In the first post of this series, I defined fascism as:
a political system distinguished by an emphasis on patriarchal, rural values; corporatist economic policy; extreme nationalism and patriotism, often involving extreme xenophobia and/or racism; and militant authoritarianism in both domestic and foreign affairs.
in order to demonstrate how China under the Ming Dynasty can be considered the world’s first fascist state. In the second post, I discussed patriarchy and rural values in Ming China and the fascist European states of the twentieth century. In this post, I will discuss the economic similarities between Ming China and said fascist states.
Because the economics of the fascist states of twentieth century Europe often varied in key ways from one another, it is hard to find a perfect way to describe a specific economic system as “fascist.” For this reason, the similarities between these countries and Ming China are not so obvious and must be understood in their respective historical contexts.
By defining fascist economics as “corporate,” that is to say that they benefit primarily those in power at the expense of those with less while at the same time not being truly capitalistic. This was the case with both Ming China and fascist European nations. In the case of the latter, a Social Darwinist approach to economics emerged in which wealthy businessmen were promoted while undermining working-class institutions. Although Ming China’s policies, at least early on, rejected such a view, its economy did increasingly liberalize over time in ways that are in some ways similar to, but cannot truly be compared to, capitalism. Because of some of the similarities in social Darwinist and capitalist thought, it is interesting to compare fascism’s “third way” rejection of free-market capitalism and Marxism to that of Ming China’s non-capitalist liberalism.
Ming China’s caste system also enabled a common practice that ensured that the wealthy would continue to benefit at the expense of those with less economic clout. Although merchants were the lowest caste in Ming society, their profession nonetheless enabled them to amass great amounts of wealth. The highest caste were the scholar bureaucrats who helped govern China, also known as “shi.” Members of the shi caste obtained their rank by passing an intensive exam on Confucian philosophy that any Chinese subject could take. However, caste and class did not always go hand-in-hand in Ming China. Because of this, merchants and shi would often partner with each other. For the shi, it was to learn the art of running a business from merchants in order to achieve wealth. For merchants, they wanted the shi to tutor them for the Confucian exams in order to help them improve their rank in Chinese society and achieve greater power and prestige. In this way, the wealthiest segments of Ming China would remain the most powerful at the expense of the other, less affluent, castes.