We argue that the dialectic of utopia and dystopia enables an alternative, albeit controversial, way for framing debate over the tensions between socialism and capitalism in China. In doing so, we acknowledge but differ from alternative explanations: Socialism in China has simply become an empty veneer over rampant and unbridled capitalism; capitalism in China is of such a different variety that it is hardly capitalism at all; “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is a prolonged experiment in the New Economic Program. Theoretically, we draw upon Anatoly Lunacharsky, Ernst Bloch, and Fredric Jameson. A significant factor for understanding this dialectic is Bloch's idea of the synchronicity of nonsynchronicity. The next step analyzes the permutations of this dialectic in the Chinese situation of the tension between socialism and capitalism. We propose three formulations: the need for economic and political strength in the face of international forces, the use of capitalism to build socialism, and the fostering of the productive forces of capitalism to provide the basis for the full realization of communism. How these variations manifest the dialectic of utopia and dystopia is the burden of our final section, where we seek to move past simplistic oppositions.

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