The Formation of a Theoretical Framework for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-08-20 15:49
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Socialism with Chinese characteristics represents the point at which the theoretical logic of scientific socialism and the historical logic of China’s social development come together in dialectical unity. Each of the theories that make up the theoretical framework of socialism with Chinese characteristics has been established and developed through a process of advancing with the times in order to overcome contemporary challenges.

I. The historical logic behind the development of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics 

Every step in the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics can be distinctly identified as a step forward with the times, and as a logical outcome of the history of social development in contemporary China.

Prior to the founding of the New China, Chinese Communists, with Mao Zedong at their core, rallied people from all of China’s ethnic groups together as one, leading them towards victory in the new-democratic revolution and establishing Mao Zedong Thought in the process. With the founding of the People’s Republic and the completion of the socialist transformation, the CPC set out in search of China’s own approach to the development of socialism. This search proved to be highly fruitful: the major political systems that were established for the New China—the system of people’s congresses, the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC, and the system of regional ethnic autonomy—were in fact all distinctly Chinese in character. The explorations made by Mao Zedong and other Party leaders were an important source of theory for the later establishment of socialism with Chinese characteristics. After the year 1957, however, these explorations deviated off course, and for a certain period of time the entire country moved in the wrong direction. Nevertheless, the setbacks that occurred during the process of our explorations came as a sobering lesson to both the Party and the Chinese people, providing us with a great deal to reflect on. Therefore, the explorations of this period can actually be seen as a lead-up to and a foundation of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

In 1978, the convening of the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC marked a historic turning point in the history of the Party and the country, ushering in a new period of reform and opening up, and socialist modernization. Seeking to move forwards with the times, Chinese Communists, with Deng Xiaoping at their core, drew profound lessons from both the positive and negative experiences of the past. They proceeded to shift the focus of the Party’s work to economic development, initiated reform and opening up, laid down the Party’s basic line for the primary stage of socialism, and formed an entire set of new lines, principles, and policies during the course of practice. In 1982, when the reform and opening up drive was in full swing, Deng Xiaoping made the historic statement that we must “blaze a path of our own, and build a socialism with Chinese characteristics” during his opening address at the Twelfth National Congress of the CPC. In 1987, the concept of the theory on building socialism with Chinese characteristics was introduced for the very first time at the Thirteenth National Congress of the CPC. During his tour of south China in 1992, Deng Xiaoping gave a methodical account of his ideas on the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics. At the Fourteenth National Congress of the CPC, the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics was given a detailed breakdown, which helped to establish this theory as a guiding principle of the Party. At the Fifteenth National Congress of the CPC in 1997, the term “Deng Xiaoping Theory” was officially used for the first time, clearly established as a guiding principle of the CPC, and written into the Party Constitution. Therefore, the emergence of socialism with Chinese characteristics may be seen as a logical outcome of our grand endeavors to carry out reform and opening up.

The first photo, taken on May 23, 1979, shows what Shenzhen’s Shekou Old Street looked like before the development took place; the second photo, taken on October 10, 2008, shows the high-rise cityscape of Shenzhen’s Shekou Industrial Zone as it appears today. Innovation in theory pushes forward advances in practice; while breakthroughs in practice give birth to new innovations in theory. From practice to knowledge; from knowledge to new practice; and from new practice to new knowledge, socialism with Chinese characteristics is developing constantly as it breaks through the boundaries of old ideas and old mechanisms. / Xinhua (Archive photo)

Following the Fourth Plenary Session of the Thirteenth Central Committee of the CPC, Chinese Communists, with Jiang Zemin at their core, moved forwards with the times and devoted themselves to safeguarding socialism with Chinese characteristics against a backdrop of complex and challenging situations domestically and internationally. In line with new initiatives, they identified the basic program and experiences of the Party, initiated a new phase of all-out reform and opening up, and pressed ahead with the great new undertaking of Party building, thereby taking socialism with Chinese characteristics into the 21st century. Calling on the Party to move forwards with the times, Jiang Zemin proposed the important thought of Three Represents on the basis of new advances in both theory and practice. The introduction of these closely-integrated ideas, viewpoints, and statements helped to deepen our understanding of the objective laws governing the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In 2002, the important thought of Three Represents was identified as a guiding principle of the CPC at its Sixteenth National Congress. In essence, this represented the continuation, the renewal, and the expansion of Deng Xiaoping Theory.

Following the turn of the century, Chinese Communists, with Hu Jintao as the main representative, continued to move forward with the times by seizing on an important period of strategic opportunity. Working to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, they promoted the adoption of new practices, new theories, and new systems, established and thoroughly applied the Scientific Outlook on Development, and maintained an unswerving commitment to pushing China’s reform and opening up forwards. In their efforts they pursued scientific development, promoted social harmony, accelerated the formation of an ecological culture, strived to provide stronger welfare guarantees and improve public wellbeing, advanced social fairness and justice, promoted the building of a harmonious world, and strengthened the Party’s ability to govern whilst further asserting its advanced nature. In doing so, they were able to uphold the principles of socialism with Chinese characteristics and build upon what had already been achieved. In 2007, the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC appraised the Scientific Outlook on Development. By incorporating major achievements in the adaptation of Marxism to suit China’s conditions since the launch of the reform and opening up drive—Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents and major strategies such as the Scientific Outlook on Development, the Party outlined an interlinking framework of theories comprising socialism with Chinese characteristics. In 2012, the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC formally identified the Scientific Outlook on Development as a guiding principle of the Party. In addition, eight basic requirements for the building of socialism with Chinese characteristics were set forth at the congress, which constituted a more systematic exposition into socialism with Chinese characteristics. With this, the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics have further demonstrated the development logic of progression and expansion.  

As demonstrated by fact, it was the CPC’s spirit of moving forward with the times that allowed it to identify the building of socialism with Chinese characteristics as the way forward and the historic task of the Party as it engaged in reform and opening up. Moreover, it has been this spirit of moving forward with the times that has allowed the Party to set forth a series of major theoretical viewpoints with regard to our ideological line, development path, stage of development, development strategies, fundamental tasks, impetus for development, supporting foundation, international strategy, leadership, and fundamental purpose. The result has been the formation and continued development of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics, which consist of Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, and the Scientific Outlook on Development.

II. The theoretical logic among the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics

During its efforts to establish and develop the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the CPC has not only adhered to the basic tenets of Marxism, but has also found ways of addressing a series of majorly important issues in light of China’s realities. In doing so, it has gained a much broader understanding of the objective laws pertaining to the governance of the CPC, the building of socialism, and the development of human society, and fully demonstrated the ability to keep its theories up to date with the times. 

Whose path should we follow? Who determines the path that we follow? The use of the word “Chinese” in socialism with Chinese characterizes finds its basis in the long-term consideration that the Party afforded to a question of great importance: In pursuing revolution, development and reform in a large developing country such as China, should we follow our own path, or should we follow the path of others? Answering this question is a prerequisite for the development of our theoretical logic. After the founding of the CPC, for a long period of time the Party was confronted with the challenge of how to handle the relationship with the Communist International, with the Soviet Union, and with the political parties of other countries. At the same time, we faced the question of how the relationships that existed between the Chinese revolution and the world revolution, between the Chinese path and the Soviet path, and between the Chinese model and other models were to be handled. After a tortuous process of exploration, the CPC came to realize the importance of independence and autonomy. It realized that the principles and policies of a country’s revolution and development had to be decided by that country’s governing party in accordance with that country’s reality, without the interference or direction of a foreign party. For this reason, Mao Zedong introduced the principle of integrating Marxism with the realities of China, and also established independence, autonomy, and self-reliance as principles for the development of socialism. In 1982, Deng Xiaoping solemnly declared that the prerequisite for building socialism with Chinese characteristics was to “blaze a path of our own.” Despite the numerous changes to have taken place outside of China during our efforts to develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, we have always adhered to the principle of independence and autonomy, kept unswervingly to our own path, and refused to submit to any foreign pressure or copy any foreign model. The report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC solemnly reiterated that we will not only refrain from reverting to the rigid, closed-door policy of the past, but also reject any attempt to take China onto the erroneous path of abandoning socialism. As fact has demonstrated, only with the prerequisite of a path to follow can the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics be established and endowed with genuine Chinese characteristics.

Does China need to carry out reform? If so, how should reform be promoted? Our grand endeavors in reform and opening up constitute the logical foundation on which the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics are based. The reform and opening up drive has had a decisive bearing on China’s destiny. The historic decision to implement reform and opening up, which was made at the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC, reinvigorated socialism in China, providing it with new hope. Traditional views held that the socialist system was flawless, not in need of even the slightest of changes. However, by making the distinction between the system of government and the institutions built on the basis of that system, the CPC was able to identify the theoretical basis for reform. According to Deng Xiaoping, after the basic socialist system had been established, it was necessary to make fundamental changes to an economic institution that hampered the development of productive forces. He said that reform was China’s second revolution, and a process by which socialism would improve itself. These remarks provided us with guidance in our approach to reform. Following the Fourth Plenary Session of the Thirteenth Central Committee of the CPC, the Party’s third generation of central collective leadership, with Jiang Zemin at its core, went a step further by defining the establishment of a socialist market economy as the target of China’s reforms, and laid out a basic framework for the realization of that goal. This marked the expansion of China’s reform and opening up drive in both scale and depth. After the Sixteenth National Congress of the CPC, the Central Committee of the CPC, with Hu Jintao as its General Secretary, made further refinements to China’s socialist market economy and pressed ahead with reform during the course of efforts to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

What is socialism? What kind of socialism are we trying to build? This is the underlying question of our theoretical logic, and the core aspect of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Why did so many setbacks and missteps occur prior to the reform and opening up drive? And why, after the launch of reform and opening up, did we experience so much confusion and uncertainty? An important reason is that we were not totally clear on the fundamental questions of “What is socialism?” and “What kind of socialism are we trying to build?” Therefore, when Deng Xiaoping set out to restore order from chaos and carry out reform and opening up, he placed the questions “What is socialism?” and “What kind of socialism are we trying to build?” squarely in front of the Party. By doing so, he urged Party members and the general public to deepen their understanding of socialism, and made it clear that the only socialism for China was socialism with Chinese characteristics. Accordingly, the Party made efforts to free the mind and to seek truth from facts. It took stock of the practical experiences that had been gained through reform and opening up, expounded on a series of important issues with regard to building, consolidating, and developing socialism in China, and succeeded in establishing a theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The most distinctive feature and outstanding contribution of the important thought of Three Represents was to use a series of closely-integrated ideas, viewpoints, and statements to further answer the questions “What is socialism?” and “How do we build it?” and to provide a creative answer to the question “What kind of Party should we build, and how should we go about building it against the background of the Party’s long-term governance?” After the Sixteenth National Congress of the CPC, the Central Committee of the CPC, with Hu Jintao as its General Secretary, introduced the Scientific Outlook on Development, and proceeded to set forth a series of major important viewpoints. These viewpoints, which included the idea that social harmony is an inherent attribute of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the idea that achieving social fairness and justice is a major task of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and the idea of developing core socialist values, helped to deepen our understanding of what socialism is and how we must go about building it. For this reason, they have added greater depth to the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

What must be done to promote the rational development of socialism with Chinese characteristics? A keyword found in the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics is development. The Party’s understanding of issues pertaining to development has evolved as the times have progressed. Reflecting on the lessons of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping emphasized that liberating and developing productive forces was the number one priority, the central task, and an effort that had to be kept up. Noting the multi-faceted nature of China’s modernization program, he also emphasized the need for an overall balance to be maintained between various initiatives, stating that no single aspect should be stressed at the expense of the others, as only progressing materially as well as culturally could be deemed as socialism with Chinese characteristics. Jiang Zemin clearly stated that development had to be the Party’s top priority in exercising power and rejuvenating the country. He also pointed out that a socialist society was one of all-round development and progress, with the emphasis being economic development. Hu Jintao further put the question of development to the Party, addressing the kind of development that China hoped to achieve and how that development was to be realized. Emphasizing development as the top priority of the Scientific Outlook on Development, he said that focused efforts had to be made to promote development with every determination. At the same time, he also highlighted the importance of all-round social progress, calling for greater attention to be given to comprehensive, balanced, and sustainable development economically, politically, culturally, and socially. Following this, the report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC set forth eight basic requirements that must be firmly grasped if socialism with Chinese characteristics is to go on to new success under new historical conditions. This represents the continuation and advancement of the logic that runs through our history and theories.

In summary, during the course of China’s reform and opening up, the Party has continued to advance with the times, never ceasing in its efforts to overcome developmental challenges. Through these efforts, it has weaved intricate logical relations between the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and endowed them with a strong source of vitality.

III. Moving forwards towards the future

The establishment and development of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics have provided us with a great deal of experience to draw upon. Casting our attention to the future, we must maintain dialectical unity between historical logic and theoretical logic if we are to continue carrying the great endeavor of socialism with Chinese characteristics forwards.

In moving forwards towards the future, we need to pursue dialectical unity between freeing the mind, seeking truth from facts, advancing with the times, and staying realistic and pragmatic. This is the theoretical key to carrying the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics forwards. In seeking truth from facts, we are required to take objective reality as the basis of all our endeavors, and on that basis to grasp, verify, and develop truth through the course of practice. In seeking to advance with the times, the Party’s theory must move forwards constantly in close accordance with contemporary trends, so as to embody the spirit of the times, master the laws of development, and demonstrate creativeness. To free the mind, we must adhere to all theories that are scientific in nature, while resolutely discarding all theories that have been proven wrong or outdated. We must have the courage to free ourselves from “Left” ways of thinking that have developed over time, from certain misconceptions of socialism, from the dogmatic interpretation of certain individual statements in Marxist works, and from stagnant and rigid ways of thinking. Moreover, we need to maintain a scientific and rigorous attitude, be realistic, pragmatic and down-to-earth, and advocate less talking, more doing.

In moving forwards towards the future, we need to pursue dialectical unity between continuity and innovation. Not only must the tenets of Marxism be preserved, but new ideas must also be explored. We must continue to adhere to the fundamental principles of Marxism; under no circumstances can we allow these principles to be negated or abandoned. However, our adherence to Marxism cannot be dogmatic or bookish in nature. On the contrary, Marxism should be regarded as a science that is constantly developing during the course of practice. In seeking to carry socialism with Chinese characteristics forward, we need to make more active and creative efforts to gain a thorough grasp of what has changed and what remains the same globally, nationally, and within the Party. Then, in consideration of practical issues during the course of reform and opening up, and modernization, and revolving around what we are working to achieve, we need to attach great importance to the application of Marxist theory, to the theoretical analysis of practical issues, and to new practices and new development. We need to forge ahead with determination, be courageous in our exploration, and work boldly and effectively to analyze and resolve pressing questions in everyday life and with regard to people’s thinking. A constant effort must be made to deepen reform and opening up, and to discover, create, and advance.

In moving forwards towards the future, we need to pursue dialectical unity between innovation in practice and experimentation in theory. Socialism with Chinese characteristics has been established and developed through the meeting of innovation in practice and experimentation in theory. During this process, practice leads to knowledge, knowledge translates back to practice, and new practice leads to new knowledge. A great deal of new situations and problems are encountered at every stage in the course of practice. Therefore, in addition to the application of existing theories to guide our efforts in practice, we also need to constantly explore new laws and create new theories, thereby expanding the scope and depth of our practice. Our efforts to carry out reform and opening up have led to the establishment of Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, and the Scientific Outlook on Development, which together form the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In turn, the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics have guided and promoted the development of the reform and opening up drive on an overall basis and on a higher level. These theories and practices are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, coming together to promote the continued progression of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In the future, in order to advance with the times and promote the grand cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, we must strike a balance between the subjective and the objective, and between theory and practice, so that dialectical unity can be achieved in practice.

In moving forwards towards the future, we need to maintain dialectical unity between emphasizing Chinese characteristics and expanding global perspective. The term “Chinese characteristics” emphasizes China’s national conditions and features that are unique to China. In contrast to Chinese characteristics, however, are concepts such as contemporary trends, global perspective, opening up to the outside world, and mutual benefit. Through the establishment and development of the theoretical system with regard to socialism with Chinese characteristics, we are able to see dialectic unity between Chinese characteristics and global perspective, between China’s conditions and global trends, and between China’s choice and global competition. In the future, in order to advance with the times and promote the grand cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, we must balance domestic considerations with international ones, adopt a wider global perspective, enhance strategic thinking, and pay close attention to global changes as well as cutting-edge developments in productive forces, culture, science, and technology. Through our inclusive initiatives and the advocacy of diversity, we will ensure that socialism with Chinese characteristics is not only founded on China’s realities and reflective of China’s unique characteristics in theory and practice, but also able to embody the spirit of the times and demonstrate a rich global perspective at the same time. This is essential if the grand cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics is to surge onwards to new heights.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.6, 2013)

Author: Deputy Director of the Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee

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