“Fascism” is of course a widely misused term, with even academic definitions sometimes getting too vague to make sense. However, as for the definition of “fascism”, I will primarily refer to the works of the late Zeev Sternhill Beside Roger Griffin In addition to trying to identify the common features that were common to the “fascist” states and political movements in the 1930s and 1940s.
Obviously the first example should be Italy, where the model originated alongside Germany which served as the second model. Just reactionary regimes like Spain under Franco or the military junta in Latin America during the Cold War would be excluded from this.
Now let’s define the pillars of “fascism”:
A form of state-led market economy. Mussolini calls “corporatism,” generally a system in which the market is formally governed by the state not only in theory but also in practice. Heavy interventions and regimes, as well as the subordination of economic interests to the interests of the state and the political leaders responsible for it.
A totalitarian state with a monitoring and control apparatus that monitors and controls the entire flow of information to the general public.
Revolutionary nationalism with a “national renaissance” narrative. Griffin calls it “old fanatic nationalism” and usually manifests itself in militaristic mass movements led by charismatic leaders who herald the glorious rebirth of the nation. Basically a propaganda novel, but it still represents the ideological core found in all “fascist” countries and movements.
From the foregoing we can see that the concept of the “macro-state”, the state which completely dominates the economy (without abolishing the market) and society as a whole is half of the fascist currency. The other half is arguably revolutionary nationalism with the rebirth narrative at the center.
Now it can be said that China is passing the requirement to be a totalitarian and unitary country. The state is the absolute ruler of the economy and society. The CCP has the final say on all matters and indeed exercises this formal right all the time. The state also fully monitors, controls and monitors the flow of information in the public domain.
The only characteristic, then, that China does not fully possess is Griffin’s “intolerant nationalism”. But this in the end has primarily propaganda value, and today’s China clearly shows a high level of Han ethnic nationalism. This manifests itself in many forms such as the ongoing attempt to forcibly Chineseize the Uyghurs on Chinese leaders, the frequent use of the “century of humiliation” in propaganda and promises of national rejuvenation of the population.
From the above, I clearly argue that the “Chinese model” is now very similar to the Italian Fascist model. Now to pre-empt counterarguments about militarism and the imperialist ambitions of the axis that China seems to lack, I would argue that these two features are less “fascist” and a more general feature of the international system and the great powers of the time Mussolini and Hitler’s movements seized power. Germany and Italy as it is known, were late in the game of colonialism and failed miserably to create geographically huge states such as Britain, France, the United States or Russia (which later became the Soviet Union). This general climate of seeing land and resources of continental size necessary to be globally competitive was the decisive reason for Italian and German expansion.
China today is in a somewhat different geopolitical situation, with opponents with whom they have different relations. There is no equivalent to the Red Terror in China and the USSR in the East that radicalized the European political right. The United States today is the main threat to China, and is not seen as an existential threat as the German elite used to view the Bolshevik state. China today is also a regional and demographic giant in a way that Germany and Italy never were when compared to the United States, the Soviet Union, or the British Empire, and this certainly calms the mindset of the Chinese elite. It is also surrounded on all sides by states too powerful to be easy prey (Russia and India) or likely to be defended by the United States, a decidedly superior military power. Hence it can be argued that under these circumstances, the Chinese ruling elite decided to build strength gradually and move forward rather than trying to gamble “all or nothing” as Hitler did.