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Reviewed by:
  • The Transformation of Chinese Socialism
  • Yu-Shan Wu (bio)
Chun Lin. The Transformation of Chinese Socialism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006. xi, 384 pp. Paperback $23.95, ISBN 0-8223-3785-1. Cloth $84.95, ISBN 0-8223-3798-3.

Chun Lin’s The Transformation of Chinese Socialism is an apologia for Chinese socialism from the 1949 revolution to the post-Mao reform. It is based on the author’s deep conviction of the superiority of socialism—particularly the brand of socialism in the developing world that is anti-imperialist and anti-colonial—over global capitalism. The gist of the volume is not informative or analytical, but polemical and ideological. For those who want to gain deep knowledge of China’s reform or to access fresh perspective for analysis, the volume is bound to be a disappointment. However, for those who are interested in an alternative narrative of the PRC’s history and the fate of Chinese socialism, or a leftist perspective on reform in China, Chun Lin offers a timely counterargument to the dominant account in the West. This being said, anyone who is thinking of delving into the book needs to understand what is in store. Otherwise he is bound to be shocked by the highly judgmental and polemical tone and lost in the author’s omni-directional attack of opposing arguments throughout the volume.

The author makes her treasured values clear at the outset. She is deeply committed to socialism, which is abhorred by global capitalism. Furthermore, she is dedicated to a defense of the Chinese Communist regime for its wonderful performance in realizing socialist goals in China, in defiance of the restrictions imposed by the colonial, imperialist, and global capitalist system. The author also believes that socialism is a better route to modernity than capitalism. In this way, she is not against modernity or modernization per se, hence rejecting alternatives to modernity, but for a superior form of modernity, that of socialism, hence advocating alternative modernity to capitalist or colonial modernity that is prevalent in the world. In short, her value structure believes that the ultimate goal is modernity, the superior vehicle is socialism, and the excellent exemplar is the PRC regime.

What follows from the exposition of this value structure is a judgmental narrative of the history of the PRC. The author defends the Chinese socialist revolution of 1949 in all possible ways, including a rejection of the revisionist school that questions the meaning of the 1949 revolution in light of the current market reform in China. The author criticizes the conflation of modernity and capitalism and argues that in addition to European modernity (“history 1”) and colonial modernity (“history 2”), there is a revolutionary and socialist modernity (“history 3”). She asserts that socialism stands for the modern norms of freedom and equality, democracy and development, and proves the [End Page 132] only rational system capable of their realization (p. 24). In this way, socialism is simply a superior vehicle to modernity compared to capitalism. In China, Mao’s genius resides in his realization that “the more backward the economy, the easier the transition to socialism.” This legitimates the introduction of socialism in China with its precapitalist economic and social structure, against Marx’s “stage theory.” Mao took advantage of the “privilege of backwardness” through a revolutionary rupture. He led the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against the KMT (Kuomintang) regime, the CCP’s main competitor, which leaned toward colonial imperialism, bureaucratic compradors, and reactionary landowners, a regime too close to imperialist interests and thus unable to fight them. The CCP, on the other hand, represented the urban and rural poor, progressive intellectuals, and patriotic democrats in the business circles. The different class representations of the two parties suggest that only the CCP can stand up against Western imperialism as well as against China’s reactionary landlords, a prerequisite for a successful land reform that solved the food problem for one-fifth of the world’s population who reside in only 7 percent of the arable land on earth.

Socialism, anti-imperialism, and regime performance (e.g., land reform) justify the socialist revolution and the CCP regime. These achievements are then cited to...


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