Property Rights with Chinese Characteristics

There is no denying that nobody can fully secure his or her wealth in mainland China. Why? Because the Big Brother—Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—is always watching you. And above all, the party has the absolute control and power of all aspects of the Chinese society. And the history of human beings has clearly shown that the absolute power without supervision is always a disaster.

Zhai Shanying, a former Chinese businessman, whose grandfather was a general of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). So he can be seen as a “red generation”, nevertheless, he now is a criticizer of CCP and has run to the U.S. from China. Zhai summarized three fundamental defects of the Chinese Communist Party that cannot be refuted:

  • In CCP’s hierarchical system, subordinates must submit to the consciousness of superiors.
  • There is absolutely nobody within the system is willing to take responsibility for any problems caused by its leadership mistakes.
  • No matter the party collective or the individual, they are desperate to take possession of the good things they see to be owned by the party or its members.

The last defect is the most important one in my eyes, and I named it as “Property Rights with Chinese Characteristics”.

We all know that nearly all Chinese problems lie in the Chinese Communist Party. But the party is never willing to “seek benefits for Chinese people” as it propagated. Instead, it’s real responsibility is to maintain the interest of the party itself. In Xi’s words, “permanently solidifying the red country”. Put it differently, the party is only responsible for Zhao Jia Ren, not for Zhong Guo Ren. So we can say the former is the goal, and the latter is the tool, and the tool can be sacrificed for the goal. As the historian Frank Dikötter commented:

Surely now we can also see that the goal of reform was to increase the control of the party over the commanding heights of the economy and not let go of it. In other words, the party does control capital. It does control energy. It does own the land. It’s never really let go of any of it.

In China, it’s not true that private property rights are not important as some China researchers concluded. Instead, ordinary Chinese people under CCP have never obtained private property rights all the time. They have no choice but to try everything they can to make a living under the party-state system. To some extend, Deng Xiaoping’s flagship “Opening up and Reform” is a kind of “privatization” of state-owned properties, but it’s not a real privatization. Because the party has the absolute power to revert the reform with a breeze, which has been witnessed in the last decade since Xi Jinping came to power. And this is what we called dictatorship:

Politics is about power and what to do with it: should it be divided among different institutions, with checks and balances, an increasingly complex civil society and an independent media to constrain abuse, or should it be concentrated in the hands of one individual or single party? The former is termed a democracy, the latter a dictatorship.

Advocating private property rights does not mean we must be against common property rights. However, the awareness of protecting private property is one of the most prominent factors for the development, which has never been injected into the Chinese culture for millennia. In feudal Chinese dynasties, the emperor was the absolute ruler, and people held the view that “under the heaven, there is no place that is not a emperor’s domain”. Under the ruling of CCP, the party and its general secretary are the paramount rulers, and “under the heaven, there is no place that is not the party’s domain”. Unfortunately, the situation is getting worse and worse in recent years, especially under the brutal zero-covid policy—one more political campaign in the history of PRC.

There is a widespread saying circulated in the Chinese-language internet:

The freedom is a kind of thing that not important generally. Only when the freedom is lost, you can realize its significance. Freedom cannot be ate, but without it, you would not be able to eat.

The pattern is equally true for private property rights. Without the protection of private property rights, your corgi puppy could be killed by “Dabai” mercilessly; without the protection of private property rights, your cherish home could be destroyed by the name of eradicating the virus; without the protection of private property rights, your phone could be checked arbitrarily by the police on the street. As Frank Dikötter said again:

Without political reform, market reform cannot exist. The argument over whether trade can or should be ‘free’ misses the key point, namely that a market without the rule of law, backed up by an independent judicial system and a free and open press, is not much of a market at all. There is no economic freedom without political freedom. Politics determines the nature of economics, not the other way around.

No matter what economic thrive China has created in the last four decades, it’s ultimate destiny seems to doom to fail because of the lack the protection of private property rights. And this may be the predestination of “Property Rights with Chinese Characteristics”, as well as the “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

What does the private property rights mean? I contend that it is a physical form of individual freedom. While as one of the universal values, freedom is the inherent need for human beings, no matter where you are or what institution you have. There is no freedom without the protection of private property rights.