Deep down, French public opinion is still anti-Chinese. For example, l’Aurore and Paris Match do not hesitate to play on ignorant and quasi-racist fears of the ‘yellow peril’. Consequently, the pro-Chinese sentiments which travellers and leftists have combined over the past few years to disseminate should be seen first and foremost as a great step forward. Thanks to these individuals, some progress has been made towards recognizing both the grandeur of Chinese civilization and the significance of the political experiment in which the People’s Republic of China is engaged. Unfortunately, though, the Paris intellectuals have painted a one-sided picture. Many of them have been induced by compelling (and very understandable) political preoccupations to pass beyond the necessary stage of anthropological generosity. The result has been that they have idealized People’s China and constructed Chinese ‘models’, trapped out with massive ideological superstructures. It is at this point that an intervention becomes imperative; right objectives cannot be realized if wrong models are used.

The Sinophilia rampant in France today follows the rout of French Maoism in 1970–71. Outstripped by their Trotskyist rivals and unable to choose between populist spontaneism and the theoreticism of small groups, the principal Maoist movements either merged into other currents of thought or returned to the fold of the neo-Stalinist micro-organizations. Maoism vanished as a political force. Normalization inside China and Peking’s new state diplomacy combined to destroy its coherence and reduce its attraction.

It was now that the travellers came into their own. The phase of dogmatic adherence gave way to that of utopian sympathy. The turningpoint was the appearance of Maria Antonietta Macciocchi’s book De la Chine in 1971.footnote1 An extremely well-disposed European political figure visits China. When she returns, on the basis of what she has been told and shown, she expatiates on how the ‘Chinese model’ (1970s version) fits the requirements of the revolutionary idea in Europe. The concern is no longer to expound the corpus of Maoist ‘theory’ (by now beyond comprehension), but to describe the model experiments it has given birth to in China. Meanwhile, a whole spectrum of opinions begins to unfold. Every organization on the left—right across to intelligent conservatives—sends its scouts; all come back with their own illusions. The Chinese model becomes the China of their models. One no longer has to be a Marxist-Leninist to be a Sinophile; every traveller is a potential utopian. Left-wing Christians get in on the act. At the same time, Sinophilia takes on emotive overtones which make the lucid exercise of intelligence all the more difficult. Of course, the reports from our travellers differ. Alberto Jacoviello talks in terms of class struggle, Father Cardonnel in terms of human brotherhood. In a likeable and also more serious book, K. S. Karol searches in Peking for the anti-Moscow.footnote2 But behind their differences, all these utopian accounts depend upon an ignorance and a myth that are equally necessary to them: an ignorance of the Chinese economy and a myth of Chinese politics. Flatly asserting the decisive character of the advances registered by the Chinese economy, they proceed as rapidly as possible to what their audience in the West is really interested in: the ‘different’ relations supposedly established in China between men and with nature (harmony of interests between the authority of the single party and ‘spontaneity of the masses’; restriction of social units to a human scale; voluntary balance between agriculture and industry).

A recent journey to the People’s Republic of China, and above all regular scrutiny of the Chinese press, leads us to quite contrary conclusions. In spite of exceptional advances, China is still far from a decisive economic take-off. Furthermore, its political régime has all the characteristics and faults of a post-Leninist authoritarian régime. Finally, the problems China poses to itself and the rest of the world are far more interesting and conducive to political reflection than all the false models we are offered.

No major up-to-date work on the Chinese economy exists today in France, only reportages and partial studies.footnote3 This is due primarily to the way in which the Chinese Tourist Agency organizes visits to China. Combining an almost contemptuous respect for its foreign guests with a systematic desire to show only pilot projects, it accommodates its gratified clientele in palaces and—at the expense of any balanced view—only permits them to see what is currently held to have exemplary value. Thus, in agriculture, the productive units which tourists visit along the Peking-Soochow or Wu-hsi-Shanghai-Canton ‘highways’ (plus maybe a trip into the interior: Shen-yang, Ta-chai, Lin-hsien or sometimes Wuhan) have a grain output which is generally four or five times greater than the Chinese average. This was the case in the district of Lin-hsien (Honan province) which we were able to visit: with a yield of 43 quintals of grain per cultivated hectare, it produces more than double the average for the province (itself quite well off). As for the production brigade we visited there, it was producing 70·5 quintals per hectare!

This, however, is not the real reason for our ignorance with respect to the Chinese economy. If the Chinese guides do not do their job properly (or rather, do it too well), that does not mean the visitors cannot do theirs. They can put precise questions, ask for figures, compare them and reflect on them. For instance, those who go to the district of Lin-hsien have the right to demand and the duty to compare at least two sets of figures: one giving the increase in cereal output since the Liberation, which has been spectacular (from 11 to 43 quintals per cultivated hectare); the other giving the increase in population, which has been considerable (from more than 300,000 inhabitants to more than 700,000). Since there has been little increase in the area of land under cultivation, and other improvements have been marginal, one is led as a first approximation to fairly qualified conclusions: striking progress has been made, but this has been limited by demographic growth. Hence, when all is said and done, this progress is not yet decisive; moreover, lack of chemical fertilizers and machines could cause it to level out. This is the balance-sheet in a model district. The truth is that visitors do not in general seek out the significant statistics and relationships. The truth is that, missionaries as they are from countries where the problems of food supply and development are considered solved, they are satisfied with the scraps of economic information they are given because at bottom they are not really interested in the Chinese economy.

Our aim here is not to deny but to seek to measure the undeniable successes achieved by the Chinese Communist régime. From the very beginning it was able to impose on a highly diverse population an indispensable work discipline. In the early sixties, after some hesitations and costly mistakes, it succeeded in adopting an economic strategy adapted to the needs and possibilities of the country. Having initially concentrated their efforts (and the indispensable aid from the Soviet Union) on a limited number of zones and industrial sectors, the Chinese now have their sights set on an independent and all-round development. Following the principle of ‘independence and autonomy’ and taking ‘agriculture as the base and industry as the dominant factor’, i.e. basing themselves on the agricultural reality of the country, they aim to draw progressively from the achievements in agriculture the means required for an autonomous and appropriate industrialization. In practice, the development of the countryside remains the economic priority of the régime. This means agricultural development, of course, but also the installation of small factories and infrastructural facilities which in return will foster a further growth in yields. Simultaneously, at rhythms which are in principle compatible, the existing industrial base has to be developed and a new one created.