A giant flag of the Communist Party of China hangs outside of a department store in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, on September 26, 2017. Photo: VCG
"Communists can sum up their theory in one sentence: Eliminate private ownership." When Zhou Xincheng, a professor of Marxism at Renming University of China, emphasized this in his recent article in Qizhi, a Party theoretical journal, it immediately attracted attention and controversy.
Giving Qizhi's background and affiliation with the Party and the timing of its publication - right before the country prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening-up - many are concerned that Zhou's article might signal regression.
Some private entrepreneurs are now "extremely worried" and think this article may be a tip-off; "they feel a strong sense of uncertainty," according to a follow-up article in news outlet San Tiao.
"Entrepreneurs are not the only group that felt a chill reading Zhou's article. Ordinary people who own private property through their own hard work can't stop worrying about 'eliminating private ownership,'" read the article.
Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Chongqing Municipal Committee, told the Global Times that people's concerns over Zhou's article is "unnecessary" and that China's leadership will continue to deepen reform for people's welfare.
"Despite some leftist groups and opposition among certain interest groups, looking at the bigger picture, reform is supported by most Chinese people," he said.
China is now the world's second-largest economy as a result of rapid development brought about by its reform and opening-up.
Starting from 1978, China began to reform the economic system by relaxing State control and allowing non-State ownership and market competition, and in the meantime opened up the economy to the outside world.
And yet, despite the outstanding achievements made over the past four decades, many "leftists," some quite extreme, continue to argue that China's reform and opening-up has ushered in more problems than benefits.
Xia, 42, who works in a public institution in Hubei Province, stressed to the Global Times that the policy has caused many social problems, including an extreme disparity between rich and poor, as well as soaring housing prices and wide-scale pollution.
"The appearance of billionaires shows that China's reform is on the wrong track," he added, explaining that while Chinese people have enjoyed materialism, better housing and an abundance of food, these aren't "real benefits."
"They are suffering from spiritual void. Many Chinese are now behaving so stupidly that they even travel to Japan. They treat our enemies as friends. Their spiritual status makes me anxious," he said. "The happiness we obtain from materialism won't last long."
In his opinion, Xia believes that the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), considered by the CPC to be China's decade of political chaos, was in fact a time during which society was "healthy and positive."
"Now the money goes to a few private people or foreigners' pockets while our local governments are debt-ridden," he said.
A search on leftist websites including Utopia, a famous leftist and Maoist website, reveals that many share the same thoughts as Xia. On popular question-and-answer website Zhihu, some netizens linked anti-reform and opening-up forces directly to Maoists.
Xia said that the younger generations of Chinese are now too selfish and only care about material pleasures while totally blind to the country's true problems.
"Many elderly people are finally waking up. But among the post-1990s generation, they're too lame to notice the problems in reform and opening-up and I feel sad for them," he said.
Su noted that extreme rightist also do not quite approve of the current reform, as what they advocate is "absolute liberalization" and they feel that "currently, there is no reform in China."
According to Su, many laid-off State-owned enterprise (SOE) workers are unsatisfied with the reform and opening-up policy. These workers once enjoyed stable salaries and high social status. After the reform, however, life has been harder for them.
Now, new obstacles are appearing, including the rise of "interest groups" in different regions and within the Party itself.
"Some government officials collude with businesspeople to snatch up interests and they become an independent kingdom," Su said, adding that the reform is in a "deep water area."
Some public servants and officials have also become resistant forces in the reform, according to Su.
Many current policies, including retirement salaries and health insurances, are more in favor of people working in the government than those working for companies. Therefore, they are unwilling to push the reform forward, he said.
Led by the Party
A key point of Zhou's article is that he defends SOEs, which he said are representative of public ownership and the essence of socialism.
He slammed officials who said it is better to only let private enterprises compete in the market and harshly criticized experts who speak out for private economy.
Following the central government's call, a slew of SOEs are now speeding up mixed-ownership reform and ushering in private investment in a bid to improve competitiveness and let market forces play a greater role.
Su said that this mixed-ownership reform represents socialism with Chinese characteristics and that ushering in private capital won't damage the essence of SOEs. "Even when ushering in private investments, they are still builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics. They're still led by the Party," he said.
According to the National Development and Reform Commission, important sectors in the mixed-ownership reform include power, telecommunications, petroleum, natural gas, civil aviation, the military and others.
The debate over capitalism and socialism in regards to introducing private and foreign investment has long been a key issue in China's reform and opening-up. Deng Xiaoping, a former Chinese leader and chief architect of the policy, constructively made a slew of remarks to end the debate.
"The chief criterion for making that judgment should be whether it promotes the growth of the productive forces in a socialist society, increases the overall strength of the socialist state and raises living standards," Deng said in his 1992 tour to China's southern regions before introducing foreign investment on a large-scale.
Su said that the elimination of private ownership is Communism's "ultimate goal," but now we are still at the primary phase of socialism, during which we encourages the development of a non-public sector economy.
"It's necessary to restate our ultimate goal. If we don't talk about long-term goals, it will lead to opportunism and corruption. But the ultimate goal doesn't equal an action guideline," he told the Global Times.
Reform in a new era
Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to press ahead with reform to reach "ultimate triumph" in a New Year address for 2018.
"We will take the opportunity of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up in 2018 to further carry out reform, as reform and opening-up is the path we must take to make progress in contemporary China and to realize the Chinese Dream," Xi said.
Su said that when China first started its reform and opening-up, there was no "top-layer design" and people just "touched the stones to cross the river." "But now we have a top-layer design and we can calculate the maximum common factor," he said, adding that top leaders are already planning further reforms.
They are a solid foundation for future reform in deeper layers, which must rely on the thorough study and implementation of the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the CPC and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, Xinhua reported.
In 2015, the new Chinese Communist Party Disciplinary Regulations stipulated that people who openly opposed reform and opening-up policy will be expelled from the Party, according to Xinhua.
Wang Zhanyang, a professor at the Central Institute of Socialism, told the Global Times in a previous interview that "mainstream public opinion supports reform and the market economy, rather than asking for another round of Cultural Revolution and planned economy."
Wang added that the influence of the left-wing "on ordinary people has been greatly reduced."
Su said that, despite China's celebrations for the 40th anniversary, it is important to reflect on the "blunders" we've made in the past and "avoid only reporting what is good and concealing what is bad."