Unending Capitalism review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Ruksana Kibria’s review of Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism Negated China’s Communist Revolution, by Karl Gerth. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/kibria/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, MCLC

Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism
Negated China’s Communist Revolution

By Karl Gerth


Reviewed by Ruksana Kibria

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright August, 2022)


Karl Gerth, Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism Negated China’s Communist Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020, xi + 384 pp. ISBN: 9780521688468 (Paperback).

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s victory in 1949 under Mao Zedong’s leadership was commonly regarded as the beacon of international proletarian salvation, epitomizing the triumph of socialist egalitarianism and liberty over the inequities of capitalism. The discursive construction of Maoist China as building socialism obfuscated the fact that what had occurred was essentially a nationalist revolution whose goal was to develop a self-reliant, independent, and powerful national economy—a coveted goal among the Chinese intelligentsia since the nineteenth century, long before the revolution or the advent of Mao. However, due to a convergence of ideological and geo-political factors, the perception was created that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had not only embarked on a communist journey following an untrodden radical path, but was also a progressive and emancipatory paradigm to be emulated by other postcolonial developing countries. Reality, however, was quite different because, rather than liberation, the revolution essentially replaced one form of oppression with another.[1]

Karl Gerth’s Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism Negated China’s Communist Revolution is a thought-provoking contribution to the study of the expansion of consumerism in the Maoist era, a meticulously researched, clearly argued, and highly readable interpretation of this period. Although Unending Capitalism is Gerth’s most recent book, it is in fact the middle volume of a trilogy, bookended by the author’s China Made (2003), which deals with the emergence of nationalism and consumer culture in China in early twentieth century, and As China Goes, So Goes the World (2010), an exploration of the history of post-Mao consumerism.

Historians, Gerth included, have entered the realm of “revolutionary PRC” study only relatively recently, along with the post-Cold War era “depoliticization” (in China and elsewhere), more liberal access to archives and international scholarly collaboration,[2] until which time the Maoist era was not treated as history.[3] Gerth’s approach effectively demonstrates the value of traditional historical methods whose analytical focus on cases and original sources can be truly enlightening. His absorbing narration of what things “did look like” to common Chinese people during the Mao era contrasts with the CCP projection of what socialist consumerism—the correlate of capitalism—“might look like” in a supposedly socialist country like China.[4] The book’s seven lucidly written chapters provide an engaging account of the rise of consumerism and underground capitalism in China, highlighting the lacunae in comprehending the illicit economic activities that China’s “socialistic” (7) economy gave birth to. The main text is augmented by more than a 100 pages devoted to notes, and 35 to bibliography, which further testify to the depth and quality of Gerth’s research on the subject, amply demonstrating the benefits of greater access to archival resources in the post-Cold War era.

Although the Mao era is indeed an intriguing field of enquiry, in-depth study of it is a fraught undertaking, primarily because of the role of the CCP in controlling the political discourse on Mao to bolster its own political authority and resolve its crisis of legitimacy.[5] First, insufficient data is compounded by its unreliability. Second, due to secrecy and restricted access to information, there are institutional barriers to analyzing Mao in an objective and honest manner, just as complete information on the role and activities of the top CCP leadership of that era continues to remain off limits.[6] For instance, state archives related to the Great Leap Forward are still mostly classified.[7] Third, the intricate weaving of reality and myth into the Mao narrative makes it difficult to extricate the factual from the fabricated,[8] and hyperreality from reality itself. Gerth deserves credit for deftly navigating the above-mentioned challenges that obstruct the path toward an objective appraisal of the Mao era’s political and economic policies. While giving the benefit of the doubt that Mao was building communism, Gerth eloquently challenges orthodox commentary and seeks to empirically examine history by applying a heterodox “bottom-up” or “from below” analytical method.[9]

The central thesis of Unending Capitalism sets forth that Maoist China’s political economy can be better appreciated not as socialism, but as state capitalism—a variant of industrial capitalism—with the state playing a key role in accumulating and regulating capital through central planning and state proprietorship. Related to this was the effort to foist what Gerth coins “state consumerism” on the common people by rendering individual material wants secondary to broader national objectives, and by manipulating distribution, availability, and even desirability (esp. as status markers) of consumer products as necessary measures to build socialism for transitioning to the promised land of communism (4). The paradoxical context Gerth brings to light is reflected in a telling comment made shortly before liberation by the CCP’s economic czar Chen Yun 陈云, who admonished that, in view of the exigencies of a viable economic market for the success of the approaching communist takeover, “a revolutionary businessman is an outright revolutionary.”[10] Similarly, immediately after October 1949, strict orders were issued to the People’s Liberation Army troops entering Shanghai, the business hub of China, not to antagonize its entrepreneurs, (i.e., capitalists), and “to preserve private possessions, including the property of the wealthiest” (42), since their cooperation was essential for economic reconstruction. This clearly signified not only the CCP’s contradictory relationship to socialism, but also its lack of commitment to implement it, and willingness to compromise with capitalism ab initio. The existence of state authority is indispensable for the functioning of capitalism, because without the coercive power of the state regulating the accumulation process, capital loses its driving force.[11] Having devised the twin “alienating products”—capital and state—themselves, people have, in due course been “yoked” by them.[12] The very concept of a socialist state is evidently a contradiction in terms—state capitalism cannot be anything but another form of capitalism, which by definition is “statist,”[13] a point well elucidated by Gerth.

The dilemma for the Chinese revolutionary thinkers was accommodating industrial capitalism in a tradition-bound social setting unreceptive to it,[14] and achieving a modern, national economic system that was socialist in form, but contained ample scope for capitalism to emerge as the dynamic locomotive of development, with its negative aspects curbed through the tool of socialism.[15] Mao’s role in Chinese history was just like that of other autocratic modernizers, who applied instrumental rationality, the “illegitimate” offspring of the Enlightenment,[16] to wrench a traditional culture away from its old underpinnings and accelerate industrialization, and hence modernization,[17] the CCP victory exemplifying a “bourgeois revolution . . . with red flags.”[18] The resulting inevitable gap between the political narrative of socialist transformation and the actual industrial capitalist direction in which China’s economy was steered is cogently illustrated in Unending Capitalism.

Gerth’s focus on state capitalism and state consumerism aligns with Maurice Meisner’s arguments that the Chinese revolution of 1949 needs to be studied functionally and for its long-term, social consequences, rather what it was supposed to do.[19] The question of post-Mao reforms dismantling a socialist economic structure is largely irrelevant, since there was no such system to do away with in the first place. To quote Gerth, “the ‘reformers’ in the party who succeeded Mao . . . simply adjusted institutions to continue to accelerate the expansion of capitalism” (9), just as the CCP had utilized the pre-1949 Nationalist era institutional framework to boost consumerism and capital formation (42).[20] The way Mao articulated his ideological position, especially his slogan, “Politics in command,” tended to obscure its economic implications,[21] but a careful interpretation of records indicates their economic significance. Fixated mostly with Mao’s pre-1949 writings, Western writers have focused too little on the post-1949 works containing materials of economic import.[22] Gerth’s research, on the other hand, foregrounds key throughlines in the Great Helmsman’s post-revolution writings: 1) Mao underscored the subordination of taxation and state procurement to increasing production; 2) in the constant contention among the Chinese communist cadres over issues of economic rationality and social justice, Mao stood on the side of economic rationality; and 3) Mao also acknowledged the importance of entrepreneurship, even if his entrepreneurs were collectives, or to be exact, “individuals working through collectives,” open to innovation and willing to take risks and imbued with constructive planning[23]—the defining qualities of capitalism.

Gerth traces the ways that consumerism not only continued, but expanded in the Maoist era (40), and created new forms of inequalities, which were rationalized as part of socialism. For instance, the Party’s commitment to eliminate the “three major inequalities” (三大差别) of industrial consumerism—namely, disparities between urban and rural dwellers; intellectual and manual work; and employment in manufacturing and agriculture through “building” socialism—not only remained unimplemented, but further aggravated these imbalances (7). Although the CCP condemned individual consumption of material goods, it needed to reconcile the symbiotic linkage between industrialization and consumerism. Paradoxically, the scarcity of luxury goods made people crave them even more; many such goods were accessed mostly illegally, an issue that ultimately transcended the question of “legality” or “illegality,” becoming one of “availability” or “unavailability” (33). The prevalence of illicit economy in post-1949 socialist China provided a wide margin for private entrepreneurship to thrive, under conditions of administrative deterioration and connivance, much of the transaction taking place with tacit official approval (35).

The case of popularizing wristwatches, bicycles, and sewing machines exemplified the expansion of both capitalism and consumerism, because by the 1960s there was an overwhelming compulsion to own these “Three Great Things” (三大件), to the extent that they became status symbols (26). Despite the obvious association between capitalism and consumerism, there ensued a state-led promotion of consumption of the Three Great Things, the possession of which was regarded by the state and the people alike as signifying the advance of socialism, and in Gerth’s words, “offering tangible evidence beyond the boastful newspaper headlines that the country was industrializing and becoming wealthier” (11).[24] Stratagems for creatively circumventing socialist constraints to accommodate capitalist practices were routinely sought. For instance, during the Korean War (1950-53), when the Party’s “Resist America and Aid Korea” campaign was condemning American “aggression” and decrying its “influences” (57), the state condoned Chinese cinema halls adopting Hollywood marketing strategies and giving American titles to local movies in order to attract attention—and thus viewers—to garner profit. Through these and other examples, Gerth demonstrates that by disingenuously proclaiming “one could use the tools of capitalism to defeat capitalism,” CCP officials instituted and endorsed capitalist processes in the name of forging socialism (121).

Initially the PRC had expressed fealty to the Stalinist Soviet template of socialist development, the USSR being regarded as China’s “Elder brother,” “Our Tomorrow” and “Our Model” (73), with a formal alliance cementing the relationship in early 1950. “Elder Brother” though, was not so much an ideal of “socialism,” as a prototype of fast-track, state-sponsored industrialization (72), inspiring and justifying consumerism (84), and before long, in an ironic reversal of fortune in the early 1960s, would also be accused of propagating “phony communism” (95). However, Mao’s precipitous but inconsistent departure from it in his post-1956 dismantling of Stalinism inevitably resulted in the empowerment of the more overtly capitalist faction of the CCP.[25] Although “subjectively” striving to check capitalist reinstatement, Mao “objectively” reinforced its ascendancy, thus thwarting the formation of any effective countervailing mechanism to offset it which, as Gerth maintains, ineluctably led to the negation of the goals of his revolution.[26] In his words, “Mao regularly warned that [the expansion of consumerism] . . . and other manifestations of capitalism would negate the Communist Revolution in China, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere” (5), yet he did nothing to check this tendency, and simply presumed the existence of socialism, while espousing an incoherent political stance both in theory and practice.[27] Indeed, it has been observed that Mao left the goals of the revolution undefined; they were, according to Benjamin Schwartz, “enormously complex, problematic and shifting over time.”[28] Advancing an inherently wrong conception of the political economy of the transition to socialism, Mao put a skewed focus on ownership only, while neglecting other factors,[29] in the process allowing what in Marxist terminology is called “the law of value” to deeply influence China’s economy.[30]

Although Gerth deals with the urban dimension of consumerism, he nevertheless acknowledges that China’s development policy was rooted in the entrenched urban/rural divide,[31] and the brutal exploitation of the rural areas—treated as a “piggybank” (66)—to finance urban industrialization and consumerism. The hardship that the infamous price-scissors (i.e., systematically squeezing the price of agricultural products and raising that of industrial goods) inflicted on the Chinese rural populace was a replay of Joseph Stalin’s implementation of the theoretical model of the noted Soviet economist Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, who promoted the dubious notion of “primitive socialist accumulation” as the antithesis of Adam Smith’s “primitive capitalist accumulation”—what Marx referred to as capitalism’s “original sin” (65). The scourge of hyperinflation that the CCP had inherited from the previous Nationalist government was tackled by suppressing consumption requirements in the rural areas.[32] Basically, capitalist determinants combined with statist manipulation ultimately resulted not in socialism, but in what Gerth calls “quasi-feudalism”(72), “deformations of value,” and economic inefficiency, which Deng Xiaoping’s reforms subsequently sought to rectify.[33] Although Mao rejected the (Soviet) Stalinist revolutionary discourse with great fanfare in the early 1960s (100), he did not discard the (equally Soviet) Leninist authoritarian structure of domination.

Contrary to its stated goals of mitigation of inequalities and emancipation of the proletariat, Gerth argues, from the very beginning the Party’s support for capital accumulation fostered consumerism (38), its priority being catching-up as a “late-comer,” both militarily and economically, with the productive capacity of capitalist countries, China’s ostensible ideological adversaries (44). Mao would often reiterate that, “Without industry, there can be no solid national defense, no well-being for the people, and no wealth and power for the nation” (45), which provided a convenient justification for capital accumulation and industrialization. The CCP leadership’s conception of the external threat of “encirclement by international Capitalism” provided an impetus for acceleration of industrialization and associated state consumerism (44). In other words, the specter of “US imperialist aggression” was an overstated but expedient tool for industrialization and capitalist accumulation in Maoist China. In the post-liberation years, Mao argued that, “under the leadership of the Communist Party, as long as there are more people, miracles will be created.”[34] In 1958, the CCP leadership, in a nod to capitalism, declared that, “men are first of all producers and that when there is large population there is also the possibility of greater production and more accumulation,”[35] a new “theory of hands” having replaced the former view of people as only “mouths.”[36] It may not be farfetched to suggest that Mao may also have anticipated the pivotal role abundant, cheap labor (as well as potential consumers), would play in the not-so-distant future economic reforms in China. Further aggravated by the household registration system (户口), the urban/rural divide created a cohort of precarious, floating laborers, ideally suited for future capitalist exploitation.[37] Even if not expressly discussed by Gerth, the implications of Mao’s demographic policy deeply inform Unending Capitalism.

In his analysis of the service sector, Gerth begins by citing the renowned economist Xue Muqiao’s 薛暮桥1959 claim of having established socialism in China, which was belied by the lack of “an anxiety-free socialist shopping experience” among the masses (134). Gerth’s earlier analysis of how the consumption and display of such status symbols as wristwatches led to anxiety over conspicuous displays of affluence (26, and passim) pairs nicely with his focus on Party-dictated correct socialist displays. These involved projecting superior “socialist commerce,” and promoting state accumulation of capital, but were not responsive to people’s needs and requirements (144). In the PRC’s first two decades, state-led construction of consumer infrastructure—like thousands of department stores all over China—rapidly developed industrial capitalism and consumerism, which would have been difficult for the country’s private entrepreneurs to achieve (167). Nonetheless, despite efforts to equate service work (服务) in department stores and other establishments with other kinds of labor, being served in restaurants was condemned by zealous Maoists as bourgeois means of recreation, because it tended to make people belittle manual labor (164).[38]

While China was generally believed to be a centrally planned economy, on closer inspection Gerth finds it to be much less so, as a growing desire for material goods gave rise to grey-zones of shadowy economic transaction (31). The erosion of central authority, which was codified in the 1957-59 pronouncements on economic policy-making,[39] resulted in the relocation of over 80% of business ventures (particularly in consumer products enterprises) to provincial control,[40] thereby weakening and subsequently unraveling the complex central economic planning mechanism.[41] Compounded by Mao’s anti-ideological “freewheeling style”[42] of policy-making and accelerated by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), decentralization greatly undermined socialism in China, aggravating inter-regional, as well as inter-unit income disparity.[43]

As rightly noted by Gerth, despite apparent chaos, violence, and strident denunciation of capitalism, the Red Guards actually desisted from wrecking the spearhead of the Maoist state,[44] the capitalist industrial sector, that continued to generate social disparity. Likewise, the campaign to destroy the Four Olds did more to vitiate socialism than uproot capitalism, mainly due to the targeting of only the superficial aspects of capitalism and consumerism, and not the formal politico-economic structure that undergirded the capital accumulation process, which further boosted consumerism (184). The farcical nature of the Cultural Revolutionary project of destroying the Four Olds was highlighted when one barbershop publicly notified that, “Henceforth we will not cut any non-proletarian hairstyles” (180). Gerth also sheds new light on the well-known Mao badge phenomenon. Although initially introduced much earlier, during the Cultural Revolution the Mao badges, or what Gerth calls “totems” (200), bearing the Chairman’s images and aphoristic revolutionary quotations attributed to him, assumed a potent consumerist dimension, incentivizing the manufacturing, distribution, and accumulation of billions of such badges across China and globally between 1966 and 1971 (204). During the Maoist era, the elevation of social status was linked to cultural and political forms of capital that included the badges in question, which at times even functioned as ersatz cash (209), spurring consumerism and commodifying Mao’s personality cult itself for mass consumption.[45]

Gerth correctly notes that expanding the study of the varieties of capitalism to include “socialist” countries such as China presents an opportunity to render the history of capitalism and consumerism as more truly global, and to think of the Mao era as part of an integrated world history rather than an isolated “socialist” interlude (232). Throughout the Maoist period, China not only continued to be deeply entrenched in the global capitalist order,[46] but like the former Soviet Union, was also a dynamic and dedicated participant.[47] An invisible thread can indeed be discerned running through the post-revolutionary years that compels one to “think of the Mao era [and thus China] as part of an integrated world history,” to reiterate Gerth’s words. The imperative of integrating a populous but culturally disparate post-Opium War China into the capitalist international economic order was deemed by John King Fairbank to be “one of mankind’s greatest problems,”[48] a mission whose cornerstone Gerth reveals to have been discreetly laid in the Mao era.

In the book’s afterword Gerth reaffirms that the post-Mao economic dispensation was not so much a departure from the Maoist legacy as a re-shuffling of the institutional setting to expedite the capital accumulation process, and enable capitalism to manifest itself in innovative ways to uphold its relevance. In his perceptive observation, apart from state and private capitalisms, there can emerge an array of “other varieties of capitalism in between these poles, and certainly there is a greater range of institutional arrangements than is usually acknowledged” (232). Marxism, combined with corporate domination,[49] modern technology, and Maoist bequest of military-driven “techno-nationalism,”[50] could enable China to undermine the core “free market” tenets by generating fundamentally illiberal iterations of that complex economic system.

A substantial scholarly addition to the corpus of the Mao era historiography, Unending Capitalism not only greatly advances our knowledge, but also motivates one to undertake further critical exploration of the arcane workings of post-revolution China. Although not a detailed investigation, as a critique of Maoist China, Gerth’s study unambiguously depicts the predicament of nurturing a structurally authoritarian socialist system whose ideological permeability abetted the infiltration of capitalist elements and the adoption of unprincipled—not to say non-Marxist—ways that significantly deviated from its avowed goal of social emancipation. Turning the Marxist dictum of religion as the opiate of the people on its head, Mao astutely invoked the fantasy of a socialist workers’ paradise to mollify the masses. The author has persuasively portrayed how the People’s Republic’s economy under Mao actually operated, at odds with the widely disseminated image of an idealistic centrally planned, egalitarian system. The aptly-titled Unending Capitalism deserves not only a wide, general readership, but inclusion in graduate curricula as well, given Gerth’s excellent archival research, abundant primary sources, and illumination of an area heretofore unexamined—consumerism in Maoist China. In short, his method of assessing the impact of consumerism on China’s socialist project is a positive contribution to Sinology, and to our understanding of modern Chinese history, offering a refreshing reconceptualization of the first quarter century of the PRC.

Ruksana Kibria
University of Dhaka

NOTES:

[1] Joseph E. Esherick, “Ten Theses on the Chinese Revolution,” Modern China 21, 1 (Jan. 1995): 48.

[2] Julia Strauss, “Introduction: In Search of PRC History,” The China Quarterly 188 (Dec. 2006): 856.

[3] Ibid., 857.

[4] Karl Gerth, “Response,” The PRC History Review 5, 1 (Oct. 2020): 24.

[5] Xiao Yanzhong, “Recent Mao Zedong Scholarship in China,” in Timothy Cheek, edited, A Critical Introduction to Mao (New York, NY.: Cambridge, 2010): 273.

[6] New Perspectives on the Cultural Revolution by William A. Joseph, Christine P. W. Wong and David Zweig, Review by Thomas W. Robinson, The China Quarterly 136 (Dec. 1993): 1014-1016.

[7] Elliott Liu, Maoism and the Chinese Revolution: A Critical Introduction (Oakland, CA.: PM Press, 2016): 58.

[8] Timothy Cheek, “Mao, Revolution, and Memory,” in Timothy Cheek edited, A Critical Introduction to Mao (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010): 3.

[9] Unorthodox treatments of Chinese communist historical issues such as the volume under review do not often sit well with those who are more concerned about the theoretical relevance of Mao’s ideological utterances than the reality that prevailed in China under him.

[10] Isabella M. Weber, How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate (London and New York, Routledge, 2021): 76.

[11] Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister, famously quipped that, “Capitalism without a state is like Christianity without Hell.” Yanis Varoufakis, Robert Heilbroner Memorial Lecture “The Future of Capitalism” (April 25, 2016) at The New School.

[12] Wen Tiejun, The Political Economy of China’s Development (1949–2020) (Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), pdf: 2.

[13]Ruben Gonzalez-Vicente, “The Visible Hand of the Market: Emerging Economies, State Capitalism
and the Global Realignment of Capitalist Political Power.” Alami et. al., “Geopolitics and the ‘New’ State Capitalism” Geopolitics 27, 3 (2022): 1000.

[14] Whether this social setting was predominantly feudal, or incipiently capitalistic, displaying “sprouts of capitalism,” is a matter of debate among historians of China. See Arif Dirlik, “Chinese Historians and the Marxist Concept of Capitalism: A Critical Examination,” Modern China 8, 1 (Jan. 1982): 105-32. Also see John K. Fairbank, Alexander Eckstein and L. S. Yang, “Economic Change in Early Modern China: An Analytic Framework,” Economic Development and Cultural Change 9, 1, part 1 (Oct. 1960): 3.

[15] See Arif Dirlik, “Socialism and Capitalism in Chinese Socialist Thinking: the Origins,” Studies in Comparative Communism XXI.2 (Summer 1988).

[16] Bin Zhao, “Consumerism, Confucianism, Communism: Making Sense of China Today” New Left Review I/222, (March/April 1997). It is even suggested that, rather than Marx’s concept of class struggle, Mao had a greater ideological affinity with the friend/enemy political dichotomy enunciated by the controversial German constitutional theorist of authoritarianism Carl Schmitt, Adolph Hitler’s “crown jurist.” Mao’s very first essay on the “Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society,” published in March 1926, begins thus: “Who are our friends? Who are our enemies? This is a question of the first importance for our revolution.” Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung: Vol. I. According to Michael Dutton, Schmitt may have conceptualised the friend/enemy binary, but Mao, deeply imbued by the idea of the political, operationalized it. “The Maoist years were built on this knife edge and it was not until the death of Mao and the arrest of the radical Maoists that the question of friend and enemy would give way to the binary of profit and loss.” Michael Dutton, “Friend and Enemy,” in Christian Sorace, et. al., eds., Afterlives of Chinese CommunismPolitical Concepts from Mao to Xi (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2019): 81.

[17] See John Garver, “China and the Iran Model,” China Currents 14, 1 (May 26, 2015).

[18] Loren Goldner“Notes Towards a Critique of Maoism.” Journal of Communist Theory and Practice (Oct. 15, 2012).

[19] Maurice Meisner, “The Significance of the Chinese Revolution in World History,” Working Paper, Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK. (1999): 3.

[20]  According to Esherick, “The CCP did not only rise to power as the dialectical opposite of the [KMT]. There were important points of unity . . . where the [KMT] paved the way for the Communists, where the latter built on the foundations laid by the former.” “Ten Theses on the Chinese Revolution,” op.cit.: 48, 49.

[21] Jack Gray, “Economics of Mao,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists XXV, 2 (Feb. 1969): 42.

[22] Ibid.: 43.

[23] Ibid.: 44.

[24] It is even contended by some that Karl Marx himself regarded mass consumption and the growth of  “needs, wants and desires” as one of the “great civilizing” effects of capitalism, anti-consumerism being what Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto called “reactionary socialism,” or a rejection of the positive contribution of capitalism. Ralph Leonard, “A Marxist Defence of Consumerism” (Aug, 18, 2019). In contrast to this view, during the Cultural Revolution Lin Biao reportedly argued that, “Poor socialism is better than prosperous capitalism.”Yang Chungui, “Deng Xiaoping Theory and the Historical Destiny of Socialism,” The Marxist 17.02 (April-June 2001).

[25] Liu, op.cit., p.117.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid. However, in view of the fact that China’s quest for a “rightful” place comprised industrialization, concomitant consumerism, and active engagement with the global (capitalist) economy, how the negation of communism could at all have been prevented in China remains an historical imponderable.

[28] Benjamin Schwartz, “Modernisation and the Maoist Vision—Some Reflections on Chinese Communist Goals,” The China Quarterly 21 (Jan-March, 1965): 3.

[29] Steve Reglar, “Mao Zedong as a Marxist Political Economist: A Critique.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 17, 2 (1987): 208.

[30] Liu, op.cit.:113.

[31]Jane Hayward, “Building City Walls: Reordering the Population through Beijing’s Upside-Down Villages,” Modern China 48, 5 (2022): 1019.

[32] Weber, op.cit.: 90.

[33] Liu, op.cit.: 114.

[34] David Howden and Yang Zhou, “Why Did China’s Population Grow so Quickly?” The Independent Review 20, 2 (Fall 2015): 240 [emphasis added]. Mao, it may be mentioned, was inconsistent in his population policy, at one time expressing alarm over the PRC’s population growth and at another, supporting it. See Martin King Whyte et. al., “Challenging Myths About China’s One-Child Policy,” The China Journal 74 (July 2015): 144-159.

[35] John S. Aird, “Population Policy in Mainland China,” Population Studies (July 1962): 51.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Alice Jetin Duceux, “A Little History of Chinese Economy” CADTM.org (March 27, 2019).

[38] However, with the post-1971 shift in China’s geo-political orientation, the attitude toward fuwu, especialltourism fuwu, also changed favourably, despite the fact that tourism or “packaged leisure,” connoting consumption, was integral to promoting and sustaining global capitalism.[38] The subsequent enunciation of “Chairman Mao’s revolutionary diplomatic line” differentiated foreign citizens from their states, facilitating the influx of tourists while renouncing their governments’ policies, and provided a convenient political fig leaf for China’s growing cooperation and trade with capitalist countries. The role of the waiter (fuwuyuan 服务员) was accordingly rearticulated to entail the promotion of Mao Zedong Thought, complying with the preferences of tourists, providing refined service, among other things, the drift of which finds it resonance in Gerth’s book under review.

[39] Audrey Donnithorne, “The Budget and the Plan in China.” Contemporary China Papers 3 (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1972): 3.

[40] Chu-yuan Cheng, The Economy of Communist China,1949-1969. Michigan Papers in Chinese Studies 9 (1971): 40.

[41] Audrey Donnithorne, “Central Economic Control,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists XXII.6 (June 1966): 11. See also, Susan L. Shirk, The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

[42] Elizabeth J. Perry and Sebastian Heilmann, “Embracing Uncertainty: Guerrilla Policy Style and Adaptive Governance in China,” in Elizabeth J. Perry and Sebastian Heilmann, eds., Mao’s Invisible Hand: The Political Foundations of Adaptive Governance in China, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011): 20.

[43] Audrey Donnithorne, China’s Cellular Economy: Some Economic Trends since the Cultural Revolution.” The China Quarterly 52 (Oct.-Dec. 1972): 613.

[44] Duceux, op.cit.

[45] Melissa Schrift, Biography of Chairman Mao Badge: The Creation and Mass Consumption of a Personality Cult (Rutgers University Press, 2001): 2.

[46] Liu, op.cit.: 112.

[47] Oscar Sanchez-Sibony, Red Globalization: The Political Economy of the Soviet Cold War from Stalin to Khrushchev (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014): 253. It is interesting to mark that despite professing socialism, in 1961 the CCP leadership had no compunction about accessing Western credit, (Jason M. Kelly, Market Maoists: the Communist Origins of China’s Capitalist Ascent (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021: 173); nor in 1973 did Chen Yun have any qualms about worrying that, without fully grasping how capitalism functioned, China couldn’t even contemplate “occupying the position [it] should hold in world markets [emphasis added].” Ibid.: 206.

[48] John King Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast: The Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842–1854, Volume 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953): 21.

[49] “How China Combined Authoritarianism with Capitalism to Create a New Communism,” The Conversation, (Oct. 26, 2021).

[50] Yuezhi Zhao, “After Mobile Phones, What? Re-embedding the Social in China’s ‘Digital Revolution’.” International Journal of Communication 1 (2007): 96.

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