Much talk can be heard in China about the economic advantages and disadvantages, opportunities and challenges of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), but not much on the potential impact on Chinese culture. However, the challenges China will face in regard to its culture would seem to be far more important, according to Feng Yuzhong, former president of Liaoning University, professor in economics and advisor to America Biography Institute, who attended the annual session of the Ninth Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
Feng also served as a deputy to the Seventh and Eighth Committees of the National People’s Congress.
After China’s accession into WTO, a basic requirement of the country -- or a basic obligation the country should meet -- is that China must observe a series of international rules under the WTO. That is, China’s economic activities and international exchanges must abide by the rules of the world, Feng said.
The WTO rules were formed during years of development of a market economy, so they embody the culture of a modern market economy, which is the most advanced culture in current world. Such a kind of culture can help eliminate poverty, foolishness and bring about wealth. In this sense, it is not exaggeration at all that someone says China’s entering the WTO means it has stepped into the modern civilization, Feng said.
However, the modern market economy culture is incompatible both with traditional Chinese views as a society and Chinese thinking formed during the past 50 years of a planned economy. The challenges China now faces after entering WTO really start here, and are characterized by the following aspects:
-- Attack on monopoly culture. Monopoly is an important feature of a planned economy, in sharp contrast with competitive culture under a market economy. Monopoly is not allowed under WTO rules. The WTO takes it as a given that an anti-monopoly stance shows human civilization and progress. Monopoly will bring people poverty, backwardness and corruption. To break up the monopoly in administration will be a restructuring process of all kinds of interests. Therefore, the effort surely will touch on the privileges and vested interests of some departments and groups. However, it will also promote economic development and social progress, improve ethic level and competitive awareness of the nation and enhance enterprises’ capability in participating in international competition.
-- Attack on official-based culture. Under the planned economy, the Chinese culture was based on official ranks. The basic shortcoming of it is “big government” and “small society.” Following China’s joining the WTO, the greatest challenge the country faces is the transformation of government’s functions. The fairness, transparency, marketization and relaxation of control are the basic requirements of WTO for each government. In transforming government’s functions, the most complicated and most difficult task is to transform its function of control of service.
-- Attack on infringement culture. Great difference exists between the culture that infringes on rights formed under a planned economy and a culture that respects rights formed under a market economy. The conflict between the two kinds of culture will become sharper and wider after China’s WTO entry. For example, the piracy problem has affected nearly all people. One reason is that a planned economy has provided a relatively relaxed social environment for and favorable public opinion about pirates. Efforts are needed from all sides in fighting against piracy. And anti-piracy must be done by cultivating citizens’ human awareness and enhancing punishment of law-violators.
Great changes have taken place in people’s mind in the 20-odd years of reform and opening-up, Feng said. However, some traditional ideas formed under the planning economy still linger. For instance, seeing somebody getting rich, people may think of corruption, bribery and nepotism. Also people sometimes discriminate against privately-owned or collective economies. All this results from the idea of belittling commerce in traditional Chinese culture, in the media and in people’s attempts to seek balance in mind. What we should do now is to change the outdated ideology and create a favorable legal, policy, financial, human, public opinion and social environment for privately-owned and collective economies. Only in this way, can Chinese enterprises improve their competitiveness and avoid being defeated by foreign enterprises after China’s accession into WTO.
To sum up, the economic transformation after China enters WTO will surely bring about a transformation in culture. The cultural transformation is more complicated and difficult than the economic transformation. China has now opened its door to accept modern civilization. Historical experiences have taught the Chinese not to close the door because of challenges. Globalization is an irreversible trend. No country can side-step the cultural changes brought about by international competition and cooperation. “Chinese characteristics” cannot be an excuse to refuse modern civilization.
(by Zhang Xiaochong, china.org.cn staff reporter, translated by Li Jinhui March 15, 2002)