Today’s China is not communist.
Why? Well, let’s define communism. Communism is a classless, egalitarian society without private ownership (i.e. common ownership of property and means of production). In different forms, this utopian type of society has been attempted since the Bronze Age, but the more modern form of communism began after the industrial revolution when many people prospered while others did not. Hence, the need to make things more even. Look at the word in Chinese for communism, Gongchan zhuyi (共产主义). “Gong” means common or total, and “chan” means production. So, in Chinese, Communism literal means “common production ideology”, which fits the aforementioned definition.
Is China a classless, egalitarian society? No.
Is there private ownership in China? Yes.
Is there common ownership of property and means of production? Some, but this is common in other countries as well – for example, the American educational system.
Therefore, China is not a communist country. It is a capitalist dictatorship ruled by one party, the Communist Party. This one party has an incredible amount of power and strictly enforces regulations. Nonetheless, Chinese citizens today have the opportunity to own property and start their own businesses. If they work hard, they can become rich.
When the Communist Party officially began on October 1, 1949, it truly was a communist country. Everything was owned and distributed by the state. Everybody – almost everybody – was equally poor. Throughout the early years, this economic model saw some devastation. The infamous Great Leap Forward brought famine and death. Mao Zedong, the founding leader of the People’s Republic of China, died in 1976; a few years later a different kind of leader took over, Deng Xiaoping. When Chairman Deng came to power, there was a fear of another famine. Consequently, Deng Xiaoping decollectivized the agricultural sector. Presto, the beginning of capitalist China governed by the Communist Party had begun. Deng Xiaoping liked to call it, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
If you do go to China in the near future, what ever you do, don’t call China a capitalist country to the Chinese. Though the Gini indices (indicators used to measure the difference between the rich and poor) of 2012 show the U.S. at 45 and China at 42, Chinese do not consider themselves capitalists. In fact, from a very early age they have been taught that capitalism is evil; it is the enemy. Even the younger generation frowns upon the word capitalism, but they love money. Therefore, Deng Xiaoping’s euphemism has stuck – China is a “socialist country with Chinese characteristics.”
The way I see it, China is a capitalist dictatorship ruled by the Communist Party.
Communism – Gòngchǎn zhǔyì 共产主义
Socialism – Shèhuì zhǔyì 社会主义
Capitalism – Zīběn zhǔyì 资本主义 Ideology (doctrine) – zhǔyì 主义
Socialism with Chinese characteristics – Zhōngguó tèsè shèhuì zhǔyì 中国特色社会主义
Great Leap Forward – Dà yuèjìn 大跃进