#12 event report: The Contemporary Social, Political and Economic System in China

The contemporary social, political &economic system in China

November 29, 2011, Bridge Café (Wudaokou)

Speaker: Prof. Dr. PAN Wei 潘维, Peking University, School of International Studies, Center for Chinese & Global Affairs


On November 29th 2011, Professor Pan Wei, director of the Center for Chinese & Global Affairs in Peking University, gave the ThinkIN China community a lecture on the topic of China Model in terms of social, political and economic systems in contemporary China. Professor Pan studied in UC Berkeley for his Phd in Political Science. He lived in the USA for many years and then returned to China for teaching; he is quite well-known for explaining the substance of China Model in a peculiar perspective.

In the beginning of the lecture, Professor Pan described a general picture of many scholars criticizing China Model and the hot debate inside China. There are three kinds of views opposing the idea of China Model. First, determinists argue that the Chinese story is essentially an economic one—a market economy managed by an authoritarian regime. Meanwhile cynics quote as the evidence of system failure the multifarious problems that are attributed to the achievements in China today, such as the widespread corruption, increasing gap between the rich and poor, etc. They believe the communist party has changed its identity from left -to a large extent, equaling to close to the common people-to hierarchy, becoming incapable of solving the little things concerning justice among the common people. The third opposing view derives from the skeptics, according to this view many more institutional reforms are needed to solve such enormous problems mentioned above in spite of those outstanding achievements acquired by PRC. In short, the debate on China Model focuses on the institutional settings, the Chinese socio-political-economic system.

Professor Pan pointed out the significance of the traditional Chinese civilization and its system, he defines it as the most materialistic and least spiritual traditional civilization that brought to a unique and sophisticated institutional setting—the contemporary Chinese system or China Model, which fits Chinese needs and has grown out of Chinese history. China Model will shed light on the future of China, even the globe.

What is the Chinese system or China Model? Professor Pan classified it into three dimensions socially, politically and economically. The way of organizing economic life has something to do with the way of organizing politics, which in turn is based on the way of organizing society.

The social order includes four elements: the basic social units—family; the principles of social ethics—the traditional family ethics (responsibilities); the forms of social organization—community and work units (danwei); and the relationship between social organizations and the government—an intertwined and cubic network. “Sheji” is the name for the above way of organizing society. It originally referred to the temples where the common people and officials coexist in harmony. This sheji gives rise to a way of organizing politics.

The political order has four pillars: political ideas on people-government relationship—Minben-ism, which is derived from the family ethic and take the government as the organ for the welfare of all the people; methods of selecting government officials—the traditional meritocratic principle (selecting officials through exams and performance evaluation), not the majoritarian principle of election; key administrative organs—the CPC, a vanguard party, politically unified governing group emphasizing responsibility; and mechanisms for preventing and correcting administrative mistakes—division of labor, not the Western checks and balances or division of powers. “Minben” is the name for the above way of organizing politics. This Minben has given rise to a way of organizing the Chinese economy.

The economic order contains four factors: priced labor, priced production materials (land), enterprises and capital. The above way of organizing economic life shows both the features of capitalism and socialism; the state sector can be called “guo”, while the non-state sector can be called “min” and they are mutually supportive. Accordingly, “Guomin” is the name for the economic order.

The Chinese system is constituted by the above-mentioned three aspects. But it also has the life cycles of rise and collapse. China model challenges the Western knowledge: Sheji versus civil society-state dichotomy, Minben versus democracy-autocracy dichotomy, Guomin versus market-state intervention dichotomy.

Professor Pan thinks China Model or the Chinese system can sustain successfully throughout the 21st century, because it has sustained for over 2000 years in history.


Professor Pan’s speech has spurred hot debates among the audience and lecturer on the difference between China Model and other models, the possibility of China Model’s application and promotion, as well as the feasibility of China Model in reality and its mistakes in the theory premise. Regarding to these questions, Professor gave his own ideas, such as the Chinese culture’s learning attribute, not missionary one like the Western culture, makes China Model unique to the outside world.

(Report by JIANG Wei)