Civil Liberties

Late Communism

Capitalist roaders


The People's Republic of China is still formally a communist country. But if this is communism, it's an increasingly peculiar kind. In December party leaders proposed a constitutional amendment to protect property rights.

It's hard to believe it's been less than 30 years since the Cultural Revolution, when Beijing attempted to eradicate every hint of capitalist thinking in China. Since then the government has moved far from the collectivist ideals of the Maoist period, by adopting a moderately individualist "responsibility system" within state-owned enterprises and then encouraging actual entrepreneurship outside the public sector. In 2002 the Communist Party even invited business owners to join its ranks.

The new amendment is an important symbolic shift, one meant to enshrine the rights of entrepreneurs in Chinese law. That doesn't mean, of course, that China is embracing a full-fledged market system, let alone civil liberties or popular self-government. For evidence, consider the fact that no one believes the party's new proposal will fail to pass the legislature. China may have a capitalist class, but it has yet to acquire independent democratic institutions.