- Transforming Asian Socialism: China and Vietnam Compared
Transforming Asian Socialism: China and Vietnam Compared is a collection of essays by experts on China and Vietnam who attempt both to delineate and to account for the variations and similarities in the processes and outcomes (to date) of Chinese and Vietnamese moves from command- to market-based political economies. The volume was conceived as an effort to make up for a lacuna in the comparative study of plan-to-market transitions within Asia. Considering the impact of the Chinese and the Vietnamese revolutions on the political economy of the postwar era, the editors' considerations were, to borrow from the lexicon of market transition, right on the money.
In their introduction, the editors note that while leaders in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have cast socialism aside entirely in the process of restructuring their political economies, China and Vietnam have managed, thus far, to retain their claim to socialist governance. Despite shared transitional trajectories, China and Vietnam have also gone about restructuring social relations within their borders in notably divergent fashions. As a comparative reader, the book has much to offer in the way of content. Each chapter covers a particular aspect of the transitions in China and Vietnam, in which certain leitmotifs stand out across essays. The institutionalization and the legacy of collectivist-oriented reforms and ideology have been much deeper in China than in Vietnam. In the latter case, the Party leadership never really had much space to put agricultural collectivization into effect or to develop state industries until 1975, due to the priority given to maintaining solidarity among social classes in the face of devastating losses during the anticolonial resistance. In addition to the head start by [End Page 406] some forty years of state-based accumulation and domestic savings, China's much more critical position in the world market has also provided Chinese leaders more legroom in terms of how and when to open sectors of its economy—an advantage that Vietnam has not enjoyed.
William S. Turley and Brantly Womack's comparison of Guangzhou and Ho Chi Minh City illuminates the impact of such differences. Guangzhou and Ho Chi Minh City both led the way in opening to foreign investment in their respective countries. However, the latter, despite its much smaller population and market size, has secured greater autonomy from the center and has been able to exert greater influence on restructuring policies nationwide. The Chinese leadership allowed Guangzhou to open to foreign investment as a special case, while insisting on the dominance of redistributive economic policies in inland provinces. That is, Guangdong's liberal development path was designed to supplement a national economy that was still guided by the logic of a central plan. Ho Chi Minh City's development, however, was spurred on as part of an effort to reorganize and save a failed national economy; hence it has left a much greater imprint on the direction and pace of reform throughout Vietnam.
In both the pre- and postrevolutionary eras in China and Vietnam, rural society has been a critical locus for anticolonial mobilization and the repatterning of class relations. Ben Kerkvliet and Mark Selden argue that despite this shared departure from the industrial-urban priorities of Soviet socialism, there remains considerable variance between the Chinese and Vietnamese rural transformations that characterize their respective transitions from the plan. The Chinese were able to make much greater inroads in collectivizing the countryside and eliminating the wealthy peasant strata than the Vietnamese, who were forced to prioritize cross-class solidarity in the face of devastating colonial warfare. Ironically (or perhaps not ironically) China's much more thorough agricultural collectivization campaigns laid the foundation for rural development and the option to open the agricultural sector to markets first without doing likewise in its SOEs, in distinct contrast to Vietnam's move to prioritize the liberal restructuring of the industrial SOE sector to...