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Market Maoists

Market Maoists

The Communist Origins of China’s Capitalist Ascent

Jason M. Kelly

ISBN 9780674986497

Publication date: 05/11/2021

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Long before Deng Xiaoping’s market-based reforms, commercial relationships bound the Chinese Communist Party to international capitalism and left lasting marks on China’s trade and diplomacy.

China today seems caught in a contradiction: a capitalist state led by a Communist party. But as Market Maoists shows, this seeming paradox is nothing new. Since the 1930s, before the Chinese Communist Party came to power, Communist traders and diplomats have sought deals with capitalists in an effort to fuel political transformation and the restoration of Chinese power. For as long as there have been Communists in China, they have been reconciling revolutionary aspirations at home with market realities abroad.

Jason Kelly unearths this hidden history of global commerce, finding that even Mao Zedong saw no fundamental conflict between trading with capitalists and chasing revolution. China’s ties to capitalism transformed under Mao but were never broken. And it was not just goods and currencies that changed hands. Sustained contact with foreign capitalists shaped the Chinese nation under Communism and left deep impressions on foreign policy. Deals demanded mutual intelligibility and cooperation. As a result, international transactions facilitated the exchange of ideas, habits, and beliefs, leaving subtle but lasting effects on the values and attitudes of individuals and institutions.

Drawing from official and commercial archives around the world, including newly available internal Chinese Communist Party documents, Market Maoists recasts our understanding of China’s relationship with global capitalism, revealing how these early accommodations laid the groundwork for China’s embrace of capitalism in the 1980s and after.


  • A sober, detailed account of the way modern China came to see that global trade could be a way to ‘fortify socialism…rather than degrade it.’…Kelly conveys what a highwire act it must have been to conduct business on Mao’s watch.

    —Tim Sifert, Asian Review of Books


  • Jason M. Kelly is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Cardiff University and Nonresident Associate in Research at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. He was previously a Foreign Service Officer at the US Embassy in Beijing.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press