Alberto Mingardi  

Hayek as read by Chinese communists

PRINT
Friday Night Video: Good Advi... Sunstein Goes Straight to Coer...

I've just run into a very curious document. You can now download to your Kindle "The Introduction to the Communist Party of China's Translation of F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom", conveniently translated into English by Matt Dale.

The Road to Serfdom was translated into Chinese in 1962--perhaps not by chance--right after the disasters of land collectivization and the Great Leap Forward became apparent. The book wasn't meant to circulate. As Dale clarifies, "it was considered an 'internal document' and was not allowed to leave book collections of high-level institutions".

This short introduction is however a very interesting read. Here are some highlights.

The Chinese had already translated Prices and Production, and wanted to have available "another book like this that is full of poison to provide a reference for academic circles when reading and criticizing modern bourgeois reactionary economic theory."

Hayek is presented as "an influential bourgeoisie thinker in the capitalist world," whose aim in writing "The Road to Serfdom" was "to suppress the influence of socialism on the laboring masses that was growing by the day." "The Road to Serfdom" is thus presented as an attempt to curb the growing sympathy for the Soviet system in the West, after the joint victory in WWII. The success of "The Road to Serfdom," and its enormously popular Reader Digest condensed version, came by and large as a surprise to Hayek himself; I seriously doubt he wrote a book with the aim of having mechanics and steel-workers read it avidly (and he won't have been the right man for such an endeavor).

Interestingly enough, little attention is paid to what is often caricatured as "the slippery slope" argument in Hayek. Of course, with his belief that liberty could not endure under economic planning, Hayek exposed "his identity as a defender of capitalism."

The Chinese resented the equation of Nazi and Communist "planning," but also took exception to "some nationalization proposals" (i.e., those promoted by social-democrats in the West) that were "merely swindles attempting to confuse the labour masses." They considered Hayek's arguments "fabricated" and "completely disproved by the entire process of historical development and the experiences of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in implementing planned economies" (oh, well...).

What is perhaps most notable is how the Chinese translator described Hayek's "neo-liberal viewpoints." "Neo-liberals", he writes, "conditionally defend the system of free competition and attempt to integrate free competition and government intervention. On the one hand, they still want to maintain free competition and the market price mechanism, on the other hand, when difficulties occur, they seek assistance from government intervention." Wait a minute, wasn't Hayek a "liquidationist"? (For a serious answer, see this excellent post by Don Boudreaux here)

It has to be said, however, that the introduction ends with a marvelously Hayekian point: "Our proficiency is limited, and translation mistakes are inevitable, so we respectfully hope readers will make a comment."


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (4 to date)

According to Coase and Ning Wang's How China Became Capitalist, Premier Wen Jiabao is quite enamored of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Alberto Mingardi writes:

Indeed, Wen Jiabao quoted Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments in an interview with the FT (http://www.bjreview.com/document/txt/2009-02/24/content_179988_4.htm).
If I remember correctly, Coase and Wang comment that it is quite difficult to picture a political leader in the West who is able to mention TMS not to mention have a conversation about it. This is sad but true.
Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that Premier Wen promoted any specific policy consistent with a Smithian viewpoint.

I listened to an interview of Wen Jiabao in which he managed to represent Theory of Moral Sentiments as calling for state macro-management, while An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was represented as opposed only to micro-management. In other words, Smith was represented as offering a sort of proto-Keynesian message.

I don't know that Wen were genuinely confused, as opposed to simply finding it convenient to appropriate use of Smith's name. After all, Smith was an economist praised by Marx, while citing Keynes would be problematic in various ways; and few people had read (or will have read) Theory of Moral Sentiments.

GERD writes:

Wen Jiabao reading TMS is fairly widely reported on Chinese language sites as well. Not exactly on state TV's prime time news, but hardly something to be censored.

The current Western classic en vogue among the Chinese leadership is Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution. I believe vice-premier(?) Wang Qishan is promoting it.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top