"What the current Chinese leadership now pursues did not emerge from a vacuum but developed gradually in span of 70 years."
We often read in official pronouncements from Beijing, particularly from President Xi Jinping, that what they are building in the country is “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” But what exactly do they mean by this? How is it similar to—and different from—the social system that Mao Zedong established with the inauguration of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 after a long-drawn revolutionary war? And how does the current leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the national government seek to achieve the immediate and long-term goals of such a social system?
It’s admittedly a complex issue that requires an extended discussion, given the fact that it has been 70 years since the PRC came into being. Besides, any discussion on socialism invites a multitude of interpretations of the classic works by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao, not to mention passionate debate from ardent believers. But consider this perhaps an introduction to an introduction, or a brief primer and starting point for further study. And what better way to begin this discussion than to refer to what its foremost advocate has to say about it, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, no less from Xi himself.
In “The Governance of China,” a collection of his speeches from 2012 to 2014 published by the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing in 2014, Xi explains that the development of the concept of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the end-result of three generations of central collective leadership of the CPC.
The first generation led by Mao Zedong, he said, “provided invaluable experience as well as the theoretical and material basis for the great initiative of building socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new historic period.”
The second generation with Deng Xiaoping at the core “started the building of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” It was he who said that “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice” and “to get rich is glorious.”
The third generation headed by Jiang Zemin “advanced socialism with Chinese characteristics into the 21st century, followed by Hu Jintao as general secretary of the Central Committee who adhered to and developed socialism with Chinese characteristics from a new historic starting point.”
In other words, what the current Chinese leadership now pursues did not emerge from a vacuum but developed gradually in span of 70 years. It “encapsulates the ideals and explorations of generations of Chinese Communists, embodies the aspirations of countless patriots and revolutionary martyrs, and crystallizes the struggles and sacrifices of the myriads of the Chinese people. It is a natural choice for the development of Chinese society in modern times, and it is the only way to bring about the country’s development and stability.”
Socialism with Chinese characteristics consists of a path, theory and system. The relationship between the three, Xi explains, is that “the path of socialism is a way to reach the goal, the theory offers a guide to action, and the system provides a fundamental guarantee. All three serve the great cause of building Chinese socialism. This is the most salient feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Xi points out that China must synthesize “successful experience in practice into theories, use these correct theories to guide new practices and incorporate effective principles and policies into Party and national systems.”
The path of Chinese socialism, for Xi, “is the only way to achieve China’s socialist modernization and create a better life. This path takes economic development as the central task, and brings along economic, cultural, social, ecological and other forms of progress...It entails further releasing and developing the productive forces, and achieving prosperity for all and the well-rounded development of everyone.”
The main objective of socialism with Chinese characteristics is “to bring together and lead the whole Party, the whole nation and the people of all ethnic groups in realizing a moderately prosperous society by the centenary of the CPC in 2021 and in turning China into a prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious modern socialist country by the centenary of the People’s Republic of China in 2049, so as to ensure the people greater happiness and the nation a brighter future.”
It is evident that China has achieved its goal of a ‘moderately prosperous society” two years before 2021 as it has already emerged as the second biggest economy in the world after the US. But would it be a “modern socialist country” by 2049, or 30 years from now? That, of course, remains to be seen.
By the way, the only country in the world today that officially calls itself “socialist” is Vietnam, which reunited the north with the south in 1975 after a 10,000-day war against the Americans. Before this, there was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that came into being in 1922 but broke up into separate states in 1991, signaling the end of the Cold War and marking an uncertain future for the Marxist-Leninist concept of socialism.