A Historical Perspective on the Uniqueness of the Chinese Path

By: Yuan Jiuhong, Guo Guangyin, and Chen ShuoFrom:English Edition of Qiushi Journal October-December 2017|Vol.9,No.4,Issue No.33 | Updated: 2017-Nov-28 15:50
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The path of socialism with Chinese characteristics (hereafter the Chinese path) has been formed through the process of integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with the realities of China and the peculiarities of the current era. The Chinese path has not come about easily. It has emerged out of over 30 years of great endeavors in reform and opening up. It has emerged out of over 60 years of persistent inquiries since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It has emerged out of profound reflections on the over 170 years of experience gleaned during the development of the Chinese nation over the course of modern history. It has emerged out of impartations of more than 5,000 years of China’s cultural traditions. Its unique history, cultural traditions, and national conditions have destined China to adopt an approach to development suited to its own characteristics, and determined the unique nature of the Chinese path. This uniqueness is most evident when considered from a historical perspective.

Top: Farmers who pioneered the “household contract system,” whereby collective farmland is divided up on a per household basis, stand before the entrance of Xiaogang Village, Fengyang County, Anhui Province.

Bottom: Some of the pioneering farmers standing in front of a thatched cottage in the early stage of the “household contract system” (circa 1978). XINHUA

I. Over 30 years of reform and opening up: realizing the smooth integration of socialism and the market economy

Reform and opening up is a great revolution, and the CPC leads the Chinese people in its execution. In this great revolution, the most unique creation made by the CPC is that it has launched and deepened market-oriented economic reform under the precondition of upholding the basic principles of scientific socialism, thereby achieving the smooth integration of socialism and the market economy. Prior to reform and opening up, many people perceived the planned economy and the market economy in an ossified, one-sided manner: it is only under the capitalist system that the market economy can be developed, while the only economic model that embodies the nature of the socialist system is the planned economy. Since the initiation of reform and opening up, the CPC has continually deepened its understanding of the relationship between socialism and the market economy, first supplementing the planned economy with market forces, then implementing a planned commodity economy, and finally setting the goal of developing a socialist market economy.

The smooth integration of socialism and the market economy is a grand emancipation of the mind, as it has created ideas and theories that had not been discussed in Marxist political economy or other economics texts from China or abroad, and formed an economic system unprecedented in human history. This entirely novel creation that emerged out of the practice of China’s reform and opening up is the unique secret to China’s economic miracle, and fully embodies the uniqueness of the Chinese path.

Reform requires opening up, while opening up spurs reform. Pursuing development behind closed doors is doomed to failure. Only through opening up can China actively participate in economic globalization and draw on the fruits of advanced science and technology and managerial expertise of other countries. Meanwhile, opening up also spurs the deepening of reform. Practice has proven that the dual-engine model of growth driven by reform and opening up constitutes a unique mechanism for advancing socialism with Chinese characteristics and guarantees its sustained vitality.

Reform and opening up is an ongoing process, not a task to be completed. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, the CPC has upheld the principle of reform and opening up, pushed reforms with greater courage and wisdom, opened up wider to the outside world with greater determination and boldness, and strived to resolve a range of prominent problems facing China’s development, thereby bringing about a new wave of reform and opening up. At its Third Plenary Session in 2013, the 18th CPC Central Committee raised the idea of comprehensively deepening reform, within which economic reform remained the focus, and the central tenet was to allow the market to play a decisive role in resource allocation, and to better exert the role of the government. This idea elevates the role of the market in resource allocation from basic to decisive, while also better exerting the role of the government in maintaining macroeconomic stability, optimizing public services, strengthening market oversight, rectifying market failures, and spurring common prosperity. Thus, this idea marks another major innovation in China’s unique socialist theories and practices. Meanwhile, China’s opening up to the outside world has been elevated to a completely new level. The new principle of open development requires that internally- and externally-oriented opening up are mutually reinforcing, and that efforts in “bringing in” and “going global” are better integrated. In practice, by actively promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, founding the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and building pilot free trade zones, we are continually improving our institutional framework for an open economy, and opening our economy to a deeper level and across more domains. Not only does China actively participate in all aspects of economic globalization, but it is now entering a new phase of actively guiding economic globalization while participating in and improving global economic governance, thus contributing Chinese ideas and solutions to global governance.

II. Over 60 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China: independently exploring the path of developing socialism

By taking the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978 as a watershed moment, China’s socialist development since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 can be divided into two periods – the one before the launch of reform and opening up and the one after it. Being both distinct and inseparable, these two periods are in essence periods whereby the CPC led the Chinese people in instigating practical inquiries into socialist development. During the 30 years prior to reform and opening up, China established the basic socialist system and an independent and relatively complete industrial and economic framework, thus cultivating the important philosophical, material, and institutional conditions for opening up a Chinese path. It was precisely through a systematic summary of the experiences and lessons drawn from the 30-year development prior to reform and opening up that the CPC’s second generation of collective leadership, with Deng Xiaoping at the core, made the historic decision to shift the focus of the Party and country to economic development and initiate a policy of reform and opening up, thereby successfully launching the Chinese path.

The periods before and after the launch of reform and opening up possess innate continuity, and running through both of these periods is complete adherence to the principle of self-reliance. Self-reliance is a significant aspect of the living soul of Mao Zedong Thought, and an important principle upon which our Party and country are founded. After the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, China, due to its lack of experience in developing socialism locally, at first chose to learn from, and even duplicate, the Soviet model. In the wake of the continuous advance of economic and social development, however, the shortcomings of this model became increasingly evident. In April 1956, Mao Zedong delivered his speech entitled “On the Ten Major Relationships,” clarifying that the fundamental principle of building socialism is for a country to follow its own path in line with its own national conditions. Subsequently, the principle of self-reliance has been implemented in the fields of economics, politics, science and technology, diplomacy, and the military. After the launch of reform and opening up, and by drawing on the positive and negative experiences of China’s revolution and development, Deng Xiaoping clearly stated the necessity of following our own path and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics. Obviously, without the awareness roused from the principle of self-reliance, and without adherence to this principle, we would not have been able to open up or ensure increasingly promising prospects for the Chinese path.

The current CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core has continued to uphold and develop the principle of self-reliance. In this new historical epoch, the CPC endows self-reliance with new meaning and value of contemporary relevance: to uphold self-reliance, we must ensure that China’s affairs are decided and handled by the Chinese people themselves; we must be resolute in following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, neither going back down the rigid, closed-door path of the past, nor embarking down the erroneous path of changing our political direction; and we must be committed to an independent foreign policy of peace, and be resolute in following the path of peaceful development. Self-reliance is an anchor and stabilizer which ensures that reform and opening up always follows the correct path; however, it does not mean being complacent, conservative, or conceited. Instead, it means constant self-renewal by comprehensively deepening reform, and drawing on the fine experiences of other countries by opening up wider to the outside world.

III. Over 170 years since the dawn of modernity: tirelessly striving for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation

It was inevitable that, due to its over 170 years of experiences through the modern era, China would follow the socialist path and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics. This path is a crystallization of the tireless efforts of the Chinese people and the CPC in pursuit of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

For much of history, the Chinese nation was at the forefront of world civilizational development. Following entry into the modern era, however, China’s decadent feudal dynasty was rendered impotent before the gunboats of Western capitalist countries, and the country was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. Facing the threat of destruction, the Chinese people advanced wave upon wave in valiant resistance. To free themselves from the miserable plight of poverty, weakness, and being subject to the will of others, many social classes and strata attempted to carry out reformism, pragmatism, and other isms through self-improvement movements such as the Westernization Movement in the 1860s-90s and the Reform Movement of 1898, though they all proved unviable in the end. Finally, it was Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought that led the Chinese nation out of the dark night to achieve national independence, create a new China, and allow the Chinese people to march forward along the socialist path. Since the launch of reform and opening up, China has taken stock of its national conditions and contemporary needs in an active effort to explore and pave the way towards national rejuvenation, and successfully opened up the Chinese path, which has allowed the country to develop rapidly. The 170-plus years of development of the Chinese nation in modern times incontrovertibly proves that only socialism can save China and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can enable China to develop itself.

IV. Over 5000 years of the Chinese nation: forging and imparting the spirit of the Chinese civilization

The Chinese civilization embodies the unique spiritual symbol of the Chinese nation and the accumulation of its most profound spiritual pursuit. It nurtures the constant growth of the Chinese nation and provides fertile cultural soil in which socialism with Chinese characteristics takes root. The uniqueness of the Chinese path also lies in the fact that it has imparted China’s fine traditional culture to create a novel contemporary form of the Chinese civilization.

It is a fine tradition of the CPC to combine the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s realities and fine traditional culture with a high level of theoretical and cultural awareness. Generations of Chinese Communists have drawn wisdom and nourishment from China’s fine traditional culture in a continued effort to integrate Marxism with this culture.

Socialism with Chinese characteristics is in essence a contemporary continuation and development of the 5000-year-old Chinese civilization. China’s fine traditional culture, which was born of its 5000-year-old civilization, and its revolutionary and advanced socialist culture, which was born of the great struggles of the CPC and the Chinese people, have laid a profound foundation for boosting the Chinese people’s confidence in their national values and building an edifice of national spirit.

Yuan Jiuhong, Guo Guangyin, and Chen Shuo are members of the Southeastern University Base of the Jiangsu Research Center for the Theories of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.

(Originally appeared in People’s Daily, June 1, 2017)