When speaking of “the economy,” it has long been necessary to gain at least a basic familiarity with China. In the past few years, this has only become more unavoidable. Today, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that almost no political conversation can occur without some need to “weigh in” on what we call the “China question”—which is actually a series of questions relating to the current character of the Chinese state, the social struggles that exist within the country, the prospects of the Chinese economy, the supposed decline of US hegemony, the role of Chinese investment in poor countries, the impact all of this will have on the environment, etc. This is most apparent within the media, where a certain clickbait genre of dark sinofuturism has taken hold. Here, classical orientalist tropes of the “yellow peril” are reformatted into myths of an omnipotent totalitarian state seeking to colonize the world with its supercharged, state-owned industries and its massive populace, brainwashed into an unthinking nationalism. You are probably familiar with the genre.
At root, these myths are displaced anxieties about everyday life in the countries whose ruling classes form the apex of the imperial hierarchy, such as the United States, where a much more wide-ranging police state already exists, buoyed by violent and virulent forms of nationalism. This actually-existing police state already has all the “totalitarian” features that the media associates with China, including an expansive “social credit system” (in the form of the combined criminal and credit record) that is systematically biased against the poor, the largest carceral apparatus in the history of the world, and the ability—in fact, we might instead say enthusiasm—to commit extrajudicial murders on an almost daily basis, particularly against ethnic minority groups. Similarly, mass uprisings centered in deindustrialized cities are put down with military-scale police deployments, all while the actual military—the US wielding the largest imperial force in history—patrols every ocean with its fleets and every continent from its numerous bases, monitors the earth from its missile-guiding satellites, and regularly coordinates with affiliated defense and intelligence agencies to orchestrate coups (if not outright invasions) against oppositional governments.
But sensationalist propaganda isn’t the only source of misinformation about China. After all, it’s natural for those who feel politically helpless to seize upon far-off examples, which they then demonize into totalitarian dystopias (making their own life appear better by comparison) or idealize into rapturous utopias (giving them hope that there is some force for good out there in an otherwise dark world). For China, this is nothing new. Ever since Marco Polo, the polities of mainland East Asia have served this purpose for Europeans and their colonial descendants. Some project their fears onto China, others project their hopes. Those who fear China, portraying it as a dark, totalitarian empire, generally have a chauvinistic attitude toward the rest of the world and make use of obvious orientalist tropes. But those who place all their hope in China are little better. Even if they may seem less conservative at first glance, they build up an equally racist caricature to worship from a distance, fetishizing superficial aspects of Chinese culture and using this exotic image of a supposedly “socialist” China as a prop in local political battles. Ironically, this image then substitutes itself for the very voices that such supporters seek to promote: those of the Chinese administrators and political theorists involved in what is, without a doubt, one of the most significant state-building projects in the history of the world. In all cases, the overall effect is to cast a mirage over the horizon of the world, obscuring whatever might be approaching in the distance.
In contrast, Chuang’s founding goal has been to burst through such illusions. We have sought to provide a clear-eyed appraisal of China as it actually exists and to translate the numerous voices of those involved in the country’s own social struggles, all in order to reckon with likely futures and contribute, in some small way, to the worldwide rekindling of communism. This has necessarily involved complex, often esoteric engagements with theory and history. But the project is not, fundamentally, about producing communist theory. We simply consider this to be a necessary step in building substantive ties of international solidarity. After all, communism is a politics of action. It cannot be reduced to a matter of individual faith or Marxist exegesis without suffocating its vital power. In other words, for communist theory to remain communist, it cannot be confined within the golden prison of academic inquiry. It must be torn from the page and set into the fire and flesh of the world. Our goal is not to build up some theoretical edifice but to build power.
Communism is, and always has been, an international project designed to span the borders that divide us. It is also a popular politics, rather than the domain of elite theorists. To have an impact, theory must be translated into vernacular terms and embroidered with attractive, accessible advertising. It doesn’t matter how right you are if no one is listening. Every theorist is also obligated to be an effective teacher, translator and transmitter of knowledge. In our case, the increasing centrality of China to even the most colloquial political conversations means that the time has come for us to help produce simple, handy and easily reproducible summaries of the communist perspective on China.
To this end, we are launching an ongoing blog series responding to frequently asked questions about China. These are the sort of questions that anyone with some knowledge of China will have been asked with some regularity. At one point, they would have been limited to political scenes or academic settings. While some of the questions we present here are still more common to hear in these more specialized spheres, it has become increasingly common to hear many of them posed in mass media or raised in everyday social interactions. The answers we give here, then, are not geared toward “the left,” but are intended for general use. All will be available in both Chinese and English. Most are collectively authored, but some questions relate specifically to the experiences of our Chinese members. In these cases, we’ve disaggregated the collective response into individual voices, often asking other Chinese comrades to weigh in as well. In addition to the China FAQ series, we’ll also be adding a special “Chuang FAQ” entry answering some common questions about our own collective.
To commemorate the launch of the series, we’ll be releasing a new entry roughly every other week for the next few months. After this, the open-ended series will continue indefinitely, with new entries added as they come in. The answers will be compiled on the new FAQ page of our website. Over time, we hope to simplify many of these points even further and to repurpose the material for use across different media. We encourage everyone to make use of these materials freely, keeping to the spirit of the project. If you’ve created any content drawing from the China FAQ series, please e-mail us (email@example.com) so that we can link it here and promote it on social media.
常见中国问题解答 — 系列序言
 This is by no means a recent phenomenon. If anything, it was most widespread in the latter half of the 20th century, visible in the development of what came to be known as Maoism. There are many good histories of this phenomenon. For a quick overview, as well as a useful bibliography, see this article.