To Get Rich Is Glorious

Surely one of the most startling and least noticed events of the 1980’s has been China’s repudiation of Maoist-style Communism. Are the Chinese Communists deliberately returning to capitalism as a stage in historical development? Or are they engaged in building a new socialism based on decentralization and individual initiative? Orville Schell takes up such questions in an extended essay on post-Mao China. The book recounts the author’s travels in China, from Peking to various peasant villages in the countryside. Schell came away impressed with the creative energy unleashed by the Party’s loosening of economic controls and the encouragement of private enterprise.

The author does note, however, that continuing the dismantlement of Maoism will bring several problems. The private accumulation of wealth has literally made crime pay once again, and both rural and urban China are plagued by armed gangs of robbers. The Party’s response has been to launch a war on crime featuring public executions, of which Schell gives a memorable firsthand account.

Beyond crime, the author wonders how some Chinese will react to increasing disparities of wealth within the society. Will a true middle class emerge that is hostile to the Communist Party? Will the millions of Party members still imbued with the ideals of Mao’s Cultural Revolution stage a protest against privatization? Schell does not always venture answers to these questions, but his book leaves the reader with the impression that China will not long escape another social upheaval as a result of the new Party line.