January 11, 2017

A ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 1, 2016. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)A ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 1, 2016. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

China has the world’s second largest economy and one of the biggest stock exchanges. Modern high-rise skyscrapers dot the skyline in Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai. All makes of cars can be found on public roads, and Chinese citizens carry the latest model of smartphones.

Surely the People’s Republic of China is a modern capitalist state and merely communist in name?

The Chinese Communist Party has adopted some aspects of capitalism, but China remains a textbook communist country: The Party controls the commanding heights of the economy and all land; it maintains strict controls on speech, assembly, and belief; and the Chinese regime’s political structure is a classic Leninist dictatorship.

China would not have been able to enjoy stretches of double digit GDP growth in recent years if the Party under paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had not turned away from pure socialism and experimented with economic reform starting in 1978.

Over the decades, the Party slowly relinquished some control over the means of production, and allowed private enterprise and entrepreneurs. The top Chinese leadership now refers to its five-year plans as “guidelines” in recognition that the Party no longer oversees a classic command economy.

But the Party runs what could be termed a “neo command economy.”

State-owned enterprises may make up only 3 percent of all companies in China today, but they produce an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the total industrial output. The Party maintains command over the economy by having top Party officials or family members own several key industries. For instance, Jiang Mianheng, the son of former Party leader Jiang Zemin, is known as China’s “Telecommunications King” due to his sizable interests and control over the industry.

China’s impressive GDP growth figures are widely known to be manipulated. Li Keqiang, the current Chinese premier, told a U.S. official in 2007 that official figures are unreliable and he instead looks at railway cargo volume, electricity consumption, and new loans disbursed by banks to better gauge China’s economic growth.

Many top Chinese businesspeople are Communist Party members who serve on the regime’s rubber stamp legislature or its political advisory body. Part of the reason is a Party policy to co-opt Chinese business elites, but businesspeople join up anyway because Party membership guarantees business advantage.

And in line with textbook Marxist teachings, the Party is the only true landowner in China; the Party leases land to the Chinese people.

Chinese society continues to be tightly controlled by the Party.

The Party employs over two million internet police to censor public opinion, and maintains a powerful internet firewall to keep out the global internet within China’s borders. Population control officers force Chinese women to stick to the state mandated child limit, and carry out forced abortions and sterilizations against women who don’t conform.

Regime dissenters, as well as religious communities and ordinary members of civil society, live under the constant threat of being declared political enemies by the Party and then “invited to tea,” code for being interrogated by dreaded public security officers. Dissidents are abused, tortured, and frequently made to carry out forced labor in detention centers.

The regime secures an almost perfect conviction rate against its political enemies in the courts, which it controls. Prominent dissidents find themselves under house arrest the moment they complete their often lengthy jail stints.

The Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of belief, but the Party ignores its own laws. For instance, former Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin forced through the unpopular persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice in 1999, and created an extralegal organization to ensure that the regime’s law and security apparatus to carry out Jiang’s policy.

Politically, China is still run by a Leninist Party obsessed with control.  

The Chinese Communist Party has been the only governing political party since 1949; other parties exist under a “united front,” but are not independent of the communists.

The Party’s leader or general secretary doesn’t run a cabinet, and is instead part of a Political Bureau, a collection of top officials that make all the top decisions in the country. He is also handpicked by Party elders and elites, not democratically elected.

These days, the leaders of China may have traded in their grey, five-button, Mandarin-collared Mao suits for dark business suits. But as long as the hammer and sickle remains in the Great Hall of the People, communism hasn’t yet been relegated to the dust heap of history in China.

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