China’s Ideological Spectrum: A Two-dimensional Model of Elite Intellectuals’ Visions

Andreas Møller Mulvad

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In contemporary scholarship on Chinese ideological debates, both pro-system Chinese intellectuals and Western-based academics present China’s future as a binary choice between a “China Model” of authoritarian statism and a “Western” vision of democratic liberalism. This article deconstructs this dichotomy by proposing a new heuristic for conceptualizing ideological cleavage. Informed by interviews with twenty-eight leading Chinese intellectuals, the case is made for a two-dimensional spectrum allowing for ideological co-variation, on one axis, between two contending socioeconomic roads of national revival, capitalism and socialism, and on the other axis between paternalism and fraternalism as conflicting ideals for the political system. This model not only resonates with Chinese intellectual history, but also allows us to uncover two crucial ideological tendencies that disappear with the China Model/Western Path dichotomy: (i) the emerging hybrid of Confucian politics and free market economics, and (ii) the tabooed fraternalist-socialist legacy of the 1989 movement.
TidsskriftTheory and Society
Udgave nummer5
Sider (fra-til)635–661
Antal sider27
StatusUdgivet - 2018


  • Capitalist development
  • China’s new left
  • Chinese liberalism
  • Democratization
  • Socialism
  • The China model