Wither the Commies?


I haven’t seen this much consumerism since Bangkok. Shopping mania pervades Beijing (and Xian to be frank). I have a number of questions about consumerism and capitalism in China. These are supposed to be anathema to communism, aren’t they? In truth China is not communist at all, just totalitarian. Mao would be rolling in his grave, don’t you think? And it seems odd that as people have money and freedom to buy things, they still have no ability to criticize the government. Apparently capitalism has no need of democracy. Sounds like the worst of both worlds: conspicuous consumption and exploitation of the worker. And yet, look what China can accomplish with its authoritarianism. Massive public works projects, crazy economic growth, forced grand scale social changes, etc. The questions, as always, are about who wields the power and what checks there are on it.

What do the Chinese themselves feel about it? Do they feel that they are missing anything? People I have spoken with here say that although there is grand censorship, many people know how to get around it via the Internet. Mostly people seem completely apolitical. Bread and Circuses, how long can they hold the attention of the populace? Still, I have a lot of questions as I am here:

– What is health care like here, and is access equal for all?
– What is taught in schools related to communism (Marxist, Maoist, etc) and how do they square that with Chinese capitalism?
– What can be owned?
– How are people taxed (where does the government get its money)?
– What is the state of Social Security (pensions, welfare, etc)
– How much of enterprise is state run vs private?
– What qualifies for censorship? (for example, it seems ok to be gay here, but not to say anything negative about the Chinese stock market)

I will be scouring the internet and asking a lot of people these and other questions over the next few days. Stay tuned.


  1. livinghigh says:

    this is WILDLY interesting, really.

  2. Lenica says:

    Just read your entire month of adventures! Sounds amazing. I am anxiously awaiting the answers/discoveries re. the questions posed in your blog entry. Very curious myself! :-)
    Big Hug/Lenica

  3. meili says:


    You brought up very good questions. Each question deserves a long research paper :). So, I’ll try to make each answer simple. We can continue the discussion if you have any further questions.

    1. China has specific regulations for health care service. Both the employers and employees are responsible for payting health insurance. In rural area, both farmers and government are responsible for buying the insurance at certain rate share. For people who do have any health insurance, they have to pay themselves unless they are qualified for social relief.

    2. What is taught in schools related to communism (Marxist, Maoist, etc) and how do they square that with Chinese capitalism?
    3. In schools, from middle school to graduate schools, Maoist and Marxist are tought, and these are also the required subjects for entrance exam to high school, college and graduate school, which is the major reason for most students to study. Students spend much more time in studying communism than capitalism (most colleges have economics class, which was called western economics times ago). Capitalism is what students can actually see in the real world, and communism is something in the textbook for most students.

    4.What can be owned?
    This is a very interesting question. We own most things that American own unless the land, because the ownership belongs to the state.

    5. China has a tax system with a similar framework as other countries. We have personal income tax, value-added tax, business tax, etc.

    6. What is the state of Social Security (pensions, welfare, etc)
    Another complicated question :). we have a social welfare system including pensions, unemployment, health care, etc. Even the coverage is not like western countries, some work very well. For example, I only pay about 10 percent of the expense if I go to hospital.

    7. How much of enterprise is state run vs private?
    According to China Statistics Yearbook 2004, 19.98% are state-owned or state proprietary enterprise and accounts for 48.87% of total asset. These enterprises produced 37.67% of total production value.

    8. What qualifies for censorship?
    We have a censor system, but it mainly deals with economic or political corruption. Neither gay issue or the discussion on stock market is a matter of China’s censorship. For example, people are free to talk on these issues on TV show. I don’t know where you got the idea that people are not allowed to talk negative thing about stock market, but it is clearly not what I have observed.

    Hope this helps!