China and the ‘Asiatic Mode of Production’: An Inquiry

  • John Clammer


This chapter is an attempt to answer an empirical question — Why do the ideologues of the Chinese Peoples Republic reject as untenable the concept of the Asiatic Mode of Production (hereafter AMP)? — and in doing so to cast some much needed light not only on the question of the relevance of Marx’s view for Asia, but perhaps as importantly, on Asian views of this relevance. We bring here into confrontation two interesting and very much opposed movements within contemporary Marxism — on the one hand, the recent extraordinary upsurge in interest in, and revival of, the concept of the AMP in the West,1 and on the other hand, the complete rejection of this idea in China: physically the biggest and perhaps theoretically the most interesting country to have successfully carried out a revolution and established a social order which, it is claimed, are based on Marxist-Leninist principles. The reasons for the first factor — the revival of interest in the AMP — are various and include the desire to seek for connections between Marxism and the current underdevelopment debate, renewed interest in the attempt to bring Marxism and anthropology together by way of Marx’s studies of pre-capitalist societies, and that fascinating cycle which seems to affect the social scientists of Europe — the perpetual falling out of fashion and then rediscovery of themes, theories and thinkers which have, so to speak, always been there.


Civil Society Chinese History Chinese View Marxist Concept Interesting Country 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Some leading examples being A. Bailey and J. R. Llobera (eds), The Asiatic Mode of Production: Science and Politics (London, 1980);Google Scholar
  2. M. Sawer, Marxism and the question of the Asiatic Mode of Production (The Hague, 1977);Google Scholar
  3. L. Krader, The Asiatic Mode of Production (Assen, 1975);Google Scholar
  4. U. Melotti, Marx i il Terzo Mondo (Milan, 1972) (English translation: Marx and the Third World, 1977) There are many others.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    For a briefdiscussion of this debate and its context see Siu-lun Wong, Sociology and Socialism in Contemporary China (London, 1979).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Helene Carrère d’Encausse and Stuart R. Schram, Marxism and Asia (London, 1969), p. 7.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    For a very good study of this interplay of Russian and Chinese attitudes see E. Stuart Kirby, Russian Studies of China (London, 1975).Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    For support for this see Bryan S. Turner, Marx and the End of Orientalism (London, 1978).Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Raymond Firth, ‘The Sceptical Anthropologist? Social Anthropology and Marxist Views on Society’, in Maurice Bloch (ed.), Marxist Analyses and Social Anthropology (London, 1975). He should read Wong (op. cit.) with some care and keep in mind that social investigation in a revolutionary situation does not have quite the same presuppositions and intentions as conventional anthropological researches.Google Scholar

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© John Clammer 1985

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  • John Clammer

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