Capitalist Officialism: A Term More Accurate Than “Powerful Nobility Capitalism” – Wu Si (吴思)

2577363 H Wu Si (Âê¥ÊÄù) is the author of several influential books, including “Hidden Rules” (ÊΩúËßÑÂàô)Ôºå about Chinese history and politics. Born in 1957, Mr. Wu graduated from the People’s University in Beijing and worked as a journalist. He is currently vice-president of the magazine Chinese Seasons„ÄäÁÇéȪÑÊò•Áßã„Äã. The following essay is from his blog, translated by CDT:

What in the end is the nature of contemporary Chinese society? So-called socialism is not even worth discussing, and capitalism also seems problematic to China. Mr. Wu Jinglian warned recently that China risks being trapped in the morass of “capitalism of the powerful nobility (ÊùÉË¥µËµÑÊú¨‰∏ª‰πâ)”. Like “bureaucratic capitalism (ÂÆòÂÉö˵ÑÊú¨‰∏ª‰πâ)”, this concept emphasizes the close relationship between capital and administrative power, and it is very insightful. But those two concepts imply a premise: that China has already been in or is about to enter capitalism, while at the same time the society carries strong color of bureaucracy and a powerful elite. I dare not come to any conclusions for the future, but using “capitalism” to describe China’s history and the present is likely to put the horse before the cart.

If we define “capitalism” as a society where capitalists call the shots, command the military force, and control the legislature, then has there ever been capitalism in China? Capitalists in China have never called the shots. It is elites and officials who control power. So, it will be more accurate to reverse the terms. That is, it should be “capitalist bureaucracy” or “capitalist powerful nobility”.

“Powerful nobility” and “bureaucrat” are still not precise enough. In the eyes of Chinese speakers, the nobility is always related to aristocrats, and aristocrats are hereditary. Although bureaucrats are more or less tainted with inheritance, such as the system of imperial bestowal (ÊÅ©Ëç´Âà∂Â∫¶), hereditary bureaucrats are diminishing rapidly and are not at the center of the society. At least hereditary bureaucracy is not as important as the imperial examination or the selection system. Thus it’s clear that “nobility” is not as accurate as “bureaucracy”. However, the meaning of “bureaucracy” has been nailed down: sluggish, dishonest, rigid, and so on. So it’s ambiguous when we try to use it. Furthermore, bureaucrats can’t completely call the shots. It’s the emperor who is the supreme ruler of a bureaucratic empire.

I think it’s more appropriate to use the concept “officialism (ÂÆòÂÆ∂‰∏ª‰πâ)”.

“Official” carries three meanings. It first means an emperor. In the Song dynasty, when people talked about Official Zhao (˵µÂÆòÂÆ∂), they literarily meant the emperor. Second, it means an authority, including administrations at all levels. Third, it means an individual official. The multiple meanings of “official” make the word more accurate and precise. Those meanings are able to take apart the internal structure of “officialist orientation (ÂÆòÊú¨‰Ωç)”, so that we can see the overall interests of a whole ruling group, as well as the interests of top decision makers, the interests of different official departments, and the individual interests of officials as agents.

After the Qin and Han dynasties, in the history of unified empires, emperors, administrations, and officials can all make laws and regulations. They all have their own domains and realms, and they fight for each other’s spheres. Thus a set of social orders were instituted, with imperial laws, various administrative regulations, and invisible rules. Those laws and regulations are constantly in conflict. Those individuals and groups who are calling the shots often conflict with each other, but more often than not they reach a certain compromise openly or covertly. It’s the result of the game that different officials hold their own interests. “Officialism” is the depiction of the dynamic structure of such a regulation-making process.

Officialism is a fundamental base, and you can put different prefixes in front of it—-landlords, peasants, workers, capitalists, etc. Officials always try to thoroughly use their power and squeeze as much benefit for themselves as possible. Or they will sell their power for a maximum price. If they get the highest price from peasants (Â∞èÂÜú), then it is a “peasant officialism.” If they sell to landlords, it’s a “landlord officialism”.

After 1949, for a while, landlords and capitalists were eliminated, and officials took the stage to direct the production, plan the economy, and directly supervise peasants. This type of society can be termed “peasant-worker officialism (Â∑•ÂÜúÂÆòÂÆ∂‰∏ª‰πâ)”. During this period, if officials took capital operation and accumulation as their own mission, transformed themselves into the biggest and sole capitalists, used the administrative system to organize the production and determine the rate of accumulation, plan the economy, motivate workers, and so on, then, officials would seemingly embark on a capitalist road.

Mao Zedong was opposed to this road. He labeled people inclined this direction as capitalist-roaders (˵∞˵ÑÊ¥æ). In addition, he brought up a path to develop the production while cultivating new generations. And he erected two models, Daqing and Dazhai, two places where people made production with a revolutionary spirit (a mixture of a collective moral appeal and a class struggle deterrent). Hu Sheng (ËÉ°Áª≥) claims that Mao’s position is populist (Ê∞ëÁ≤π‰∏ª‰πâ). A more common label is utopian socialism (Á©∫ÊÉ≥Á§æ‰ºö‰∏ª‰πâ). But from the view of the officialism evolution, Mao’s view is still a branch of officialism. It’s nothing more than the idea of the key character of the officialism who filled himself with the great ideal of creating a new generation and a new world, and who was dissatisfied with merely completing a capitalist mission.

After two rounds of sprinting of the planned economy and the reform and opening process, today’s China has entered a period of commerce and business. The share of agriculture in GDP has dropped to a secondary place, and industry and commerce create the majority of wealth. In such a situation, power can only be sold for the highest price to the capitalist. This is the historical condition of the birth of the “capital officialism”.

Capitalist officialism evolves to different directions. As the capitalist gathering force, the positions between this class and the officialism will probably be reversed. For the time being, as the center of the industrial business class (Â∑•Âï܉∏öÁîüÈïøÈõÜÂõ¢), the capitalist is making use of all kinds of legal or illegal measures to impact the ruling officialism, implement the capitalist’s individual revolution or partial revolution, and realize the invisible political reform (ÊΩúÂèòÊ≥ï) or invisible revolution (ÊΩúÈù©ÂëΩ). If this game is to be viewed as a historical bout between the violent class and the production class, it’s still a historical conundrum to me what kind of social structure will be shaped from the union of the capitalist tactics of private buy-off and officialism’s internal competition of power-selling, a union that will result in a “one person revolution” in each segment and level of society.

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