- The Transformation of Chinese Socialism
This is a book that defies easy categorization; it addresses the post-Mao transformation in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) introduced by Deng Xiaoping and his supporters at the Third Plenum of the 11th Party Congress in December 1978 known as “reform and opening to the outside world,” but it is not a narrative history of the reform movement, nor is it a critique. Instead, it is a considered appraisal, from an ideological perspective, of what has happened to Chinese socialism under reform and where it is going. Thus the book is partly descriptive and partly advocacy, criticizing Chinese reform in light of socialist norms that are at the same time also in question.
The structure of Lin Chun’s book is topical rather than chronological. The first chapter situates China’s socialist modernization in the context of imperialism, nationalism, and capitalism, in which China’s project emerges as an attempt to forge an alternative model of modernity, a model that despite its pragmatic flexibility is thus far still unique in the world, adhering neither to the Eastern European socialist reform experience nor to post-Soviet reforms. The second chapter analyzes the political economy of Chinese socialist reform with regard to the impact of marketization and privatization on class stratification, gender equality, and geographic inequality. Chapters three and four turn to the question of political transformation. In defiance of the prevailing assumption that Chinese reform is exclusively economic, Lin finds in her discussion of “people’s democracy” that profound changes have occurred in relations between the Chinese masses and the state but that China is moving not toward any Western conception of liberal democracy but toward a more holistic, corporate vision of democracy consistent with Chinese political cultural tradition. The concluding chapter is even more broadly gauged, addressing the periodic readjustments of Chinese reform policy over the decades in the pursuit of xiaokang socialism and “responsible great-power” status in the wake of ever-greater ecological and demographic crises.
The organization of arguments within each of these broadly thematic chapters is allusive and discursive rather than logically deductive. Lin, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science whose previous work includes a book on the British New Left, attempts to situate Chinese reform socialism in the context not [End Page 141] only of the academic literature on recent Chinese politics, in which she is well versed, but also in the context of the last two centuries of Chinese history and of Western philosophical and intellectual currents. These juxtapositions and comparisons are often insightful, even erudite, but the narrative moves forward and backward in time and space with such dizzying swiftness that the thread of the argument can easily be lost. Thus a not atypical page (p. 89) reflects on the current market transition in the light of the Qing reformers’ “Westernization movement” (yangwu yundong), the opium wars, and Barrington Moore’s comparative analysis of class structure and revolution. Or later (p. 110) Lin leaps from a discussion of Taiwan qua Republic of China to Confucian China, U.S. interventionism in the Taiwan Strait, PRC policy toward ethnic and religious minorities, different conceptions of federalism, Sun Yat-sen’s Three People’s Principles, economic and ideological globalization, Wilsonian principles of self-determination, and so forth. These discussions, further complicated by Lin’s love for contradictions, rhetorical questions, and counterfactual propositions, might be deemed useful for lifting broad and lasting issues from the jumbled Chinese experience and pondering their historical ramifications. Yet, aside from displaying allusive brilliance and an insight into every possible perspective on a given phenomenon, it is often unclear exactly what Lin finally wishes to assert. Thus, on the one hand readers are once again given statistical reasons to be impressed by the economic achievements of Chinese socialism over the past three decades. On the other hand the contrast between post-Mao reform and Maoist modernization is deemed to be overdrawn, and reform is said to have led to gross ecological and distributive distortions. On the one hand the inequality...