Getting a Seat on the Subway Has Been the Most Golden Part About This Week

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 5. Politics, Shanghai by Brooke1 Comment

As I elbow my way through a throng of people, practically get pushed down the stairs just to barely make it on to the overflowing subway and have my nose touching the glass window, I knew it was Golden Week in Shanghai. Golden Week begins on October 1st and it’s to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic of China, when China officially became ruled by the Communist party. Along with most residents getting a full week off of work and flocking to tourist destinations, there are also parades and festivals occurring in the major cities like Shanghai.

The irony in this celebration of the start of the Communist party is that this week essentially epitomizes capitalism. I walked around to some of the most popular spots in Shanghai on Monday night, including people’s square and the bund, and everywhere I looked there was someone there ready to sell me something. There was an overwhelming amount of advertisements, from the typical billboard, to digital ones on the subway, to even small TV screens in elevators playing an ad. It’s interesting to me because before I left for Shanghai, older adults constantly told me, “Be careful over there it’s communist,” yet I felt like I was in a capitalistic cesspool.

This probed me to look more into the current politics of China, how truly Communist were they still? According to an article written for Slate, China is in reality not very Communist anymore. In 1976 there was the Cultural Revolution in which Mao (the founder of the People’s Republic of China) tried to ensure the values of Communism through violent class struggle, this turned out to be a failure and the country started to abandon Maoist policies after this. Collective ownership of the means of production ceased to exist in China and everything became partially privatized. Taxes are also lower than expected of a nation that calls themselves Communist.

However, some aspects of China still remain true to the tenants of Communism, for example all of the media is state-owned. I’m currently in a journalism class here and my professor discussed how every article must be approved by the government before being published. Political coverage tends to paint the government in the best light possible and can sometimes lead to a false understanding among citizens about what the government is actually doing. Also, all land still belongs to the government. In this sense, China is still very much Communist politically, just not as much economically.

While China’s Golden Week celebrates the founding of a Communist nation, China is not really that nation anymore. Throughout the leaders since 1949, China seems to have cherry-picked aspects of Communism they want to keep and those that they wish to get rid of and let a capitalistic free market take over. In some ways, China is even more economically capitalistic than America. Cash is practically nonexistent here and instead, payment apps, such as Alipay, are dominating the market. This means that companies are making money off people spending money in other places. In my eyes that is truly a symbol of the free market.

This makes me wonder how China’s future politically and economically will progress. I wonder if they will continue to push towards more western ideals politically and abandon their more authoritarian traditions or if the system of being economically capitalistic yet politically communistic will remain stable.


  1. Hi Brooke!

    I found your post particularly interesting, especially being an American-born Chinese myself (or a banana, according to some). To comment on the question “how Communist is China still?”, I think that the situation regarding art and free speech in China is especially intriguing, and can generally sum up the Chinese government’s attitude. For example, both during and directly after the Cultural Revolution imposed by Mao Zedong, the art scene in China was extremely suppressed and regulated. Art you saw in China wasn’t technically art anymore, it was a carefully selected gallery of propaganda and censorship curated by the government. Fast forward to nowadays, much has changed, but Chinese modern art is still very limited and only beginning to prosper. Radical art is still looked down upon and censored by the Chinese government. I think art in China is a pretty good representation of “the Chinese attitude” because it’s especially easy to see how limited modern art is in China (whether due to a lack of contemporary style artists or censorship).

    If you’re more interested in this stuff, check out some documentaries on Ai Weiwei! He’s pretty much the quintessence of modern art being rejected by the Chinese government (while in many cases embraced by the community).

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