They’re still saying it!

If Deng is ever listed in Bartlett’s quotations, it will be for two often-cited phrases: 1.) “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice” (paraphrased), and 2.) his adulatory tribute to the PRC’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The latter has become the butt of an infinite number of parodies, and whenever we hear the phrase “with Chinese characteristics” our eyes involuntarily roll.

So it struck me as odd to see the following in People’s Daily today:

Chinese President Hu Jintao outlined major strategic tasks for building an innovation-oriented country at a national conference on science and technology that opened Monday morning in Beijing.

Hu said China will embark on a new path of innovation with Chinese characteristics, the core of which is to adhere to innovation, seek leapfrog development in key areas, make breakthroughs in key technologies and common technologies…[blah blah blah].

Don’t they know that “Chinese Characteristics” has become a phrase of ridicule? I can’t believe they’re using it in a serious context.

The Discussion: 31 Comments

“the core of which is to adhere to innovation, seek leapfrog development in key areas, make breakthroughs in key technologies and common technologies”

I don’t get it. Where is the “Chinese characteristics?” It seems as if these things should be the core of any successful catch-up R&D program.

January 8, 2006 @ 9:54 pm | Comment

I think it’s just a phrase that they throw in to emphasize — well, I’m not sure why they throw it in. It just makes them look silly.

January 8, 2006 @ 10:13 pm | Comment

One reason – aside from sheer habit – why they use that nonsensical phrase, is because Communism is a Western ideology.
Communism originated in Europe, thus to be a Communist does not square up with the Chinese Nationalism which is the true ideology of the CCP.

They can’t just jettison their Communist origins, because one of the foundations of their claim to absolute dictatorship rests on the presumed infallibility of Marx and Lenin. (Another problem they have, is simply that the CCP’s leading ideologists are just stupid, and they don’t know how to invent anything new.)

They don’t know how to throw away their Communist foundations while keeping their claim for absolute power – which was originally based on the “scientific” infallibility of Marxist-Leninism. (Which was, of course, a superstition, not scientific at all.) On the OTHER hand, as long as they remain “Communist”, they’re stuck with ANOTHER logical problem of how to square this up with their Chinese Nationalism and their hostility to “Westernization.”

How can the CCP be against “Weternization” when Communism ITSELF came from the West? It makes no sense. The only way they can justify this, is with a fig leaf, the phrase “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. It’s a way for them to avoid explaining the unexplainable, of how a Nationalist, Anti-Western Party can be based on a Western ideology.

January 8, 2006 @ 10:25 pm | Comment

Other Western ideologies/philosophies with Chinese Characteristics:

Occam’s Razor: “Concepts/essences must be multiplied until the audience stops listening”

Descartes: “I plagiarise, therefore I am”

Christianity: Jesus on the cross says: “Father, into your hands I commend my…” (Jesus’ cell phone rings….”

Hillel (Talmudic Judaism): “It is not given to you to finish your task, so just bribe someone to lie about it…:

January 8, 2006 @ 10:51 pm | Comment

Its blatant piracy! Too bad there’s no international law against hijacking general concepts.

January 8, 2006 @ 11:04 pm | Comment


No it’s not piracy. It’s a lie. China has never been socialist and never will be.

China calling itself “socialist” is like me calling myself a woman. I have a beard and a hairy chest and male naughty bits, but I’m really a woman.
I’m a woman with male characteristics.

January 8, 2006 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

Hm, I’m just in a Monty Python mood today. So, “Communism with Chinese characteristics” reminds me of an episode where:

…a guy walks into a pet shop and asks for a cat. The pet shop owner offers him a dog, and he says, “I cut the dog’s ears, and cut the tail off of a cat and sew it onto the dog, etc etc, cut and paste some cat parts onto the dog, and then it will be just like a cat”…….then
the customer asks, “But would it sound like a cat?” and the pet shop owner says, “No, but it would howl a bit….”

Socialism with Chinese characteristics. It’s like a turning a dog into a cat.

January 8, 2006 @ 11:16 pm | Comment

hah, I agree with you completely Ivan. I wish everyone would stop calling them Marxist as well…

I meant that ‘innovation’ is a general concept that Hu was trying to hijack/pirate

January 8, 2006 @ 11:18 pm | Comment

Ivan you should have your own TV show. Have you considered replacing Da Shan? Your humor will go right over the heads of the CCTV fuddy-duddies, and finally the expats will have something decent to watch.

January 8, 2006 @ 11:20 pm | Comment

He would go down in history as the person who introduced sarcasm to CCTV

January 8, 2006 @ 11:25 pm | Comment

Sarcasm on CCTV? Unthinkable. Literally.

January 8, 2006 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

Now, what I really want to see, is:
“Innovation with BELGIAN characteristics!” or, “Innovation with NEW ZEALAND characteristics!”

January 8, 2006 @ 11:38 pm | Comment

CCTV is full of sarcasm, only it’s all unconscious and unintentional.

January 8, 2006 @ 11:41 pm | Comment

There’s a world of difference between sarcasm and unintentional self-parody. Can you imagine the CCP ever laughing at itself?

January 8, 2006 @ 11:44 pm | Comment

Thinking of that reminds me of watching Bush try to crack jokes. Maybe behind closed doors that really happens, and they put on the straight face for the cameras… High Ranking Party Member A says to High Ranking Party Member B, “Hey Li, remember when we were poor and hard-off?” High Ranking Party Member B spits out his green tea uncontrollably, “BBWWWAAAAHHHAAAA, good one Zhang!!! AAAHHHAAHAHAAAA ”

January 9, 2006 @ 12:10 am | Comment

Damn, Jeff, you and I are of like mind after all! ๐Ÿ™‚

Actually, even in Communist times, SOME Russian Communists had a sense of humor about themselves (although not in public). Hm, thinking of some old jokes I heard from some former Communists in Russia….

…ah, here’s one of my favorites: This one goes back to the 1980s, when Russia was really opening up under Gorbachev:

…It was 1987 and a Russian Communist tried to open up a “Western Style” bar in Moscow, with exotic dancers, you know, female strippers and waitresses. So he hired some women to take their clothes off on stage, and to wait on tables in miniskirts and high heels. But soon, his business failed. Nobody ever came into his bar. So he asked his friend:

“What am I doing wrong? I hired an expert from Finland, to make all the Western style drinks. And I hired an expert from Italy to do the interior design.” So then his friend asked:

“What about the dancers? Maybe you hired the wrong girls?” And the guy replied:

“NO! There is NOTHING wrong with the girls! They are all good Communist Party members, and so are their children AND their GRANDCHILDREN!”

January 9, 2006 @ 12:28 am | Comment

And then there’s the one they told after Stalin died. A Russian KGB man visits a class of 14 year old schoolchildren, to try to recruit some new Communists. So he asks one boy:

“Who is your Mother?” And the boy stands up and makes a fist and he says:

“Our Mother is our Great Socialist Motherland under the leadership of the Communist Party!”
And the KGB man says,

“GOOD! And who is your Father?” And the boy keeps his fist in the air and he says,

“Our Father is our Great Leader, Joseph Stalin!” And then the KGB man is VERY impressed, so he says to the boy,

“GOOD! And what do YOU want to become?” And the boy says:


January 9, 2006 @ 12:38 am | Comment


High Ranking Party Member A to High Ranking Party Member B: “Did you see Wang’s hair during that photo-op at the school for the deaf on last night’s Xinwen Lianbo? And those shoes? So Deng Xiaoping. Some people just do not know how to look good in propaganda…” Party Member B: “Lets just hope he gets his act together before we have to go to that stupid toy factory tomorrow. He obviously hasn’t picked up a copy of Party Fashion since 1990.”

January 9, 2006 @ 1:04 am | Comment

Hey Ivan – someone actually described something “with Belgian characteristics”. I did a little poking around.

With Characteristics

January 9, 2006 @ 1:26 am | Comment

if i take a broad perspective, it seems the “with chinese characteristics” is for 2 purposes:

1) say there is a chinese version to everything, so we’re not copying the west! BTW, came across a book today that suggested perhaps 30% of China’s GDP is based on illegal copying or some type of IP violation.

2) say that this will be done with existing (top-down) power structure
For example, singapore is often cited as free market, etc etc, with asian characterisitics.

January 9, 2006 @ 2:58 am | Comment

Ok, aside from silly Party agenda, do you all think China is basically facing a major existential/identity crisis? Is there really no longer any what once characterized China/Chinese left? Could China (not CCP) either create a new New China or retrieve a “historic” China-ness?

January 9, 2006 @ 4:36 am | Comment

I think it’s just to play up the nationalist theme, because that’s the wave the CCP is riding now. I mean it goes without saying that whatever market or system of government China has is going to have ‘Chinese characteristics’. Its kind of like that ‘only in America …’ bit politicians use all the time. I personally think Hu should refer to China’s system of government as ‘whatever-it-is-that-we-have’.

January 9, 2006 @ 9:18 am | Comment

“the core of which is to adhere to innovation, seek leapfrog development in key areas, make breakthroughs in key technologies and common technologies”

In other words, the plan is to make another Great Leap Forward.

January 9, 2006 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

We know what service with “Chinese Characteristics” is. It’s got a “mei yo” in it ๐Ÿ™‚

January 9, 2006 @ 2:24 pm | Comment

“Don’t they know that “Chinese Characteristics” has become a phrase of ridicule? ”

Richard, this kind of statement only reflects your ignorance and arrogance.

No idea can be universally applied. It always needs some modification to make it work. That is what “with Chinese characteristic” means.

A case in point is the reform in Russia. If Russian leaders are wise enough to know that western reform has to come with Russian characteristic, Russia will be in a much better shape.

In business, track record is everything. The track record of China indicates that, “with chinese characterisitc” should be something people pay attention to. Success is a success.

January 9, 2006 @ 2:53 pm | Comment

Yeah Steve, right. For a Chinese politician or reporter to say that China is doing simething “with Chinese characteristsics” is actually a mark of sincerity, integrity and super seriousness. Sorry I’m so ignorant! All this time I thought the phrase had become an international joke! (Have you tried googling the phrase? If you do, you’ll see who the ignorant one is. Ouch!)

January 9, 2006 @ 4:46 pm | Comment


What you said about “Russia” reforming with “Russian characteristics”:

As one who knows Russia very intimately, I can tell you that most Russians would LAUGH at the phrase, “reform with Russian characteristics”, because Russians all know how the words “Russian” and “reform” are virtually opposites….

…now, if only the CCP could ever develop such a sense of humor and detached perspective on itself…


January 9, 2006 @ 8:22 pm | Comment

“CCTV is full of sarcasm, only it’s all unconscious and unintentional.”
Brilliant point.
It’s sarcasm is sometimes so tight you almost could see the anchor’s right eye blinks an extra.

January 10, 2006 @ 12:02 am | Comment

I mistakenly left this comment over at Global Voices — the site that led me to the site which led me here (no, I’m not stuttering) — so here it is again (yes, I am repeating myself):
– – –
I suggest these additions to the โ€œ____ with Chinese characteristicsโ€ list:
* hegemony
* peasants
* toxic spills
* mining disasters
* propaganda
* revisionist history
* economic terrorism
Oh, and:
* nukes
– – –

January 10, 2006 @ 11:55 pm | Comment


The SCMP reports:Economic growth is likely to slow to between 8.5 and 9 per cent on the mainland this year, with deflation emerging as a risk in the second half, the state planning agency said yesterday. “The growth rate will decrease, led by easing in…

January 11, 2006 @ 8:32 pm | Comment

“As one who knows Russia very intimately, I can tell you that most Russians would LAUGH at the phrase, “reform with Russian characteristics”, ”

That is why Russia economic reform is a laughing stock. Blindly trusting Harvard professor’s miracle solution is not just stupidity. It is a crime against Russian people.

No solution is supposed to be universal. You need to adapt your solution to your environment. That is what “chinese characteristic” means.

To give you a different perspective, Chinese food at America has american characterisitics. Well, that means it tastes bad to Chinese and it is far from authentic chinese food. But many Americans love it and most of time American style chinese food sells better.

January 12, 2006 @ 4:04 pm | Comment

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