YOUTH VOICE: Communism or Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics?

Posted on January 23, 2012 by


After recently returning from my second journey to Beijing in December 2011, I was amazed at how different the city appeared from my earlier visit in July. Visiting the city as a first time international tourist, Beijing hosted a number of dynastic and modern Chinese sites where foreigners could experience what life in the country was like during imperial rule. These exhibits, funded by the Chinese Government, expressed to the naïve tourist that communism was slowly being replaced by democratic rule and the evolution of a free market economy. However, on a more profound level and after in-depth reflection, let me assure all who read this article that the old political habits of communism continue to thrive in ways not always obvious to the inexperienced traveller. Communist rule and policy is largely the key to China’s success not only in terms of economics, but also international governance.

On returning to China in December, I had the privilege of partaking in a cultural exchange for two weeks to Peking University along with twenty other students from La Trobe University. During this exchange, the Australian students were given the opportunity to briefly experience life as a Chinese student and maintained regular contact with Peking students who had earlier visited Australia in October. As part of the exchange, the Australian students undertook a series of classes at the university that were linked to China’s history and importantly economic trade. These lectures first and foremost demonstrated the dictatorial nature of Chinese learning at a tertiary level. Whilst questions were permitted by the Peking lecturers following their presentation, the freedom of liberal and “democratic” education was apparently absent. An excellent example of this dictatorial learning style was presented by Professor Ding Dou with his lecture onEconomic Trade and Contact Between China and Australia. During this lecture, Professor Ding Dou developed a ruthless attitude towards Australia’s economic partnership with China, branding the country as being “hypocritical” given our reliance on natural resource exports amidst our concerns for climate change. At no point however did the Professor make mention of China’s reliance on coal technology for its industrial development. Whilst it is fair to claim that individuals of a particular nation will openly defend the actions of their home state, the Professor should not in a way threaten the international relationship between the countries by claiming Australia will need to adopt an inter-industry trade focus if it is to secure Chinese investment in Australia. It was from this early lecture that I personally gained a greater understanding of how communism in China acts as a mechanism to suppress the liberties of free thought and speech to the Chinese people.

On further reflection however, it is unfair to brand the entire exchange as daunting and somewhat upsetting given the stringent control the Chinese Communist Government has over its people. An example of true “enlightenment” presented itself when historian Chen Pu presented a detailed seminar on ‘Traditional Peking Folk Art and the History of Beijing’. During this presentation, Chen highlighted the geographical dimensions and layout of the city both in its current and ancient form, noting that Beijing is positioned along a 7.8 kilometre North to South axis. Furthermore, iconic sites such as the Forbidden City involved in its 14 years of construction a total of 100,000 craftsmen and one million labourers shifting ten million bricks and concrete slabs to create the final result.  Chen Pu’s served as a great reminder of the many trials and tribulations that have confronted the Chinese people and the city of Beijing over their long history. Whilst it is sad to witness how many of these national relics are slowly being commodified for the benefit of the growing Chinese economy, what comes as an even greater shock is the “backwardness” of the Chinese system of learning in a time where modern technology flourishes. By no means am I able to say that the schooling and tertiary education sectors of Australia are perfect, but little do average Australians know how lucky they are to experience a relatively liberal education. Currently, the majority of learning undertaken by Chinese Students is predicated around ancient philosophy and Confucianism. To learn the lessons provided by these philosophies, students are expected to undertake a process of “read, write and memorise” followed by dictation to fulfil examination requirements in both schooling and tertiary areas. For a country committed to meeting the development and technological challenges of the twenty-first century, this method personally seems to deprive students the opportunity for innovative and important free thought. Again, the rule of Communism comes into question in regards to education as the government is clearly limiting and controlling the information provided to students in order to ensure they comply with state ideology.

Finally, after a packed journey of lessons and sight-seeing, the greatest shock and surprise of the trip came when reading a series of newspapers and publications by China Daily. Written in English, the China Daily is a mainstream tabloid newspaper which can be found in almost all regions of China. Unlike the newspapers found in Australia, the broad sheet publication contains news on current affairs, sports, international news and business. Despite the newspaper adhering to the stereotypical format, the contents of articles printed is anything but critical of the actions of the Chinese Government. During my time in China, one of the major current international events taking place involved the climate change talks and negotiations at Durban. Bringing together national delegates and climate professionals from around the world, the conference was seen as an avenue to debate and discuss the looming threat climate change presents as well as promote binding international agreements to reduce carbon emissions. For China however, as reflected in the China Daily, the government used the negotiations as an opportunity to reaffirm its economic and political dominance and to disregard any outside criticism of the country’s methods to combat climate issues. Whilst claiming that it is important not to let the ‘…United States and other developed countries off the hook regarding emissions targets…’ China failed to outline either its position on climate change or its specific emission reduction targets in the publication. On closer analysis of the paper, it is evident that the Chinese Government wants its people to believe that they are far from being “developed”, giving outsiders the impression that the government still values outdated Maoist policies of eternal revolution.

In conclusion, the time I spent in China on exchange has been by far the most eye opening and confronting journeys I am likely to experience. After visiting the capital earlier in the year as a tourist, China on the surface appears to be embracing democratic governance and free market economic opportunities. However, after a more intense and academically focused journey to the capital, what I witnessed as a student came as a complete surprise. Communism with Chinese characteristics is dominating the philosophies and teachings of the people and in my view is likely to continue to do so for years to come.

Further Reading:

Martin Dickens, (2011), China: A World of Difference, Quarterly Access – Online Journal of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Volume 4, Issue 1.


Martin Dickens is a third year Bachelor of Arts student studying at La Trobe University’s Albury Wodonga Campus. He is currently a member of the Political Awareness Club and holds a strong interest in both Australian politics and international affairs. He has served as an acting delegate for the United Nations Regional Youth Summits and was recently awarded the Deans Prize First Year for the most outstanding student in the Bachelor of Arts. Martin is also interested in education policy and regional development in terms of infrastructure and service delivery.