05/05/2014 03:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

China's Success Due to Rejecting Both Market and Democracy Fundamentalism


Zhang Weiwei, director of the Center for China Development Model Research at Fudan University and a senior research fellow at the Shanghai Chunqiu Institute for Developmental and Strategic Studies, is the author of "The China Wave: Rise of A Civilizational State" (World Century Publishing Corporation, 2012). This article is distributed by the Guancha Syndicate and its Chinese original was published in

SHANGHAI -- While we can all debate the likelihood of China overtaking the U.S. as the world's biggest economy in the near future, this latest prediction from the World Bank's International Comparison Program will surely inflame further an ongoing discussion which has occupied the heart and mind of millions: The Decline of the West and the Rise of China.

The declining part is much more talked about in the West. The West, and the United States in particular, has been promoting its model to the rest of the world for decades. The two key things they're selling -- market fundamentalism and democracy fundamentalism -- seem to be losing their appeal lately. Financially speaking, many Western countries are literally broke.

While the "Color Revolution" has faded with Ukraine's turmoil, Egypt's conflicts have also turned the "Arab Spring" into winter. The Economist, in a recent cover essay "What's gone wrong with democracy?" admits that democracy has lost its forward momentum. The two main reasons, it says, are "the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the rise of China."

Re-examining their own model, no sensible person in the West can afford to ignore China anymore. Felipe Gonzalez, former prime minister of Spain, perhaps captured this new reality best. After visiting China in 2012, he said "No visit to China, whatever the frequency, fails to cause a surprise as a historic phenomenon reflecting the new world situation. China has already emerged with unusual strength, while we -- the European Union -- fight to avoid sinking, without finding a new way forward. Set against an ascending process, that appears unstoppable, is a descending one -- a loss of relevance, which we are unable to stop, much less reverse."

The rising part, however, is much less properly analyzed by the West. China, in sharp contrast to the Western world, has been rising in an unprecedented manner, elevating the living standard of most of its 1.3 billion people in no time. After all, what makes China tick? China's success lies on rejecting the myths of "market fundamentalism" and "democracy fundamentalism" while exploring and sticking to a way that suits its own particular circumstances.

Market fundamentalists believe the market's "invisible hand" could solve all the economic and even social problems. Not only do true believers pay no attention to their numerous failed experiments in non-western societies -- from "structural adjustments" in Africa to "shock therapy" in Russia, but their blind faith has also led to the financial crisis in their own backyard today.

In the past few decades, China, on the other hand, has adopted the "socialist market economy" in which the government's "visible hand" and the market's "invisible hand" are combined. While this model is far from perfect and needs further fine-tuning, it seems to bring together the best of two possible worlds and has achieved stunning results for China.

Francis Fukuyama, author of "The End of History," concurs that the rapid economic growth in the past 30 years has shown the effectiveness of China's model. He admits that China's rise has posed a challenge to his theory. Liberal democracy might not be the end of history.

Democracy fundamentalists allow no deviation from Western-style democracy. The success of a nation, they claim, depends on whether it adopts Western-style democracy, especially multi-party system and universal suffrage, or not. True believers ignore the fact that this model, in practice, has dragged both Western and non-Western democracies into a dire predicament. Western democracies, having been hijacked by various vested interest groups, get too bogged down to launch any meaningful political reform.

For non-Western stomachs, Western-style democracy doesn't always agree with them. A country is a complex organic entity with political, economic, and social dimensions. Western-style democracy may have altered something on the political surface but it can't change the other dimensions easily. To bring real changes to any society is usually a slow and daunting process. The failure of "Color Revolution" and the emergence of "Arab Winter" have said it all.

Compared to Western-style democracy, China's own search for a democratic path is more successful. While the West emphasizes "format" and "procedure," China focuses more on "substance" and "result." Assuming that a right format and procedure would set a country sailing down a winning course, the West has instead turned its model into a dogma. The Chinese, on the contrary, have undertaken a bold search for its own democratic format and procedure as long as the "substance" and "result" are taken care of. In other words, China adopts whatever means that can deliver goods to the people whereas the West uses a perceived good mechanism to produce whatever outcome it may bring. The Chinese way is gaining mileage.

Deng Xiaoping laid down three benchmarks in determining the quality (substance and result) of any political system. First, is the political situation stable? Second, is it promoting unity among the people and improving their living? Third, is rising productivity sustainable?

If we applied these three benchmarks to the countries which are involved in the "Color Revolution" and the "Arab Spring," all of them would come out very poorly on all counts. While the vast majority of Western nations are still stable, many of of them are headed toward failure in the last two areas.

As China keeps rising, the whole world is reflecting on the chaos, and disasters derived from the Western model, particularly the absurdity of "market fundamentalism" and "democracy fundamentalism." What determines China's future path is its unique cultural tradition, history, and national circumstances, and not any Western dogma. In exploring for its own development, China has demonstrated its success.

British historian Arnold J. Toynbee predicted long ago that China might one day assimilate strengths from other civilizations and to provide a new cultural starting point for mankind in the new century.

China has indeed taken this journey described by Toynbee. It will stay on course to make the "Chinese dream" come true -- to build a moderately prosperous society and realize national rejuvenation. This, is no small contribution to the world.