The Reasons Why the CPC Has Been So Successful in Governance

—Interview with Professor Xie Chuntao, Deputy Director of the Department of Party History of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-12-29 15:02
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  The way that the international community views China and the CPC has been redefined by a series of definitive events that have taken place in China over recent years, including the unparalleled Beijing Olympics; the stunning Shanghai World Expo; China’s successful response to the devastating Sichuan Earthquake; and the fact that China has maintained rapid economic growth amidst the international financial crisis. These events have fueled widespread discussion on what have been dubbed the Chinese model, the Chinese path, and the Chinese experience. Some people have begun to ponder: Why has the CPC been able to make such glorious achievements in governance? How is the CPC, a political party that was founded 90 years ago, able to display such enormous life and vigor after more than 60 years in power? To mark the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, we ask Professor Xie Chuntao, the Deputy Director of the Department of Party History of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, to unravel these secrets for us.

  The Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee was held in Beijing from December 18 to 22, 1978. This was a meeting of extraordinary and far-reaching significance in the history of the Party, injecting inexhaustible fresh vitality into the Chinese nation. / Photo by Xinhua

  Upholding the truth, correcting mistakes, and standing alongside the Chinese people no matter what happens

  Reporter: A great deal has occurred in the 60 years that the CPC has governed China. Under the leadership of the CPC, there have not only been great successes, such as the socialist revolution, the socialist construction, and the reform and opening up drive, but also profound lessons, such as the setbacks that resulted from errors in policy-making. Despite this, however, the CPC has always maintained the support of the people. Could you tell us the reasons why?

  Xie Chuntao: I think this is mainly because the CPC, in its 60 years in power, has felt an obligation to stand alongside the Chinese people no matter what happens, and because its sense of responsibility has given it the courage to face up to its mistakes, and take action to correct them. This is how it has won the understanding and support of the people. There are four aspects that I would like to cover in detail.

  Firstly, the great achievements made by the CPC in leading China’s socialist revolution and socialist construction have filled the people with confidence about the future of China’s socialist cause under the leadership of the CPC. The second volume of The History of the Communist Party of China, compiled by the Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee, summarizes the great achievements and basic experiences of this period as follows: “the long-term division of the old China was finally put to an end, and a high degree of national unification was realized on the Chinese mainland; the people’s democratic dictatorship was established, putting the destiny of the Chinese people in their own hands; a socialist system was built, leading to the broadest and most profound social changes to occur in Chinese history; the great solidarity of all ethnic groups in China was realized and consolidated, significantly enhancing the cohesion of the Chinese nation; an independent and relatively complete national economic system and industrial system were initially built up, thereby changing the poor and backward face of the old China; a socialist culture was continuously developed, bringing about significant increases in the ideological and moral standards, scientific knowledge, and cultural attainment of the people; a solid national defense capacity was built up, and the development of the people’s armed forces was continuously promoted; China’s international status was raised significantly, allowing it to make major contributions to world peace and progress; the leadership of the Party was consolidated and strengthened on a continuous basis, and Party organizations became progressively strong. These decisive achievements had been unattainable for hundreds, even thousands, of years under the old China. They have fundamentally changed the destiny of the Chinese people, laid down solid foundations for the development and progress of contemporary China, and enabled this ancient country to stand aloft in the East with a brand new posture.”

  Secondly, the mistakes made by the CPC were generally the result of major deviations between what the Party intended to achieve and what actually occurred. Considering that the CPC set out to independently explore its own path of socialist construction after coming to power, the occurrence of errors such as the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution” points to a major breach between subjective thinking and objective reality, and a major deviation between what was intended and what actually occurred. Mao Zedong’s aim in launching the “Great Leap Forward” was to change the backward look of the country, and to rapidly turn China into a strong and powerful country that would catch up with and surpass developed countries. Likewise, in launching the “Cultural Revolution,” Mao Zedong’s subjective goal was to build an ideal new socialist society. The problem was that these objectives were divorced from reality, and the ways and means that were employed to obtain them were wrong.

  Thirdly, the socialist cause led by the CPC has always been able to maintain its strong vitality, even in times of difficulty. Upon conducting a thorough historical analysis of the process in which the CPC led the Chinese people in search of a path of socialist development, one must acknowledge the important achievements that China has made in its various programs of socialist development. According to figures published in The Seventy Years of the Communist Party of China, which was compiled by the Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee, more than two thirds of the medium and large scale projects in heavy industry launched during the period from the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 to 1964 were actually done during the “Great Leap Forward.” These projects put in place a basic framework of industry for the People’s Republic of China. Following a process of readjustment, consolidation, strengthening and improvement, significant results were brought about by these projects and the increases in production capacity that they allowed for. Of these achievements, the development of the oil industry and the research and development of cutting-edge technologies in the defense sector were particularly noteworthy. In light of this, the Resolution of the CPC Central Committee on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China contains the following summary in regard to the achievements that China made during the period from 1956 to 1966: a large portion of the material and technical foundations that we are relying on to modernize the country were built during this period. The bulk of our backbone force for the development of the economy and culture was trained during this period, and this was when they gained their experience. This was the dominant aspect of the work of the CPC during this period. Although the national economy sustained great losses during the “Cultural Revolution,” headway was still made thanks to the concerted efforts of both the public and cadres: grain production grew steadily; major achievements were made in industry, transportation, infrastructure, science, and technology; the construction of several challenging new railways was completed; a number of large enterprises employing advanced technologies were launched; and great successes were scored in the research and development of cutting-edge technologies such as nuclear technology, satellites, and rockets.

  Even more striking was that during the “Cultural Revolution,” Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, having realized that the situation had changed, instituted major changes in China’s foreign policy. On October 25, 1971, at its 26th Session, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution restoring the lawful rights of the People's Republic of China in the United Nations. In February 1972, US President Richard Nixon visited China. The visit included the signing of the Joint Communique of the People's Republic of China and the United States of America in Shanghai on February 28, which marked the beginning of normalization in the relations between the two countries. In September 1972, Sino-Japanese relations were normalized, and by the end of 1973, China had established diplomatic relations with nearly all Western European countries. The gradual increase in China’s exchanges with the outside world created the external conditions necessary for the launch of the reform and opening up drive in the late 1970s.

Lastly, the CPC has been able to face up to its mistakes. The CPC has made no effort to deny that serious errors were made during the search for the path ahead. On the contrary, it has openly and earnestly admitted to its mistakes, reflected on its mistakes, rectified its mistakes, and taken heed of its mistakes. In doing so, it has shown the demeanor of a great political party and a seasoned political party. Only by having the courage to face up to its mistakes and correct them will the Party be able to find the correct path ahead. Only by upholding the truth and being prepared to rectify its mistakes will the Party be able to win the support of the people, stand firm, and never falter.

  Responding to the needs of the times, the CPC has identified a path truly suited to China’s national conditions

  Reporter: On December 25, 1991 the red flag that had flown over the Kremlin for more than 70 years was quietly lowered, and with it, the world’s first socialist country, governed by a Communist Party, vanished from the political stage. Around this time, the socialist governments of Eastern Europe began to change their colors one after another. But in spite of this, China was able to ward off this wave of negation against socialism, continuing down its path of socialism with Chinese characteristics with even greater confidence and composure. What is, in your opinion, the fundamental reason behind the CPC’s success in governance?

  Xie Chuntao: Firstly, since coming into power, the CPC has always led the Chinese people in search for their own path of development. Though China’s first five-year plan was completed with the assistance of the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong was never content to simply copy the Soviet Union. In 1956, Mao Zedong made a speech at an enlarged session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee entitled On the Ten Major Relationships. In the speech, Mao Zedong clearly stated that China should develop socialism in a way that suited its own conditions.

  Since then, the CPC has never ceased its efforts to identify the path ahead. From the late 1950s to the 1980s, what had started as a honeymoon relationship between China and the Soviet Union deteriorated as the two increasingly went their own ways. But if we look at this from an alternative perspective, we might say that this was the result of China having seized the initiative to develop socialism independently. Naturally, there were setbacks during China’s search for a socialist path, such as the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution.” But even after these setbacks, the CPC remained at the helm of China’s efforts to identify the path ahead.      

  The convening of the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee in 1978 signaled the beginning of the Party’s efforts to embark down a new path. At the work meeting of the CPC Central Committee, which preceded the session, Deng Xiaoping remarked insightfully: “When everything has to be done by the book, when thinking turns rigid and blind faith is the fashion, it is impossible for a party or a nation to make progress. Its life will cease and that party or nation will perish.” Ten years later, Deng Xiaoping’s prediction was vindicated by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in Eastern Europe. In light of the domestic and international situations in the 1980s, the brand new proposition of “building socialism with Chinese characteristics” was introduced in the opening remarks of the Twelfth National Congress of the CPC. Deng Xiaoping stated that: “In carrying out our modernization program we must proceed from Chinese realities.” At a time when China’s reform and opening up drive was in full swing, the people were surging ahead, and the country was full of vigor, the notion of pursuing socialism with Chinese characteristics became the united will of the CPC and the government, and gained universal support among the public. In stark contrast to this, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and governments in Eastern Europe remained very much stuck in their rigid development models and outdated ways of thinking. Unable to find a way out, the result was ultimately their demise.

  Secondly, China’s destiny was changed by the reform and opening up drive. Having learned from the lessons of the past, the CPC decided to implement a policy of opening China’s doors to the outside, stepping out into the world, embracing new ideas, and engaging in reform and innovation. On the basis of this policy, the CPC led the Chinese people onto the path of reform and opening up.

  The enthusiasm of rural residents was unleashed following the implementation of a new system for the contracting of farmland to rural households. The Party came to a consensus on the reform of the rural economic structure, and the household responsibility contract system was rapidly adopted on a nationwide basis. Following the success of rural reforms, China began to focus its efforts on the reform of state-owned enterprises in the cities. Expanding on a series of initiatives to increase the decision making power of enterprises, promote a contract responsibility system, change the system of employment, and make factory directors assume overall responsibilities, China gradually pushed the reform of the country’s system of ownership onto center stage by experimenting with joint-stock reforms and launching trials for the reform of property rights. During this process, productive factors such as capital, technology, and knowledge were liberated, as were the enthusiasm and creativity of the surplus rural labor force and private entrepreneurs. The result was a major increase in productivity. China’s opening up began in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs). In the space of just a few years, what were once small towns in remote areas become sprawling modern cities. From Special Economic Zones and open coastal cities to border areas, river-side belts, and inland regions, China has succeeded in opening itself up in every direction, on multiple levels, and across wide domains. 

  People of insight inside and outside the CPC and around the world have acknowledged that the CPC, by adhering to the policy of reform and opening up, has promoted economic and social development in China and won the heartfelt support of the people. During the 1980s, everyone in China could feel the great changes brought about by the reform and opening up drive. The report to the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC contained the following summary: the only way we can develop socialism with Chinese characteristics and achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is through reform and opening up. Only socialism can save China, and only reform and opening up can develop China, develop socialism, and develop Marxism.

  Thirdly, reform, development and stability have been approached simultaneously. The CPC and the Chinese government have approached reform and development on a step-by-step basis. In 1987, at its Thirteenth National Congress, the CPC proposed a three-step strategy for China’s economic development: the first step was to double China’s GDP compared to that of 1980 and address the basic living needs of the Chinese people; the second step was to double China’s GDP again by the end of the 20th century and achieve a moderately prosperous standard of living; and the third step was to raise China’s GDP per capita to the level of a mid-range developed country, achieve a wealthy standard of living, and essentially attain the goal of modernization by the mid-21st century. In 1997, when the second step of this plan was accomplished three years ahead of schedule, the CPC further defined the objectives of the third step at the Fifteenth National Party Congress, putting forward three new steps for its attainment. It pointed out: “in the first decade of the next century, our goal is to double China’s GDP compared to that of the year 2000, achieve a higher standard of moderate prosperity, and develop a relatively sound socialist market economic system; after another decade of efforts, that is by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC (2021), we aim to achieve a more developed national economy and improve our various systems; and by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, which will be the middle of the next century (2049), we aim to have essentially realized modernization and to have built a rich, strong, democratic and culturally advanced socialist country.” In 2002, at the Sixteenth National Party Congress, the CPC scientifically analyzed the new conditions and new problems confronted by China, and gave further consideration to issues concerning China’s development strategy. On this basis, it advanced a series of important strategic ideas based around the concept of scientific development, such as the building of a harmonious socialist society. It also emphasized the importance of realizing that the level of moderate prosperity that China had achieved was basic, incomprehensive and imbalanced, and that China would need to work hard over a long period of time to consolidate and raise its standard of moderate prosperity. The meeting also stated that China would need to devote 20 years of efforts to the building of a moderately prosperous society of a higher level in an all-round way to the benefit of well over one billion people, and to achieving a more developed economy, sounder democracy, more advanced science and education, richer culture, a more harmonious society, and more substantial standards of living for the people. In 2007, in line with the new expectations of the public for higher standards of living, at the Seventeenth National Party Congress, the CPC extended the concept of a prosperous, powerful, democratic and culturally advanced socialist country to a prosperous, powerful, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious socialist country. It also put forward new requirements for achieving the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, which included enhancing the coordination of development, expanding socialist democracy, accelerating the development of social programs, and raising ecological awareness.

  This approach of dividing a large objective into several smaller objectives not only allows for the immediate needs of the people to be addressed, but also makes people highly optimistic about the future. China’s two strategic objectives, namely, to build a moderately prosperous society and to attain the level of a mid-range developed country, have struck a chord with the Chinese people, winning widespread approval. While the public showed their support for these two objectives, the CPC maintained a clear head, realizing that world peace and political stability and unity in China are necessary conditions for the attainment of these two objectives. Stability is essential for the success of reform and development; reforms are our source of impetus, development is our purpose, and stability is the precondition. Therefore, a balance must be held between these three things. Our experiences over the past 30 years have shown us that by emphasizing the balance between the strength of reform, the speed of development, and the capacity of society to adapt to reform and development, and thereby achieving reform and development amidst stability and maintaining stability amidst reform and development, we have been able to keep socialist China on the path ahead.

  Lastly, the CPC realized that managing the Party was the most important thing. In the wake of the drastic changes that took place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the CPC afforded a great deal of thought to the reasons for these changes, and how similar events could be avoided in China. In his famous speeches in South China, Deng Xiaoping, demonstrating the foresight of a politician and a strategist, pointed out: “Above all, we must keep the Party in line.”

  Throughout the course of the reform and opening up drive, the CPC has consistently treated the punishment and prevention of corruption as a matter pertaining to the fate of the Party and socialism. At the Seventeenth National Party Congress, the CPC identified the fight against corruption as one of the fundamental tasks of Party building, along with ideological, organizational, and institutional development and the improvement of work practices. Thereafter, the initiatives of the Party to improve work style, build clean government, and fight corruption have been developed on the basis of fine practices and innovated through the process of reform. In particular, major progress has been made in handling major corruption cases, digging out corrupt elements, improving institutions, strengthening the supervision of leading cadres, tackling commercial bribery, and rectifying unhealthy tendencies that damage the interests of the public.

  The communist parties of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were overly rigid in their adherence to dogmas, eventually losing the spirit of theoretical innovation required of a Marxist-Leninist political party. Drawing from this lesson, the CPC has made efforts to adapt to change and move forward with the times while promoting China’s reform and opening up. By engaging in theoretical innovation, the CPC has successfully developed the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics, which represents an expansion on Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. The report to the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC stated that reform and opening up constitute the most salient feature of the new period; rapid development represents the most remarkable achievement; and keeping up with the times is the most prominent hallmark. In fact, this remark unravels the secret of how the CPC has been able to lead a socialist China proudly on the path ahead.

  The CPC has led the Chinese people in creating an economic miracle

  Reporter: In the 30 years from 1978 to 2008, China’s GDP grew at an average rate of 9.8%. In 2009, China’s GDP per capita reached $3,000, and the country’s foreign exchange reserves became the world’s largest. In 2010, China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. What kind of “magic” has the CPC used to lead the Chinese people in creating an economic miracle of such proportions?

  Xie Chuntao: First of all, the CPC has stuck closely to the goal of economic development. The decision of the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee to identify economic development as China’s core task marked the beginning of a great upsurge in China’s economic development. Even when drastic changes were occurring in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Deng Xiaoping still stressed that development was the absolute principle. Thereafter, the CPC advanced the idea that development is the first priority of the Party in governing and rejuvenating the country, which was later followed by the Scientific Outlook on Development. So, we may say that development has always been at the core of the Party’s governance. At the Seventeenth National Congress, the CPC summarized the basic experiences of the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, believing that the only way to promote the healthy development of China was by adhering to this path.

  In October 2010, the CPC Central Committee deliberated and adopted the proposal on the Twelfth Five-Year Plan for national economic and social development. The proposal clearly stated that China must, over the next five years, respond to new changes in the international and domestic situations and address the expectations of the people of all ethnic groups for a better life by promoting scientific development, accelerating the transformation of the pattern of economic development, deepening reforms and opening up, ensuring and improving the livelihood of the people, consolidating and expanding on China’s success in coping with the international financial crisis, and promoting long-term, steady and rapid economic development as well as social harmony and stability, so as to lay down a decisive foundation for the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects. In fact, this has set the tone and the goals for the resolution of China’s problems and for the country’s initiatives in economic and social development over the next five years. The CPC Central Committee puts forward distinct proposals on plans for national development every five years, and this is an important reason for the steady and rapid development of the Chinese economy.

  Secondly, the CPC has liberated and expanded productive forces. The CPC, which has a fine tradition of seeking truth from facts, passed the Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Reform of the Economic Structure on October 20, 1984, which broke away from the traditional idea of setting the planned economy against the commodity economy. At the Fourteenth National Congress of the CPC, which was held in October 1992, the Party unequivocally stated that the purpose of China’s economic reforms was to establish a socialist market economy. In 1993, the words “the state has put into practice a socialist market economy” were written into the Constitution of the People's Republic of China.

  China’s market economy is closely bound to the basic economic system of socialism, and carried out within the socialist system. This is what makes the socialist market economy unique. When the international financial crisis was tearing its way around the world and the economies of many countries were buckling under its pressure, the superiorities of China’s socialist market economy had many countries uttering sighs of admiration.

  Thirdly, China has opened up its doors and embraced the world. China began to introduce foreign capital and technology with the establishment of the Special Economic Zones. The establishment of Special Economic Zones, open cities and open areas drove forward China’s exchanges with the rest of the world, and these areas subsequently became bases for the introduction of foreign capital. In turn, capital and technology absorbed by these areas began to stimulate development of western and inland parts of China. China became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001. In addition, at the Seventeenth National Party Congress, the CPC proposed a strategy of both “inviting in” and “going global,” thereby encouraging China to actively participate in international economic cooperation and competition. Both of these things have spurred on China’s economic development.

  Fourthly, the CPC has established science, technology and education as a foundation for China’s development. After returning to the political stage, Deng Xiaoping cried out that science and technology are a primary productive force, and that education is a fundamental task crucial for generations to come. The resumption of college entrance examinations in 1977 was a landmark event. In addition, measures such as instituting nine-year compulsory education and exempting tuition fees for students from poor backgrounds helped to rapidly increase the length of schooling of Chinese citizens. In 1995, the CPC Central Committee put forward the strategy of invigorating the country through science and education. Thereafter, the scale of higher education in China began to expand rapidly. In June 2010, the Chinese government promulgated the Outline of the National Plan for the Medium and Long-Term Reform and Development of Education (2010-2020), which outlines the development of education in China over the next decade. A large number of citizens boasting expertise in a variety of industries and professions have come together to form an endless supply of high-quality labor to underpin China’s economic and social development.

  The CPC has also attached a major emphasis to the development of science and technology. China has fostered large numbers of scientific and technological talent through initiatives to strengthen education. China has launched a series of major science and technology programs at the national level, such as the Spark Program, the Torch Program, and the March 1986 High-Tech Program. Scientific and technological accomplishments such as the Long March series of rockets, hybrid rice, and high performance computers have fueled the rapid emergence of a number of high-tech industries. A number of original innovations have been made in fields such as nanotechnology. China has come to acquire its own basic software, gradually challenging the monopolies of transnational companies. A series of scientific and technological achievements such as manned space flights, “Chinese Chips” and genome research have not only provided a strong foundation for China’s economic and social development and improvements to the livelihood of the people, but have also led to remarkable increases in China’s overall national strength and international competitiveness. In 2006, the CPC Central Committee clearly put forward the task of turning China into an innovative country. Thus, efforts to invigorate China through science and education have become an important factor underpinning China’s miraculous economic growth.

  Though the CPC has scored many successes in the past, it is still facing a number of challenges at the present, and will continue to be so in the future. Being fully aware of these challenges, the CPC has responded by taking institutional measures to enhance its capacity in governance. A bravely advancing CPC is leading the Chinese people in a pioneering effort to build a prosperous, powerful, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious new China. Once again, history will show the world that the CPC is, as always, capable of overcoming difficulties on the path ahead, surmounting all kinds of obstacles, and ultimately realizing the objectives that it has set.


(Originally appeared in Red Flag Manuscript, No.11, 2011)

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