Education And Social Change in China: Inequality in a Market Economy

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Social issues in China

We must all be thankful to Prof. Kang Ouyang for his clear and concise summary of the main tendencies in Marxist philosophy in China, a country whose development is becoming ever more important to the fate of the entire world. It is an impressive list.

I was especially pleased to learn of the growing interest in Marx's theory of alienation and his theory of truth, and of the widespread opposition to all kinds of dogmatism. The question now arises of how to interpret and judge Kang's remarks in these and related areas. For this I can come up with no better criterion than the test of practice advanced by Kang himself and also by Deng Xiaoping whose writings are so influential in China today.

On the basis of this criterion, what is decisive is not what someone says or how well they say it, but what they do, what it gets them to do, and how "successful" that is. So what can we learn about contemporary Chinese Marxist philosophy from Kang's practice in presenting it and from the real social practices that it has in large part inspired?

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Considerations of space as well as my own limited familiarity with China makes a full evaluation of Kang's wide ranging article impossible, so I will focus on only one area, market socialism or what is often referred to as "socialism with Chinese characteristics", which is also the area that I know best. My choice can also be justified on the grounds that this is the subject on which the new generation of Chinese scholars have made their most distinctive contribution and for which they are best known outside China. Let me suggest what the main arguments both for and against the market socialist as well as capitalist market look like, and sketch how using the market has effected China, both for good and for bad.

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Through such rhetorical practice, my aim is to provide a helpful basis for evaluating both China's experience with market socialism and Kang's philosophical defense of it. A market economy has seven main characteristics: l people buy what they want, but only if they can pay for it; 2 thus, money becomes necessary for life; 3 people are forced to do anything and to sell anything in order to get money; 4 maximizing profit rather than satisfying social needs is the aim of all production and investment; 5 discipline over those who produce the wealth of society is no longer exercised by other people as in slavery and feudalism but by money and the conditions of work that one must accept in order to earn money; 6 rationing of scarce goods takes place through money based on who has more than others rather than through coupons based on who has worked harder or longer or has a greater need for the good ; and 7 since no one is kept from trying to get rich and everyone is paid for what they do, people acquire a sense that each person gets and has gotten what he deserves economically, in short, that both the rich and the poor are responsible for their fates.

These are the main advantages of the market economy, and in his article Professor Kang gives a good account of them.

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But, as I said, there are also major disadvantages, and these Kang neglects. As part of this, people no longer believe in a future that could be qualitatively different or in their ability, either individually or collectively, to help bring it about. In short, what Marx called "ideological thinking" becomes general ; The same market experiences develop a set of anti-social attitudes and emotions people become egotistical, concerned only with themselves. They also become very anxious and economically insecure, afraid of losing their job, their home, their sale, etc.

In this situation, feelings as well as ideas of cooperation and mutual concern are seriously weakened, where they don't disappear altogether, for in a market economy it is against one's personal interest to cooperate with others ; With people's thoughts and emotions effected in these ways by their life in a market economy, it becomes very difficult for the government, any government, to give them a true picture of the country's problems it is more conducive to stability to feed people illusions of unending economic growth and fairy tales of how they too can get rich. Exaggerating the positive achievements of society and seldom if ever mentioning its negative features is also the best means of attracting foreign investment.

Until an economic crisis occurs, it is possible to take the position that the advantages of a market economy outweigh its disadvantages, or the opposite position, and to develop a political strategy that accords with one's view, whatever it is. But if a crisis does away with most of the important advantages associated with the market, this is no longer possible. Your reader barcode: Your last name:. Cite this Email this Add to favourites Print this page. You must be logged in to Tag Records.

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