Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, November 29, 2018


State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) account for the majority of Chinese GDP, so the connection between the Communist Party and economic activity has always been close. But how does it make sense for China's richest person to be a member of the Communist Party?

Jack Ma, China’s Richest Man, Belongs to the Communist Party. Of Course.
Jack Ma, China’s richest man and the guiding force behind its biggest e-commerce company, belongs to an elite club of power brokers, 89 million strong: the Chinese Communist Party…

It may sound contradictory that the wealthy Mr. Ma belongs to an organization that got its start calling for the empowerment of the proletariat. But Mr. Ma’s political affiliation came as no surprise to many Chinese and China watchers. Though it still publicly extols the principles of Karl Marx, the Chinese Communist Party largely abandoned collectivist doctrine in the post-Mao era, freeing private entrepreneurs to help build the world’s second-largest economy after the United States.

In fact, the disclosure reveals a party that is eager to prove its legitimacy by affiliating itself with capitalist success stories. Mr. Ma is a tech rock star in China, and his membership in the party could prod others to follow his lead…

Today’s party isn’t exactly exclusive. Its members represent nearly 7 percent of China’s population. Its ranks include government officials, businesspeople and even dissidents. Being a member often suggests a desire to network and get ahead rather than express one’s political views.

For businesspeople in particular, membership is more often a matter of expediency. Party membership provides a layer of protection in a country where private ownership protections are often haphazardly enforced or ignored entirely.

Though its constitution still describes members as “vanguard fighters of the Chinese working class imbued with communist consciousness,” the party has veered away from its communist roots and welcomed private entrepreneurs since 2001…

The star power of the Chinese entrepreneur class has dimmed since Xi Jinping became the country’s top leader in 2012. Under Mr. Xi, the Communist Party plays a bigger role in not only Chinese politics but also the economy and everyday life. Any entity with more than three party members is required to set up a party cell. Some three-quarters of private enterprises, or 1.9 million, had done so in 2017, according to official data…

The disclosure of Mr. Ma’s membership reflects the thinking that the party controls the economy and society, said Guo Yuhua, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a critic of the party…

In recent weeks, amid signs of a slowing economy and an intensifying trade war with the United States, China’s leaders have taken a softer tone toward private enterprise, making supportive remarks and promising tax cuts.

Making it clear that Mr. Ma, the most successful businessman in China, is a member could strengthen the party’s legitimacy…

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