I’m not certain if Ben Oquist was being ironic when commenting on
Australia’s Right “going missing” during Wen Jiabao’s recent visit, and
if so what his target was, but China is not Communist. It hasn’t been
for years. Communism is just a name they use to maintain a sense of
continuity. This is not meant as a criticism. Most Chinese are vastly
the better for the change. But China is the most unequivocally
capitalist place I have ever been to. Presumably the reason that right
wing commentators are not criticising Wen Jiabao is because there is
little in his policies with which they disagree.
My own professional interest is in health care. Thirty years ago, China
had a health care system which was equally lousy for almost everybody.
Now it is the purest of user pays profit driven models, with vigorous
foreign investment at every level. For those with money this is a clear
improvement, but few Australians would stomach how brutal it can be at
the ground level. Our health care system, by contrast, could be
reasonably called “socialist”. It is almost entirely government
controlled and paid, either directly, or through an intricate web of
regulation and tax law.
Historically, China’s dance with Communism seems like a chance
interlude. Mao’s ascendancy owed most to the destruction of the
Koumingtan by Japanese occupation. The Koumingtan had earlier defeated
more traditional urban communists leaving Mao’s smaller rural support
base as the surviving rump. His power base had always been in the
western, rural parts of the country which the Japanese were least able
to control and least interested in controlling.
Although the Long March became the stuff of legends, it was WWII, with
American military support through Kunming, and popular support for the
fight against Japan, that provided a real opportunity to rebuild the
Chinese Communist army. The Koumingtan, who had no history of Western
Chinese support, or rural support, were also aided by the US, but were
much less successful in rebuilding during this time. With the
defeat of the Japanese, America lost interest in China, and victory by
Mao over the Koumingtan was assured. From 1949, China was ruled
for 27 years by a fanatical peasant. When Mao died, there was a
brief power struggle, and China changed direction with no further
The last 30 years have marked the re-emergence of dominance by eastern
Chinese cities such as Shanghai. This is recreating some of the rural
poverty which provided support to Mao. The Chinese leadership are
acutely (and publicly) aware of the potential risks and, unlike pre
communist governments, are more careful to manage this problem.