During the 70s China decided to go for economic development and industrialization. The eventual goal was to become an economic superpower. On the other hand, Russia continued to behave like a massive gas station and a military bully.

40 years later, we see that China has become the world's manufacturing hub, and has become a strong competitor to Western supremacy in the areas of science and technology. On the other hand, Russia seems to be an isolated country with a shrinking economy and a declining population.

Why have China and Russia gone down different paths?

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    Is this a question or some blatant propaganda?
    – RedSonja
    Jul 14, 2020 at 10:05
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    Russia a military bully? That's funny. "Western supremacy". Yeah, damn any country that asserts their rights against the west. Such bullies. Jul 17, 2020 at 13:50
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    @dan-klasson, Russia a military bully? That's funny. "Western supremacy" --- how do you explain the invasion of Ukraine and Georgia?
    – user366312
    Jul 20, 2020 at 6:14
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    @user366312 Ukraine was never invaded. Crimea has been part of Russia longer than Texas has been a part of the U.S. It was only given to Ukraine by the Communist Soviet Union. The U.N charter specifically states that people have the right to self-determination. The U.S enforced that right in Kosovo, so why should Crimea be any different? Georgia invaded South Ossetia. They were punished by Russia for it. Russia hasn't invaded a single country since the fall of the Soviet Union. Can't say the same for the U.S. Jul 30, 2020 at 14:29

3 Answers 3


70s China, under Mao, "economic development and industrialization" was a massive failure. Not until Deng Xiaoping did China start to take off and then only by relaxing Communist ideology and embracing some level of free enterprise: ""it doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it is a good cat." That's in 1980, not 70s.

Asides from the benefits it derives from its market size China probably succeeds largely because of cultural reasons: it's a culture that values education and money. Look at the long tradition of civil servant merit-based exams. Look at how dominant Chinese traders are in many nearby Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore. It also helped that the initial reaction of Western countries was positive engagement, lured by both the market's size and desire to counterbalance the USSR.

And, yes, not having a big tradition of military spending probably helped channel resources to more productive purposes. Even that needs qualifying: under Mao, the pursuit of the A-bomb dominated all - people were starving while Mao was trading grain for Soviet atomic know-how.

Russia on the other hand never capitalized on the skills of its people after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Privatization was shambolic and went to the well-connected. This happened in other parts of Eastern Europe as well, but Russia never properly developed the rule of law and the oligarchs and Putin clique were able to keep all their gains away from public scrutiny. And, yes, they did play the oil-resources and military card, because that's the only thing their current leadership knows how to do, along with rigging elections and skimming wealth off. Note that Putin isn't all bad: at least the corruption is centrally managed rather than entirely chaotic. That's why, along with captive media, people do still somewhat support him - what came before wasn't so hot either.

China is successful despite the CCP, not because of it. Until Xi, their CCP was looking like a government the world could live with. Nowadays that is becoming less and less clear and the traditional (non-Mao) Chinese aversion to foreign military adventures or political coercion doesn't seem to be a given anymore.

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    Culturally, not only that. By the Gorbachev's time, there was no living generation in the USSR who knew anything about private enterprises (perhaps with the exception of the territories acquired in 1939). When Gorbachev allowed individual commercial activity in 1986, nothing much happened. Whereas in China 1978, there was still a massive generation who used to live off their labour.
    – Zeus
    Jul 15, 2020 at 6:30
  • China made a good lesson from USSR fall - and evade this chaos. Jul 17, 2020 at 13:37
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    Putin rigging elections. Who needs citations or proof? Fits my political bias, so I'm just gonna upvote. Putin doesn't need to rig elections. Do you know what the biggest opposition party in Russia is? It's the Communist party. The second largest is a far-right party. Sometimes you just have to be happy with having the least bad option. Because sometimes the alternative is worse. Jul 17, 2020 at 13:54
  • Far-right party? It's interesting - never heard about it. What's it name? Jul 17, 2020 at 13:56
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    Of course, I know history pretty well - you mentione Kiev foundation by Ascold and Dir. Glad to see you here. Of course, it is obvious, but you have to make an effort to "dispell" it - which most people lack. Jul 17, 2020 at 14:27

An important point I think is each of those countries early transitions phases did not happen simultaneously which allowed Deng Xiaoping's led CCP to learn from the USSR's mistake throughout the years.

To add to previous answers, an important bit on the sociological front was discussed in the new book from Jude Blanchette, China's New Red Guard. The Russian CPSU early on accepted and even participated in the critic of past leaders, namely Stalin and Lenin, to different extent. This really erased the remainder of legitimacy that the party had and was felt in the popular support.

Chinese CCP under Deng Xiaoping, and really up until Xi Jinping has been struggling with the balance of how it would repudiate the economic philosophies of Mao, while keeping the CCP record more or less intact, hence retaining legitimacy of power during the economic transition. What few realize is no CCP leaders since Mao were far left revolutionary as they claim to be, both economically and socially, and the the leftist fringe of political power in China (coined neo-maoists) had been keeping the CCP in check since Deng, who was a master at navigating between reformists and hard-liners in the 1980's. Xi's arrival changed that as he sided more strongly with neo-maoist desire to keep Mao's legacy critics-free. Xi's sees it as a way to strengthen his legitimacy and unite both side of the Chinese political spectrum.

Without Putin's foreign policy blunders (and the fact that he's redifining 21st century dictatorship), Russia could be in a great shape right now, given the relative free-although-highly-corrupted-and-extractive market policy of the past years and its natural resources. Only difference is that it was not technically done under a "The Party". The only difference in China is that what I mentioned allowed the CCP to retain legitimacy and stay in power, while reforming the economy to a free-er market and claim credit for it.

TLDR; China learned from the USSR's mistake, had better control over its history narrative, was somehow lucky, and had a big enough market & cheap import to have foreign power ignore it long enough to become a major power.

Last thing is we also need to remember that for the past few decades, China doesn't have the USSR to lookup to in order to adjust and therefore all they do can be considered "pioneering", although it sounds a bit weird in that case.

  • "Without Putin's foreign policy blunders" - that is strange point. "Relative free-although-highly-corrupted" - that was in 90th, country was at the end. Now, happily, times of "relative free" are gone, as a bad dream. Jul 17, 2020 at 14:08
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    Initially wrote 'aggrssiveness' instead of blunders; refering to Georgie, Ukraine, Lybia, Syria. As for relatively-free, I meant the markets, not the country
    – J.C
    Jul 17, 2020 at 14:10
  • That is not agressiveness, that is independent foreign politics. Look at the US/Turkey/China/and so on. I DO meant markets. And that were REALLY dark times. I think when those old bastard, Gorbachev would die, there would be national celebration.. Jul 17, 2020 at 14:13
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    I think we can agree this independent foreign policy is pretty agressive (just like the US's and China's and others are). If you are arguing it was worse back then, I don't think I would disagree
    – J.C
    Jul 17, 2020 at 14:14
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    "Leave the bully" - Hitler was also "left alone", and what we've all gain? Jul 17, 2020 at 14:25

Both China and Russia have gone through a period where ideology overruled the practical necessities in politics, and in both cases the consequences were sub-optimal, shall we say. The difference was in the way they transitioned that state of affairs - in Russia, Gorbachev tried to do the right things, but lost grip of the situation, and they tried to introduce "free" markets and US-style democracy overnight, which went horribly wrong for all kinds of reasons; not least because successful democracy is something that requires a culture of fair-play, where all parties a re willing to accept defeat gracefully, and that is something that takes time to develop. The result has been massive differences in wealth distribution, abject misery for large parts of society and the development of extremism and other organised crime.

China, on the other hand, never had this sort of political collapse. They have been very restrained and circumspect in the way they have opened up and liberalised, investing in education, infrastructure and fighting corruption.

To conclude, in contrast to the answer by the guy who keeps changing his name to something to do with Monica (whatever that is about), I think China's success has a lot to do with the Chinese Communist Party, who have understood that ideology is something you strive for - a guideline, not a religion. Things have to work in the real world first and foremost. Marx himself recognised this too; he wasn't against capitalism as such, only the unscrupulous exploitation of the working classes, who has next to no way of defending themselves.

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    in contrast to the answer by the guy who keeps changing his name to something to do with Monica (whatever that is about) Why is my user name, which I have only changed once, any of your business? Or, are you just annoyed at my lack of enthusiasm for a messianic political theory, that while superficially attractive, has not only limited itself to intrinsic failures at economic management, but also has taken away people's right to choose their government and, for good measures, has at times killed millions of its citizens (under Mao)? A leader to whom Xi claims direct descendence. Jul 13, 2020 at 20:42
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    The reason CCP is not failing at developing China is that the Communism bit got dropped a while ago, and it's just totalitarian capitalism now. Jul 13, 2020 at 20:44
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica You name, whether it changes or not, doesn't bother me - I'm vaguely curious what it is about, that's all. You seem to have a problem with the idea that socialism/communism as political ideas can evolve and change with the times - I suppose it is better not to speculate why. But there is nothing particularly messianic about it - it is just an opinion about how best to organise society; the purpose is not to opress, but to produce a genuinely free, fair and balanced society - the efforts of Stalin and other dictators can't really be taken as representative.
    – j4nd3r53n
    Jul 14, 2020 at 7:21
  • Then why mention my name? "it is better not to speculate why". Glad you asked. Great Leap Forward 70M dead, Gulags 20M, Pol Pot 2M, Ukraine 1932 Famine 3M. I'm an outcome person, not a label person. Kerala, in India, w a Communist govt, is doing pretty well for its people esp wrt covid. I wouldn't rag on them for being Communist. And I dislike obtuse people who insist Socialism==Communism. But CCP is messianic: if you dont like them you go to jail (1M Uighur) and you have no right to demand alternative govt. Xi refers to Mao as a guide. Does that answer your "speculation"? Jul 14, 2020 at 18:25
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, why 70M? Why not trillions or more? And 100 trillions "gulaged". About "messianic" - please give a mirror to some part of the US establishment - they would definitely see this word on their jackets. And they do not treat this as bad - just listen to Obama's "exceptional nation". So, that's definitely not an argument Jul 17, 2020 at 13:33

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