will they decriminalise cannabis? Will they let artists say what they want? Will they let manufacturers produce whatever will sell? Will they allow mass media to feed the masses with messages to promote extreme consumerism? Will they allow their food system to be hijacked by multi-national supermarkets that will increase the levels of sugar and salt in food items to unhealthy levels?
The answer might be yes. The Chinese government has shown they care very little for protecting the environment if it means denting the bottom line. Why not sacrifice other traditional values at the altar of modern capitalism?