The Chinese School, Pan said, was formed when more analysts and academics found it hard to explain China’s fast economic growth by using Western theories or ideas.
“Along with China’s rocketing economic growth, China underwent enormous changes in many aspects that Western theories or knowledge systems could not explain or interpret,” He Jianyu, another author of When the Great Way Prevails, told NewsChina.
After graduating from the mechanical engineering department at Tsinghua University, He became immersed in Western sociology as an undergraduate which drove him to shift to liberal arts for his postgraduate study. He still remembers how amazed he was by the ideas of Paul Samuelson, a Nobel prize-winning American economist. Such admiration, however, ended at the Chinese University of Hong Kong where he studied comparative politics at the postdoctoral level. “The theoretical system I learned was based on the experience of Western countries, but they couldn’t explain China’s situation. They always labeled it as an ‘exception,’” he said.
Such troubling thoughts were shared by other Chinese School academics. “The West-oriented thought system has been challenged since some non-Western countries like China are rising, and the Chinese School emerged against this backdrop,” Yan told NewsChina.
Truth be told, the leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) realized that no Western model fit China long ago. As early as 1956, Chairman Mao Zedong proposed in his report On the Ten Major Relationships exploring a path of socialist construction that suited China’s situation. It was considered the first attempt by Mao and the CPC to break through the Soviet Model they had followed for years.
Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s Reform and Opening-up policy, is held as the major initiator of the China Model. At the 12th National Congress of the CPC in 1982, Deng clearly claimed that China should not copy any other country’s development model and must walk on a “socialist road of Chinese characteristics.”
However, such ideas and concepts seem to have remained at the top-leadership level until China shocked the world with its record-breaking economic growth. In 2004, Joshua Cooper Ramo, a renowned American expert on China issues, triggered heated debate about the China Model after publishing a paper called “The Beijing Consensus,” in which he claimed that the Beijing Consensus would be an alternative to the well-known “Washington Consensus” characterized by the free market, free trade and loose government control. Initiated in 1989 by John Williamson from the Institute for International Economics, the Washington Consensus aimed to pull Latin American countries out of their heavy debt and aid their shift to capitalist modernity, but it actually undermined them, according to Ramo.
Yet China’s path, Ramo said, speaks for itself. “Tactically speaking, the Beijing Consensus demands that ideas such as privatization and free trade be approached with incredible caution. It is defined by a ruthless willingness to innovate and experiment (see China’s special economic zones); a lively defense of national borders and interests (see Taiwan); and by the increasingly thoughtful accumulation of tools of asymmetric power (see the US$400 billion in currency reserves),” he explained.
“China’s peaceful rise strategy is not intended as a challenge to the US… it is the power of a model for global development that is attracting adherents at almost the same speed as the US model is repelling them,” he added.
The Beijing Consensus or China Model has attracted wider attention since the 2008 global financial crisis, in which China took the lead in tackling the problem, thanks to government assistance. At that time, even many Western academics and analysts began to rethink how governments can react to market vicissitudes, especially when the latter is depressed, an idea that goes against free market theory which believes that the market and the government are always in opposition.
According to He Jianyu, the discussion about the China Model was a precursor to the Chinese School, which is a much deeper and more specific theory. Now, although Chinese School academics still have differences on what exactly the China Model is, they have reached a consensus on the general idea. The China Model, they say, is a “socialist road of Chinese characteristics” which economically insists on keeping a public-owned economy and supports government market regulations, and politically, upholds the leadership of the CPC which believes in socialism and adopts so-called “democratic centralism,” a ruling model which the Chinese School believes is more “scientific” than Western democracy with multi-party systems.
“We intend to tell young [Chinese] people that our political system is very cool and pioneering in governance; Socialism is a modern cause and is the tide of the times around us,” Yan Yilong told NewsChina.