Today marks 70 years since the end of a civil war among the Chinese. The nationalists, mostly politically organized by Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang party and army, collapsed before a relentless mobilization of other Chinese by Mao Zedong and his Communist Party.
During the last 70 years of the Communist organized People’s Republic of China, China has lived under two different forms of Communism. The first was Mao’s experiment in radical reconstruction of persons and the social order. The second began after Mao’s death under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, who opened China up economically to markets and culturally to more acceptance of commonplace human nature.
Where Mao insisted on everyone thinking in ideological terms, with the certainty and passion of religious converts living righteously and bringing down evil, Deng was far more open-minded, famously asking who cares if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice. Deng also proposed that it is glorious to get rich.
Mao was spiritual in the Western sense of having a Kantian insistence of us only acting from the purist of universal motives without any concern for self, while Deng was utilitarian.
By following Deng’s moral philosophy, China has become a wonder in human history for economic growth. The Chinese people are now well on their way to becoming the world’s leading nation state, with more wealth and global power than ever before in history.
In a way, both Mao and Deng nationalized socialism. Deng’s formula for the Chinese state was to build socialism with “Chinese characteristics.” In his time, Mao was not a follower of Stalin and the Soviet version of Marxism. He was too Chinese to do that. Mao split with the Soviet leadership after the death of Stalin.
To me, Mao, too, sought to build a socialism with Chinese characteristics. His selection of Chinese values and behaviors to guide his party, which would use the state to mold the people, favored the millennialism of the White Lotus religious sect. The White Lotus sect had given birth to the Ming Dynasty of imperial control of thought and culture. White Lotus beliefs are Manichean, where people must choose between good and evil, between the light and the dark. There can be no compromise between these realms and each person must incorporate in his or her mind and heart only the tenets of the good and repress all contrary thoughts and actions.
Deng, on the other hand, was more practical and took his sense of what “good” Chinese characteristics were from ancient thinkers like MoZi, GuanZi and Shang Yang. These thinkers were influenced by the realism of Yin and Yang, where life results from natural forces. But they proposed ways of manipulating human nature to subordinate the individual to the state. The role of the state is to channel what is natural to the people – like getting rich – in order that the state could grow stronger. Deng released the latent psycho-social energies of the Chinese people and the rest is history.
Both Mao and Deng adopted the Chinese imperial order for the country under which the state set the agenda and made sure individual egoism would never have the power to drive any political agenda. This central premise of Chinese socialism dictated Deng’s response to the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. He allegedly said, “Comrades, don’t you understand? When Chinese blood starts to flow, the South China Sea will turn red.” And so, the popular movement was repressed with relentless determination.
Today, Xi Jinping follows this imperial Chinese pattern of rule with great devotion and attention to detail, creating the world’s first surveillance state.
Thus, China under the Communists has created an effective form of state capitalism or nationalized socialism, where private economic interests are coordinated by the party for the good of the state.
The moral capitalism of Confucius, Mencius, the Yin/Yang school and the Taoists only exists in the ancient texts and, maybe, in the hearts of the Chinese people.