2021-05-06 18:33:10 | Author：Chen Li
The Communist Party of China and the Modernization of China*
Director of the Academic and Editorial Committee of
the CPC Central Committee Institute of Party History and Literature
Modernizing the country and realizing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has been the greatest dream of the Chinese people since modern times, and also the most distinctive theme of the century-long struggle of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The 100 years of the CPC are a period of uniting with and leading the Chinese people in the struggle for the modernization of China. Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the main task of this struggle was to complete the historical task of anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism, and to create the fundamental political conditions for the modernization of China. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the main task has been to unite with and lead the Chinese people in starting the dramatic struggle for China’s modernization. The century-long struggle shows that the most important reason for China’s success in modernization is that it found a modernization path that suits its own reality. Carried out under CPC leadership and based on China’s reality, China’s modernization is committed to keeping the people as the center, developing in all respects, and accelerating development while maintaining the country’s own independence. During this process, China has contributed Chinese wisdom and approaches for solving human problems.
Communist Party of China, modernization of China, century-long struggle
This year marks the centenary of the founding of the CPC. On the basis of achieving the first 100-year goal of finishing building a moderately prosperous society in respects, the CPC will unite with and lead the Chinese people in moving on to the new journey toward the Second Centenary Goal of building a modern socialist country in all respects in order to build China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.
In such a special context, discussing and exchanging opinions on “A Century-Long Struggle: The Communist Party of China Working for the Modernization of China” is very meaningful for further understanding the relationship between the CPC and China’s modernization and exploring the mystery behind the success of China’s modernization.
Modernizing the country and realizing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has been the greatest dream of the Chinese people since modern times, and the most distinctive theme of the century-long struggle of the CPC. The 100 years of the CPC are a period of uniting with and leading the Chinese people in the struggle for the modernization of China. This century-long struggle comes in two stages—before the founding of the People’s Republic of China and after its founding—in a broad sense.
The stage before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which roughly coincides with the time of China’s new-democratic revolution, was mainly tasked with completing the historical task of anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism and creating fundamental political conditions for the modernization of China.
Before the founding of the CPC, countless men and women with vision fought persistently, trying to find a way to save the country and the people and making various attempts in order to change the country’s tragic situation and the nation’s humiliating fate in modern times. At that time, in the eyes of many Chinese people, Western countries were the benchmark of advanced industrial civilization, and China was gradually declining in modern times, mainly because of its inferior technology. At first, many people looked westward and tried to find a way out from the West. At that time, Chinese people seeking progress would read any book as long as it was about new principles from the West. Many people thought that by learning Western social doctrines and natural sciences, they could save China. For example, the Westernization Movement tried to “master the foreigners’ expertise in order to restrain them.” It introduced advanced guns and artillery, machines and science and technology from the West, established a number of military industries and “opened coalmines and iron companies, developed railroads, and promoted business,” which was once doing very well. But the imperialist invasion broke the Chinese dream of learning from the West. With China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, this movement of “self-improvement” and “seeking prosperity” without undermining the foundation of feudalism was declared bankrupt.
Sun Yat-sen was the great pioneer of China’s democratic revolution and a pioneering figure in modernizing China in the modern era. He led the Revolution of 1911, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty and ended the monarchy that had ruled China for thousands of years, and opened the door to progress in China. His “Plans for National Reconstruction” outlined a blueprint for the revitalization of Chinese industry and the modernization of China, emphasizing that “the construction of railroads and roads, the repair of canals and waterways, and the construction of commercial ports and streets” are the “tools for industrial development” and taking industrial development as “an important means for national revitalization” and “an urgent task for save the nation.”
But practice had proved that without changing the semi-colonial and semi-feudal social nature of the old China and accomplishing the historical task of national independence and people’s liberation, the modernization of China and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation could not be realized. Mao Zedong made a profound point: “A China that is not poor and weak but prosperous and strong implies a China that is not colonial or semi-colonial but independent, not semi-feudal but free and democratic, not divided but united. In semi-colonial, semi-feudal and divided China, many people have for years dreamed of developing industry, building up national defense, and bringing wellbeing to the people and prosperity and power to the nation, but all their dreams have been shattered. Many well-intentioned educators, scientists and students have buried themselves in their own work or studies and paid no attention to politics in the belief that they could serve the country with their knowledge, but this too has turned out to be a dream, a dream that has been shattered.” This is the fundamental reason why the CPC divided the Chinese revolution into two stages—the new democratic revolution and the socialist revolution, and decided to complete the historical task of anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism before working to modernize the country. This decision was made based on the the semi-colonial and semi-feudal social nature and basic national conditions of China at that time.
The establishment of the CPC was a great event in China. The modernization of China began to take a fundamental turn for the better with the founding of the CPC, and the conditions for it became realistic. After various explorations failed and various programs went bankrupt, the salvoes of the October Revolution brought China Marxism-Leninism, pointed out the way forward and provided a new choice for the Chinese people who were struggling to find a way out for their salvation and survival. Using the Marxist cosmology as a tool to observe the fate of the country, the Chinese advanced elements reconsidered China’s own problems and found the correct path and the force to rely on for the Chinese revolution, which had since taken on a new look. The CPC united with and led the people in 28 years of arduous struggle to complete the new-democratic revolution and establish the People’s Republic of China, and established the socialist system as its fundamental system. This laid the fundamental political premise and institutional foundation for all the development and progress of contemporary China and created the fundamental political conditions for China’s modernization.
But even during the new-democratic revolution, while leading the Chinese people in attaining their historical task of anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism, the CPC was already fully concerned with China’s industrialization. As early as during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, Mao Zedong categorically pointed out that, “Industry is needed to defeat Japanese imperialism. Industrialization is needed to give China’s national independence a solid guarantee. We in the Communist Party are to work for the industrialization of China. The main reason for China’s backwardness is that it has no new-style industry. The reason why the Japanese imperialists dare to bully China in such a way is that China does not have strong industries and they bully us for being backward. Therefore, it is the task of our whole nation to eradicate this backwardness.” In a conversation with the British journalist Gunther Stein, Mao further pointed out that, “The development of Chinese society depends primarily on the development of industry, and industry must therefore be the main basis of New Democracy. Only an industrial society can become a fully democratic society.”
How, then, could China’s industry be built and what was the mission and task of the CPC? At the Seventh National Congress of the CPC, Mao Zedong emphasized that after the political system of New Democracy was won, the Chinese people and their government would have to adopt practical measures in order to build heavy and light industry step by step over a number of years and transform China from an agricultural into an industrial country. At the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh CPC Central Committee, Mao Zedong worked out a comprehensive blueprint for the development of the People’s Republic of China. These important ideas provided important ideological preparation for the exploration of China’s modernization after the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Now let me discuss the struggle after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which made the Chinese people stand up. This great event completely changed the tragic fate of China, which had been poor and weak and bullied for more than 100 years in modern times, and set the Chinese nation on a magnificent road to rejuvenation. The CPC united with and led the Chinese people in starting a dramatic journey of struggle for the modernization of China.
In order to change the poor and backward appearance of the old China as soon as possible, the CPC put industrialization on the important agenda at the beginning of the founding of the People’s Republic. In the general line of the transition period, it was clearly proposed the task of “basically realizing the industrialization of the country within a fairly long period of time” and emphasized that the central link of socialist industrialization was to give high priority to the development of heavy industry.
In the opening speech of the First Session of the National People’s Congress, Mao Zedong further clearly proposed that, “Within a few five-year plans, we are prepared to build an economically and culturally backward country like ours into a great industrialized country with a high degree of modern culture.” In the Report on the Work of the Government delivered at this meeting, Zhou Enlai defined this ambitious goal as the Four Modernizations, namely, “strong and modern agriculture, modern industry, modern national defense and modern science and technology.” At the First Session of the Third National People’s Congress, Zhou Enlai further defined the Four Modernizations” as “to turn China into a powerful socialist country with modern agriculture, modern industry, modern national defense and modern science and technology in not too long a period, catching up with and surpassing the countries that are advanced in these respects.”
After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee, the CPC summed up the historical experience since the founding of the People’s Republic and successfully explored a correct path of socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics, and creatively borrowed the concept of “moderate prosperity” in traditional Chinese culture to express “modernization of Chinese style.” The three-step strategy was clearly proposed as a realistic path to realize Chinese modernization. The first step is to double the gross national product from 1981 to 1990, and ensure that the people have adequate food clothing; the second step is to double the gross national product again from 1991 to the end of the 20th century, and ensure that the people enjoy moderate prosperity; and the third step is to reach the level of medium developed countries by mid-21st century.
At the 15th National Congress of the CPC, the more inspiring Two Centenary Goals were further proposed, which are to finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the time the CPC celebrates its centenary in 2021 and to turn the People’s Republic of China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, and harmonious by the time it celebrates its centenary in 2049.
At the 16th CPC National Congress, on the basis of successfully accomplishing the first and second steps of the “three-step” strategy of modernization, and ensuring the people generally enjoy moderate prosperity, the CPC further proposed to comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society of a higher level benefiting more than one billion people in order to will further develop the economy, improve democracy, advance science and education, enrich culture, foster social harmony and raise people’s standard of living.
Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the Party Central Committee, with General Secretary Xi Jinping at its core, has consciously planned and promoted the Two Centenary Goals as closely linked, coordinated and progressive objectives, and has been promoting coordinated efforts to advance the five-sphere integrated plan and the four-pronged comprehensive strategy. The 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans have been successfully completed. Historic achievements have been made in reform and opening up and socialist modernization. A new giant step has been taken toward the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The CPC has united with and led the Chinese people in completing the industrialization process in a few decades while it took developed countries hundreds of years to complete, and created two miracles of rapid economic development and long-term social stability. The Chinese nation has achieved a tremendous transformation: it has stood up, grown rich, and is becoming strong; it has come to embrace the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation.
There are many reasons for the success of China’s modernization in the century-long struggle under CPC leadership. The most important one is that China has found a modernization path that suits its own reality.
First, China’s modernization is carried out under CPC leadership. CPC leadership is the most essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the greatest advantage of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, and the CPC is the supreme political leadership. There are many reasons for the success of China’s modernization, but the most important one in the final analysis is CPC leadership. China is still in the primary stage of socialism and will remain so for a long time; it is the largest developing country in the world; development is the first priority of the CPC in national governance; and modernization is the center of China’s work.
The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China clearly stipulates that the fundamental task of the state is to focus on socialist modernization along the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The CPC occupies a central position in providing overall leadership and coordinating the efforts of all involved in national and social activities. CPC leadership is an inevitable and necessary requirement for the modernization of China and a manifestation of the advantages of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics. The CPC is duty-bound and obliged to focus its main efforts on modernization. Modernization is the key link of all the work of the Party and the state, and leading China’s modernization is an embodiment of efforts to uphold and strengthen overall CPC leadership.
Over the more than 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Party has always worked hard to set realistic development goals in accordance with the changing situation and conditions of the times to lead China’s development progress and modernization. For example, in the early years of the People’s Republic of China, the CPC began to formulate and implement five-year plans, and it completed 13 of them. The recently concluded Fourth Session of the 13th National People’s Congress voted to adopt the resolution on the 14th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives through the Year 2035, starting a new journey to implement the 14th Five-Year Plan.
The CPC also formulated the famous three-step modernization strategy and set the inspiring Two Centenary Goals. On this basis, the 19th CPC National Congress further made a strategic plan for building a modern socialist country in all respects in two stages, providing a complete timetable and roadmap for China’s socialist modernization.
The CPC is adept at using these powerful top-level designs and institutional plans to strategically plan and arrange major national construction projects, productivity distribution and important proportional relationships of the economy, and make long-term strategic planning and deployment for China’s development. It has thus united with the whole Party and the Chinese people in struggling for a better life, led China in continuously developing and achieved one Chinese miracle after another that has amazed the world.
The history of CPC leadership in China’s modernization clearly shows that the CPC has a big picture in mind, is courageous in assuming responsibility, has high aspirations, plans for the long term, is good at long-term strategic thinking, and carries a blueprint through to the end. This is a significant institutional advantage of China’s modernization, and an important reason for its success. By relying on this institutional advantage, China can make long-term planning and strategic thinking for decades and a century, and for generations, until it finally achieves the set ambitious development goals.
Second, China’s modernization is based on Chinese reality. Modernization is a common trend in the development of human civilization, but there is no fixed pattern that remains unchanged. The choice of the development path and how to achieve modernization are determined by the basic national conditions of a country. Unlike the vision of the classic Marxist writers that the proletarian revolution would first triumph in a number of developed capitalist countries, China achieved victory in the new-democratic revolution and began socialist construction in a large, semi-colonial, semi-feudal Asian country where peasants constituted the majority of the population. For the Chinese Communists, the question of how socialist modernization should be carried out was a completely new issue for which there was no ready-made answer.
Based on the basic conditions of China, the CPC has made long unremitting and arduous explorations, and achieved significant theoretical, practical and institutional results. Deng Xiaoping pointed out: “In our democratic revolution, we had to act in accordance with China’s specific situation and follow the path discovered by Comrade Mao Zedong of encircling the cities from the rural areas. Now, in our national construction, we must likewise act in accordance with our own situation and find a Chinese path to modernization.” It was emphasized that at least two important features of our situation must be taken into account in order to carry out the Four Modernizations in China: First, we are starting from a weak base. Second, we have a large population but not enough arable land.
China’s modernization is a huge modernization of 1.4 billion people, a feat unprecedented in human history, and a modernization that started from a poor base. These are the most important national conditions of China and the most remarkable features of China’s modernization.
China must pursue modernization based on its reality and characteristics. The exploration of China’s modernization shows that an important reason for the great success of its modernization is that the CPC has always firmly grasped the basic national condition that China is in the primary stage of socialism and will be remain so a long time, has always been firmly based on the greatest reality that China is in the primary stage of socialism and will remain so for a long time, and has always taken this basic national condition and this greatest reality as the basis for understanding the present, planning the future, formulating policies and promoting the cause of China, and has successfully explored a path of modernization in line with China’s national conditions.
Third, China’s modernization keeps people at the center. The people are the drivers of history and the main engine of historical development and social progress. This is a fundamental point of Marxist historical materialism, and the most distinctive political position and value orientation of the Chinese Communists. The CPC is the vanguard of the Chinese working class, as well as the vanguard of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation. The founding aspirations and mission of the CPC are to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation.
The history of CPC leadership over China’s modernization and development is a history that reflects the struggle of the Chinese Communists seeking happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation, while staying true to their founding aspirations and mission. The fundamental purpose of CPC leadership in revolution, construction and reform is to enable the people to lead a good life, and all the struggles of the Chinese Communists are to carry out their founding aspirations and mission of seeking happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation.
During the new-democratic revolution, the CPC led the people in overthrowing the local despots and distributing land, carrying out the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, driving out the Japanese invaders, overthrowing Chiang Kai-shek’s regime and establishing the People’s Republic of China, all for the happiness of the Chinese people and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the CPC led the people in carrying out socialist revolution and construction, changing the face of the poor country, carrying out reform and opening up, and promoting socialist modernization, also for the happiness of the Chinese people and the revival of the Chinese nation.
An important reason for the success of China’s modernization is that the CPC has always adhered to the people-centered development philosophy in the process of leading modernization, so that development is for the people and relies on the people, and the fruits of development are shared by the people. Full play is given to the enthusiasm, initiative and creativity of the people so that China’s modernization gains inexhaustible fundamental power.
General Secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed that the realization of the Chinese Dream must unite the power of China, which is the power derived from the great unity of the Chinese people. The fundamental reason why China has finished the industrialization process in a few decades that took developed countries hundreds of years to complete, and why China’s modernization has received the heartfelt support and active participation of the general public, is that the CPC has always rooted the great cause of China’s modernization in the people, kept the people as the center, adhered to the main position of the people, brought into play their initiative, and relied closely on them to promote modernization. Under CPC leadership, 1.4 billion people have converged into a majestic force, turning the impossible into possible and creating an amazing miracle on earth, which no force can stop.
Many foreign friends often ask why China is developing so fast, why the Chinese people are so enthusiastic about development, and why China’s modernization has been so successful. It is not difficult to find the answer by looking at China yesterday, today and tomorrow.
In modern times, the Chinese people went through too many trials and tribulations, made too many sacrifices and struggled too much in order to change the tragic and humiliating fate of the Chinese nation and achieve the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Under CPC leadership, this powerful energy accumulated by the Chinese people and the Chinese nation has been fully released and has become an unstoppable force for the modernization of China and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The course of China’s modernization once again fully proves that the people are the creators of history and the people are the real heroes. The great achievements of China’s modernization and the tremendous transformation: China has stood up, grown rich, and is becoming strong did not fall from the sky, let alone given by others, but were the result of the hard work, wisdom, courage and sweat of the people united and led by the CPC.
Fourth, China’s modernization is characterized by all-around development. In the past, some people saw modernization more as industrialization and the consequent urbanization. China’s modernization is not limited to economic development, but is a modernization based on the overall progress and development of society. From the realization of the Four Modernizations proposed after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, to the building of China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, and culturally advanced proposed in the new period of reform and opening up; and from the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects proposed at the beginning of the new century, to the finishing of the building of a moderately prosperous society in all aspects and to the building of China into a socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful—with the changing conditions and tasks of the times, the goals and connotations of China’s modernization have been constantly enriched and developed. Prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful are both the basic definition and the scientific connotation of the goal of China’s modernization.
According to the strategy of achieving China’s modernization in two steps on the basis of finishing building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects as proposed at the 19th National Congress of the CPC, China’s modernization, while achieving national prosperity and strength, also includes the modernization of the national system and capacity for governance, the achievement of common prosperity for all people, the coordination of material and cultural-ethical progress, the harmony between humans and nature, and the pursuit of peaceful development and common development.
Just take the first stage up to 2035 to basically realize the goal of socialist modernization for example. By then, China’s economic strength and scientific and technological strength will have increased significantly and China will have become a country of innovators. The people’s right to equal participation and equal development will have been fully guaranteed. The law-based state, government and society will have been basically put in place. All systems will have been more complete. The modernization of the system and capacity for national governance will have been basically realized. The level of social civilization will have reached a new height. The national cultural soft power will have been significantly enhanced. The influence of Chinese culture will have become more widespread and deeper. The people’s life will have become more affluent. The proportion of middle-income groups will have significantly increased. The development gap between urban and rural areas and between regions and the gap between residents’ living standards will have been significantly reduced. Equal access to basic public services will have been basically realized. A solid step will have been taken in promoting the common prosperity of all people. The modern social governance pattern will have been basically formed and society will have been vibrant, harmonious and orderly. The ecosystems and environment will have fundamentally improved, and the goal of Beautiful China will have been basically attained.
This goal of all-around development fully demonstrates the bright future of China’s modernization, fully reflects that socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism with all-around development of material and cultural-ethical progress, fully reflects the deepening of the CPC’s understanding of the laws of governance, socialist construction and human social development, and fully reflects the CPC’s profound grasp of the development requirements of the times and the will of the people.
Fifth, China’s modernization is a modernization that accelerates development while maintaining national independence. When modernization is carried out, it is inevitable to encounter the problem of choosing the path and model. For a long time in the past, many people always thought that there was only one Western model and only one Western road to modernization. This is obviously not in line with the objective reality.
As early as the beginning of reform and opening up, Deng Xiaoping repeatedly emphasized that, “We are trying to achieve modernization in industry, agriculture, national defense and science and technology. But in front of the word ‘modernization’’ is a modifier, ‘socialist,’ making it the ‘four socialist modernizations.’” He also stressed that, “ To carry out China’s Four Modernizations, we must uphold the Four Cardinal Principles ideologically and politically. This is the basic prerequisite for achieving modernization.” Deng added that, “To undermine any of the four cardinal principles is to undermine the whole cause of socialism in China, the whole cause of modernization.”
General Secretary Xi Jinping repeatedly emphasized that, “Our reform and opening up has to it an orientation, a standpoint and principles.” Xi added that, “We must fully understand the overall objective of comprehensively deepening reform. This objective is comprised of two parts: to improve and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics; and to modernize our country’s governance system and governance capacity. The relationship between the two is very important. The first part specifies the fundamental orientation, which is the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, not any other path. As I always say, we will unwaveringly take the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. We will take neither the old path of being closed and inflexible, nor the erroneous path of abandoning socialism. The second part makes clear the direction we will take to improve and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics guided by this fundamental orientation. Only together do the two parts constitute a whole. The second part alone, without the first, is incomplete.”
The Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee systematically elaborated on the remarkable advantages of China’s national system and national governance system in 13 areas. In this battle to coordinate epidemic prevention and control with economic and social development, it took us more than a month to initially contain the momentum of the spread of the epidemic, about two months to control the daily new local cases to within single digits, and about three months to achieve decisive results in the defense of Wuhan and the rest of Hubei. China took the lead among major global economies in achieving positive economic growth and delivering a result that is satisfactory to the people, impressive in the world and can go down in history. This is a vivid and powerful interpretation of the remarkable advantages of China’s national system and national governance system.
These remarkable advantages of China’s national system and national governance system are a profound summary of the great practice of the CPC in leading China’s modernization, and are the basic basis for the CPC and the Chinese people’s firm confidence in the road, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The success of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the continuous development of the road, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the characteristics of China’s modernization that pays attention to both accelerating development and maintaining China’s own independence have expanded the ways of developing countries toward modernization, provided a brand new choice for those countries and nations in the world that wish to both accelerate development and maintain their independence, and contributed Chinese wisdom and Chinese approaches for solving human problems.
* Speech at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the China Development Forum modified for publication.
The Historical Research Department, Guangdong Provincial Academy of Social Sciences; the Research Department of the History of the Republic of China, Institute of Modern History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and the Sun Yat-sen Institute, Department of History, Sun Yat-sen University, Collected Works of Sun Yat-sen, Zhonghua Book Company, Beijing, 1985, vol. 5, p. 134.
The five-sphere integrated plan is to promote coordinated economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological advancement. The four-pronged comprehensive strategy is to make comprehensive moves to finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, deepen reform, advance law-based governance, and strengthen Party self-governance.