The challenge of the road is the primary problem relating to the success or failure of the undertakings of the Party, and it is the life of the Party.
The challenge of the road is the primary problem relating to the success or failure of the undertakings of the Party, and it is the life of the Party.
Xi Jinping (2013).
To realize the Chinese dream, we must follow China’s own route. This route is socialism with Chinese characteristics. It is a tough path, for it is found in the reforms and opening up of the last 30 years; it is found in the continuous exploration of the last 60 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China; it is found in China’s development of the last 170 years since the beginning of modern times; it is found in the inheritance of the time-honored civilization of the Chinese nation of the last 5,000 years. It has a profound origin and an extensive foundation.
Xi Jinping (2013).
Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the theme of all theories and practices of the Party since the reform period. The whole Party must hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, have firm confidence in the path, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and ensure that the undertakings of the Party and China always progress in the correct direction.
Xi Jinping (2017).
The Chinese people have a dream: to pursue a happier and better life. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has a great objective: to realize the socialist modernization of China. The Communist Party of China (the Party) bears a historical mission: to realize the Chinese dream and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
In choosing the road to realize the Chinese dream we must answer two key questions: How can China realize socialist modernization after its experience of backwardness and decline? How can China contribute to long-term human development?
Reviewing China’s history since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, it is clear that the aim and direction of the “China Road” is to accomplish socialist modernization with unique Chinese characteristics. Modernization is both a historical trend of contemporary human development, and the historical mission of contemporary China. Here the defining characteristic of the China Road is people-centered development, while the main task is to achieve China’s two centenary goals. By following this road faithfully, the Chinese people will achieve the realization of the Chinese dream and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
1.1 Socialist Modernization Strategy: From “Three Steps” to “Two Stages”
The core problem facing China’s leaders has always been how best to complete the transformation from late starter to modern socialist country. The lack of any existing model has meant that those leaders themselves have had to establish the path that China must take. They have done so through constant practice, vigilance, exploration, and innovation, ensuring that with each step, China grows stronger.
With the founding of the People’s Republic of China, headed by Mao Zedong, China’s leaders began their exploration of the road to socialist industrialization and modernization. Working towards the goal of economic modernization, their strategy moved from “national industrialization” to “four modernizations.”
In 1953, Mao Zedong proposed a gradual process to achieve first socialist industrialization, then the socialist transformation of agriculture, the handicraft industry and capitalist industry and commerce.Footnote 1 Based on this strategic thinking, China formulated and successfully implemented the first Five-Year Plan with the help of the Soviet Union.
In 1956, the 8th Party Congress proposed “four modernizations,” namely “developing the national economy in a planned way; realizing national industrialization as quickly as possible; systematically performing a technical transformation of the national economy by stages; and developing modernized industry, modernized agriculture, modernized transportation industry, and modernized national defense.”Footnote 2
In 1964, following instructions issued by Mao Zedong, the government work report presented at the third National People’s Congress proposed that future development of the national economy should focus on building China into a great socialist country with modern agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology; and that this should be done rapidly, to allow China to catch up with and surpass more developed countries. The work would be carried out in a two-step process: first the establishment of an independent industrial system and national economic system, and then the realization of widespread modernization in agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. This would enable China’s economy to be ranked at the forefront of the world.Footnote 3
In 1975, the first Session of the 4th National People’s Congress reaffirmed the strategic objective of the four modernizations and the two-step strategic deployment.Footnote 4
Since the reform and opening-up in 1978, the Party’s strategic thinking on how to achieve socialist modernization has changed from closed to open, from rhetorical to practical, and from superficial to more profound. In view of the basic national conditions, for example a large population, including 8 million in rural areas, weak foundations, and a per capita gross national product (GNP) that still lagged behind the rest of the developed world, in 1987 Deng Xiaoping adjusted the scheduled deadline to comprehensively realize the four modernizations from 2000 to 2050. In 1987, the 13th Party Congress made a decision regarding the primary stage of socialism, and proposed that the strategic deployment of China’s economic construction should be carried out in three steps. The first step, to be completed in 1990, would see the doubling of the GNP compared to 1980 and the provision of ample food and clothing for the people. The second step, to be achieved by the end of the twentieth century, would seek to further double the GNP, and to raise living standards for China’s population to a level of moderate prosperity. The third step, to be completed by the middle of the twenty-first century, would see the per capita GNP reach the level of moderately developed countries. At this stage, China’s population would enjoy the fruits of prosperity and fully realized modernization. Then, on that basis, China would continue to make further progress.Footnote 5
At the 15th Party Congress in 1997, almost the turn of the century, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) proposed “two centenary goals.” Developed in response to the anticipated internal and external conditions in the first two decades of the twenty-first century, these goals are, first, to develop the national economy and improve various systems by the time of the Party’s centenary celebrations, that is, in the year 2021; and secondly, by 2049, the centenary of the PRC, to realize basic modernization, and complete the building of a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, and culturally advanced.Footnote 6 This is the “three-sphere” modernization plan of economic prosperity, political democracy, and cultural civilization.
The report of the 16th Party Congress presented the first centenary goal in more detail. In order to build a moderately prosperous society by 2020, benefiting a population of over a billion people, China would achieve a range of specific objectives. These focused on economic growth; the development of a democratic political system; social, cultural, and educational technology aspects; and sustainable development.Footnote 7 At that time only one core quantitative indicator was proposed, namely the quadrupling of the 2000 GDP by 2020. However, Zeng Peiyan, the Director of the State Development Planning Commission, proposed three quantitative indicators to be realized by 2020: (1) the per capita GDP would exceed US$3,000, approximately equivalent to the average level of middle-income countries in 2020; (2) the urbanization rate would exceed 50%; and (3) the proportion of people employed in agriculture would decline from the 50% in 2000 to approximately 30%.Footnote 8 Thus, China had formulated the outline of its 11th Five-Year Plan.
In 2007, the 17th Party Congress made further reference to the first centenary goal, announcing new higher requirements for building a moderately prosperous society. It stated that by 2020, China would have achieved industrialization, significantly enhanced comprehensive national strength, and have a world-leading domestic market. China’s population would enjoy greater wealth, significantly improved life quality, and a good ecological environment. The country would be characterized by democratic rights, a high quality of civilization and spiritual pursuits, peace and unity among its people, more perfect political systems and greater prosperity. It would have become open to the outside world, having greater affinity with and making greater contributions to human civilization.Footnote 9 The core quantitative indicator proposed at that time was to quadruple the 2000 per capita GDP by 2020. Meanwhile, the National Development and Reform Commission put forward three quantitative indicators to be achieved by 2020: (1) per capita GDP would reach US$5,000; (2) the proportion of primary industry in the employment structure would be reduced to about 30%; and (3) the urbanization rate of China would be close to 60%.Footnote 10 These objectives constituted the outline of the 12th Five-Year Plan.
In 2012, the report of the 18th Party Congress summarized the general tasks of socialist modernization in the first half of the twenty-first century as follows: first, to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the year of the Party’s centenary; and second, to build a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, and harmonious by the time of the PRC’s centenary. With respect to the former task, building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the report listed specific development objectives pertaining to economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological environment construction. According to the spirit of the 5th Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, and based upon the “five-sphere” integrated plan and the “four-pronged comprehensive strategy” of socialism, the 13th Five-Year Plan was formulated. With its focus upon completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, this was a key plan in the decisive stage to secure the victory of realizing the first centenary goal.
At the 19th Party Congress in 2017, the Constitution of the Communist Party of China was amended to include reference to the general task of socialist modernization in the first half of the twenty-first century. The Constitution outlined the strategic objectives of economic and social development for the new era in the new century, namely to complete the first centenary goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the time of the Party’s centenary celebration, and to complete the building of a great modern socialist country in all respects by the time of the PRC’s centenary. According to the report of the 19th Party Congress, China’s goal was to become “a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful. By then, China will reach new heights in every dimension of material, political, cultural and ethical, social, and ecological advancement, achieve the modernization of China’s systems and capacity for governance, become a global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence, and basically achieve common prosperity for everyone. The Chinese people will enjoy happier, safer, and healthier lives, and the Chinese nation will become a proud and active member of the community of nations.”Footnote 11
In summary, the plan to ensure China’s socialist modernization began with a rejuvenation strategy via the “four modernizations” (1964–2000), which was followed by the “three-step” strategy of a modern socialist country under Deng Xiaoping (1980–2050). Currently, China is working towards the achievement of its “two centenary goals” (2000–2050), while adhering to Xi Jinping’s “two-stage” strategy of a modern socialist country for a new era (2020–2050). These strategies and goals, complementary and consistent rather than contradictory, and often running in parallel, reflect the continuity, innovativeness and uniqueness of the approaches to achieve socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics. These strategic concepts are not only fully reflected in the reports of all previous national congresses of the Party, but also specifically included and implemented in all previous five-year plans. They have acted as roadmaps for China as it progresses towards its destination of becoming a modern socialist country, while also providing clear staging posts, in the form of strategic objectives to be achieved along the way.
1.2 The Road to Socialist Modernization: Five Major Factors and Five Major Advantages
Five major factors that make the China Road unique , continuous, and innovative:
The first factor that characterizes the China Road is ever-increasing modernization. More specifically, China is expanding production to the greatest extent, creating wealth, and making the best use of modern knowledge, technology, education, and information. Because China was a latecomer to modernization, the process has been one of constantly catching up with developed countries, not only in terms of the economy, but also in educational, technological, and information and digital matters. It has been necessary to study and learn from the modernization factors of developed countries, while also tracking the innovation currently taking place. However, as a late starter with a late-development advantage, China can also be an innovator and torchbearer, taking the lead in creating modernization factors not yet possessed by the developed countries. As China becomes first increasingly modernized, then highly modernized, and finally a comprehensively modernized world power, it will enhance its creativity, and though innovation it will surpass the more established developed countries. Thus, the modernization of China is a process that began with learning and imitating, but will progress to paralleling and then overtaking. At present, China has reached a parallel position with a number of developed countries in respect of many indicators of modernization and national strength. In fact, in some indicators it has already surpassed some developed countries, although it lags behand in others.
The second crucial factor is that of increasing socialism. This institutional factor, which represents the greatest difference from Western capitalist modernization, enables common development, co-sharing, and prosperity for all the 1.37 billion people living in China, and gives full play to the institutional and political advantages of socialism. Only by adhering to socialism can China achieve national unity in diversity, and “common prosperity” for everyone, and only by constantly strengthening the socialist features and nature of the society can China mobilize all kinds of social forces to improve state strength and people’s livelihoods. In contrast, the capitalist system allows only very few people to become rich, and does not ensure prosperity for everyone. Therefore, China must remain focused on building a socialist society, and upon reaching a medium or high degree of development.
From the primary stage of socialism to the intermediate, and then the advanced stage, China is following a development process of constant evolution and constant strengthening. Currently in the “second half” of the primary stage of socialism, China has already developed important economic features that are usually found in an advanced economic entity, for example, innovation-driven growth, post-industrialization, green manufacturing and green energy; while also facing the challenges of an aging population and sub-replacement fertility. Furthermore, it has achieved modernization of the service industry, and informatization and digitization. These features reflect a situation in which development factors are becoming increasingly dominant, as underdevelopment factors decline.
The third distinctive factor is modernization with Chinese characteristics. This cultural factor is derived from China’s 5,000-year history, and is rooted in the practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics.Footnote 12 It has already contributed great innovation in the construction of a moderately prosperous society, such as the development concept of “eight societies, and one road,” that is: a society of common development and common prosperity; a national learning society; a society of national health and fitness; a society where people live and work in contentment; a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society; a society of openness, innovation and knowledge; a harmonious and stable society; a democratic and law-based society, and a peaceful development road.Footnote 13 The Party is not only the loyal inheritor and promoter of excellent traditional Chinese culture, but also the active advocator and developer of advanced Chinese culture.Footnote 14 As China is gradually moving to the center of the world stage, Chinese culture is ushering in times of unprecedented development, prosperity, and rejuvenation, and has an unprecedented influence on world peace, development, cooperation, and win–win outcomes. This point will be elucidated in detail in Chapter Five.
The fourth factor is the ever-increasing emphasis upon green ecological concerns. Green modernization offers ecological products and services for the current generation and ecological wealth for future generations, and provides ecological safety for the world. China’s road to modernization is one of innovation, and differs from the traditional development model by breaking the link between economic growth and rising greenhouse gas emissions, an association that began with the Industrial Revolution. China is pursuing an innovative green development model that will ensure sustained economic growth alongside a continuous decline of damaging emissions; indeed, it may even achieve the decoupling of economic activity from carbon emissions in the first half of the twenty-first century. The green modernization of China has two main objectives: (1) economic growth that is not associated with energy consumption, coal consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, water resource consumption, and pollutant emissions; and (2) the nurturing of nature, so that overall environmental quality is improved and ecological assets such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands, will be substantially increased. This approach will realize the ancient Chinese concept of “harmony between humans and nature,” whereby human beings are able to prosper without plundering the earth’s natural resources, and nature continues to flourish. Such a development model will not only have great significance for the future development of China, but will also make great contributions to humankind.
The fifth factor is the leadership of the Party. Indeed, the Party exercises overall leadership over all areas of endeavor in every part of the country, and thus guides the socialist modernization of China.
Among the five major factors, Party leadership is the organizing core that causes the others to promote, complement, and correlate and interact with each other, and to jointly form the China Road. Furthermore, the five factors are organically combined to form five major advantages:
(1) Late starter advantage: All countries that have embarked upon processes of development have experienced, and continue to experience, continuous industrialization, informatization, urbanization, and modernization. In this sense, there are many similarities between China and other countries, in both the developed and the developing world. As a late starter, China has particular Late Starters’ Advantages.Footnote 15 For example, it is able to draw lessons from the developed countries so as to avoid their mistakes, and to innovate in industrialization, information, urbanization, and agriculture at a newer, higher, and greener starting point, thereby realizing greater development. Consequently, China will be able not just to catch-up with other developed countries, but also to surpass their modernization level.
(2) Socialist advantage. China’s road to modernization is not a capitalist road but a socialist road. Just as capitalist economies have developed much faster than pre-capitalist economies,Footnote 16 so the Chinese socialist economy is developing much faster than all capitalist countries.Footnote 17 As a socialist state, China has particular advantages. Not only will it catch up with and surpass, in just a few decades, the level reached by capitalist countries over a period of hundreds of years,Footnote 18 but it will also have cohesion, avoid polarization, and gradually achieve common prosperity.Footnote 19
(3) China’s cultural advantage. During the 5,000 years of China’s development, people of all ethnicities have created a rich civilization and a unified multiethnic state. Chinese civilization has a unique continuity, inclusiveness, and openness. In external relations, China has worked hard to learn from the strengths of other nations, constantly strived to become stronger, and has contributed to the progress of human civilization.Footnote 20 The Chinese road to modernization represents the great rejuvenation of a civilization that has developed along one continuous line for 5,000 years.Footnote 21 Compared with other countries and regions worldwide, China has embarked upon its modernization far richer in terms of historical and cultural resources. In the future, China’s learning from its exchanges and interactions with other cultures around the world will be transformed into further abundant resources for civilization and cultural development. This will accelerate China’s modernization and innovate Pantisocratic modernization with Chinese characteristics.
(4) Green ecological advantage. China’s road to socialist modernization emphasizes the construction of ecological civilization. In this regard, China is playing an international leading role, providing an example of how development can continue while respecting, complying with, and protecting nature. It is introducing innovative green development, production modes, and consumption patterns, while vigorously developing green energy and investing in ecological development. Efforts are being made to accelerate the accumulation of green assets, create lasting harmony between humans and nature, build a beautiful China in all respects, and continuously create greater ecological advantages.
(5) Advantage in the leadership of the Communist Party of China. The most important feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the leadership of the Party, is also its greatest advantage.
As can be seen from the above, China should make full use of its late starter advantages, refer to and learn from Western modernization, and continue to narrow the gap between itself and the modernized Western countries. Meanwhile, the institutional advantages of socialism will allow China not only to speed its catch-up with Western countries, but also to create socialist modernization with common prosperity. Furthermore, by taking full advantage of its unique unbroken cultural heritage, China can continue to improve its soft power, and pave the way for a road to modernization that is Pantisocratic. Full use must also be made of the future advantage of China’s green ecological development, in order to be innovative on the road to green modernization, and to achieve harmony among humans, nature, and sustainable development. Lastly, it is imperative that China realizes to the full its biggest political advantage, namely the Party leadership.Footnote 22
As long as China continues to make full use of its advantages, it will not only catch up quickly with developed countries, but will surpass them. Moreover, China will serve as an example and inspiration for southern countries to explore and practice a new type of modernization. Finally, by employing a range of diversified approaches, China will provide important strategies to solve the challenges of world development.
1.3 Methodology of the Road to Socialist Modernization: Innovation and Inheritance
The historical route of China’s socialist modernization is neither straight nor pre-designed; rather it is a road that must be continuously explored, expanded, and revised. It is the combination and organic integration of “five major factors” and “five major advantages,” and a constant process from quantitative change to qualitative change. It involves the destruction of old things and the formation of new ones, the elimination of backward productive forces and relationships, and continual adaptation of the economic base to the superstructure. It also involves a spiraling rise and dynamic transition of development capacity and development achievements, a shift from low to mid level, and then to high level. Therefore, China’s development strategy is not uniform over time, and its historical evolution and practices are mutually validated and adjusted through trial and error. We shall always learn from history, practice, the people, and openness. China’s road towards modernization will always be full of challenges, both external and internal, and both foreseeable (“grey rhinos”) and unforeseeable (“black swans”). We need to identify these challenges promptly, respond to them actively, and most importantly convert them into opportunities. In order to do this effectively, China has adopted different strategies and policies in different periods, thus marking out different historical routes.
As can be seen from the historical evolution of the People’s Republic of China, the China Road is the road to socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics. As a process of evolution, this cannot be achieved overnight, but needs to develop gradually with different development objectives, strategies, and stages over time. This process has now been taking place for nearly 70 years.
The first generation of the central collective leadership of the Party, with Comrade Mao Zedong as the core, united and led the whole Party and China’s people to a great victory in the new democratic revolution. Under Mao Zedong, China asserted itself; the country “stood up,” and established its first socialist system, which was the most profound and greatest social reform in the history of China. The Party laid the fundamental political and institutional foundation for the whole future development and progress of contemporary China. Within the given circumstances of a “poor material foundation and backward culture and science” and a “large population and weak military strength and technological strength,” the first generation central collective leadership of the Party established a relatively independent and complete modern industrial system. It also created a national economic system, modern education system, and a health care and medical system. Science and technology, modern national defense, and military capability were also introduced. These developments laid the foundation for various forms of capital, including material, human, science and technology, national defense, and institutional capital, for the socialist modernization of China and its rise as a world power. In order to achieve these successes the first generation of the central collective leadership of the Party had to overcome many challenges, at a very high cost. Nevertheless, in its exploration and development of the Chinese road it provided valuable experiences and profound lessons for the success of later generations. This rich experience represents one aspect of China’s political wealth.Footnote 23
The second generation of the central collective leadership of the Party, with Comrade Deng Xiaoping as the core, provided steady guidance for China as it began a course of reform and opening up. This represented a new stage of socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics and a new period of socialist development. Production was encouraged and the Party began to allow people to “get rich,” took the lead in developing coastal areas according to the theory that “some people must get rich first,” and successfully broke through the biggest “poverty trap” of underdeveloped countries.Footnote 24 China was then able to provide ample food and clothing for 1.1 billion people and to successfully realize the first-step objective of its three-step modernization.
The third generation of the central collective leadership of the Party, with Comrade Jiang Zemin as the core, provided strong guidance for the Party and the people as China continued to implement the program of reform and opening up, while adhering to socialism under the double pressure of Western supremacy and the serious challenges facing world socialism. The Party established an innovative socialist market economic system, successfully responded to the external shock of the Asian financial crisis, and achieved an increase in people’s standard of living, thus reaching the goal of moderate prosperity, the second-step objective of the “three-step” modernization process. Furthermore, it realized the return of Hong Kong and Macao to the motherland. With these achievements, the Party successfully pushed the great socialist cause with Chinese characteristics into the twenty-first century.
The central collective leadership of the Party with Comrade Hu Jintao at the core governed in an important period of strategic opportunities. It put forward the concept of people-oriented scientific development with the core objective of the comprehensive construction of a moderately prosperous society that would benefit the largest population. The Party at this time also emphasized comprehensive, coordinated, and sustainable development, building a harmonious socialist society, and speeding up the construction of ecological civilization to gradually form the “three-sphere” and “four-sphere” integrated plans of socialist modernization. Rising to the opportunity to join the World Trade Organization, China greatly expanded its internal and external development spaces, and successfully responded to the external shock of the international financial crisis. In this period, China’s economy and trade leaped into second place in the world rankings, and moved from the low- to middle-income stage to the middle and high levels. Indeed, China became a society with the largest middle- and high-income populations in the world, and the vast majority of people now enjoyed living standards well above the world average.
The road to socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics is impossible to complete within one short process. Instead, many historical processes of innovation and development and successes and failures play their part. There are connections between what has happened before and what is yet to happen, and the road advances with the times, with constant innovation and upgrading. In the same way, the different Chinese leaders have had different understandings of China’s road to socialist modernization, and have provided vision and guidance suitable to the circumstances of their time.
A summary of the socialist modernization history of the People’s Republic of China over nearly 70 years shows that the China Road is a road of learning, trial and error, reform, improvement, and upgrade. Chinese leaders do not believe without question what is written in books, nor simply follow what Western countries do or dogmatists say. They know that there is no universal mode that is applicable everywhere and in any situation; worldwide, there is no “best” system, nor an entirely complete system, but only the system that is most suited to each individual nation. Certainly, Chinese leaders and the people are willing to learn from advanced countries and regions around the world, but they never indiscriminately copy foreign models. Instead, they reference, transform, and innovate. For example, China designed its five-year plans and medium- and long-term plans with Chinese characteristics based on the five-year plans of the Soviet Union.Footnote 25 A further example is that of China creating a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics based on the market economy of Western countries.Footnote 26 In particular, China respects local initiatives, and attaches great importance to the promotion of pilot programs, such as that for the local initiative that aimed to “fix farm output quotas for each household.” This started in the village of Xiaogang and was then extended to a nationwide household contract responsibility system in various regions. China has adhered to independence, and learned and made adjustments based on practice and experimentation. Furthermore, China has learned to analyze specific issues, thereby avoiding indiscriminate acceptance or rejection. In other words, it has kept the baby rather than throwing it out with the bathwater! This system was not intentionally designed in advance, but grew out of a process in which the Chinese people were feeling their way forward by trial and error, always insisting on the truth, and immediately correcting mistakes.
Since the 18th Party Congress, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core has led the Party, the armed forces, and the people to adhere to and further develop socialism with Chinese characteristics. It has systematically summarized the successful experiences and lessons of the road to socialist modernization over the past 70 years and has correctly evaluated two historical periods: one before and one after the reform period. As Xi Jinping has stated, the two periods are associated with but different from each other, and represent a practical exploration of socialist construction made by people under the leadership of the Party. While socialism with Chinese characteristics was largely initiated in the new historical period of reform and opening up, it was also based on the establishment of a socialist system and the economic construction that took place more than 20 years before the reform.Footnote 27 The China Road is an important chapter in China’s story. Therefore, as Xi Jinping insisted, “now the mission of this generation of communists is to keep writing this important chapter.”Footnote 28
Today, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core provides overall leadership for development at home and abroad, controls future general development trends, understands the rules of economic development, social development, and human development, and has formed a series of new concepts, ideas, and strategies on the governance of China. Furthermore, the Party has presented the concept of “people-centered” development, promoted the “six-sphere” integrated plan of socialist modernization (including the two newly added spheres of developing national defense and armed forces), while also harmoniously promoting the “five-pronged” comprehensive strategy (including the newly added comprehensive participation in global governance).Footnote 29 China is now entering a new era as a world power, and taking the center of the world stage.
1.4 The Course of Socialist Modernization: Ten Major Changes
Since the foundation of the PRC nearly 70 years ago, its leaders have always sought to ensure socialist modernization under the national conditions of China. However, certain factors of socialist modernization need to change as the course of socialist modernization evolves through different stages of socialism. In the first stage, many opposing factors (e.g., underdevelopment and prosperity, limiting and driving factors, and negative and favorable factors) coexist and compete with each other within inverse relationships and reciprocal transformation. They not only promote China’s historical process of industrialization, informatization, urbanization, and agricultural modernization, but also limit that process.
The general trend is one in which the scope of underdevelopment factors is constantly narrowing, while that of prosperous development factors is constantly expanding. The process to eliminate underdevelopment and that of encouraging development occur simultaneously. As underdevelopment factors are gradually eliminated, so too underdevelopment characteristics are reduced. At the same time, as China becomes more developed prosperous development factors increase, as do the corresponding characteristics. Consequently, the modernization process is dynamic, with constantly changing differences and imbalances, and an eventual shift from quantitative change to qualitative change.
In this light, we can summarize the evolution of socialist modernization in China through ten major changes:
(1) The process of socialist modernization is one of the gradual elimination of underdevelopment, and a move towards moderate development. This is clearly reflected in the continuous improvement of the per capita income level. The core objective of socialist modernization is to achieve well-rounded human development; an increase in per capita income is a direct means and a basic guarantee to achieve this objective. China thus far has achieved a historical leap, starting from a very low-income stage (before 1978 the per capita GDP was less than USD 637, in purchasing power parity 2011), then advancing to the low-income stage (in 1990 per capita GDP = USD 1516) and then from the low- to middle-income stage (per capita GDP = USD 3678 in 2000) to the middle- to high-income stage (per capita GDP = USD 9430 in 2010). It is expected that in the next stage of the socialist modernization process, China will successfully enter the ranks of other high-income countries, transitioning from the world’s largest middle- to high-income population to the world’s largest high-income population.
(2) Socialist modernization is a historical process in which the development capacity and development level of all people are continuously improved. This is prominently reflected in the continuous improvement of the human development level. The human development index (HDI) measures the social and economic development level of a country based on life expectancy, education level, and life quality. An improvement in the HDI means that people have achieved more well-rounded development at a higher level, and the modernization level of human capital has been continuously improved. China began with a very low level of human development (HDI < 0.400 before 1978) and has now achieved a high level (HDI > 0.700 in 2011). In 2015, China’s HDI reached 0.738, ranking 90th among 188 countries. It is expected that in the next stage of the socialist modernization process, China will enter the ranks of those countries with very high levels of human development (HDI > 0.800). This will represent an important symbol of the “post-prosperity era.”
(3) Socialist modernization is a development process that gradually reduces and then ultimately eliminates poverty. The effects of this process are prominently reflected in a continuous and significant decline of the rural poverty rate. The socialist modernization process is the modernization of all people, and its achievements must benefit every household and every person. In this light, the decline of the rural poverty rate fully reflects the essential characteristics of the socialist modernization of China. China has achieved a substantial decrease in the rural poverty rate, from 97.5% in 1978 to 4.5% in 2016. During that period, China’s poverty-stricken population in rural areas decreased from 770 million to 43.35 million. By 2020, there will be no poverty in rural areas, or in any counties—China will have solved all regional poverty. When this is achieved, in just 42 years (1978–2020) China will have transformed from a society with the largest poverty-stricken population in the world to a “moderately prosperous society” with the largest middle- to high-income population in the world. This will be a true miracle in the history of human development.
(4) Socialist modernization is a development process that constantly improves people’s living standards, taking them out of poverty and providing them with ample food and clothing, moving them first into moderate prosperity and then to even greater wealth. This process is prominently reflected in the optimization of the consumption structure of urban and rural residents. The optimization of the consumption structure indicates that the improvement of the per capita income level does genuinely improve people’s living standards, and that the modernization process does improve their disposable income freedom and personal freedom. Regarding the Engel coefficient (proportion of food expenditure to living expenditure) of rural residents, China has achieved a historical leap, from a position of absolute poverty (Engel coefficient of rural residents >60% before 1983) to a state of greater wealth (Engel coefficient of rural residents <40% in 2012). The coefficient reduced to 32.2% in 2016, approaching that of wealthier nations (Engel coefficient <30%). It is estimated that by 2020 the coefficient will be yet lower, representing a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
(5) Socialist modernization is a development process that gradually realizes industrialization, informatization, urbanization and agricultural modernization in a traditional agricultural country. Socialist modernization can only be achieved based on a significant improvement to productivity, and this must be accompanied by the optimization of the economic structure in a more advanced and rational direction. To date, China has made a historic achievement, starting from a position of backward development in terms of industrialization and modernization (in the early years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China the modern economy accounted for only 10% of the national economy), then securing the basic realization of the industrialization and post-industrialization era (in 2016, the proportion of industrial added value in GDP had declined to 33%, and that of the service industry had increased to more than 50%). The future trend will be to establish a modern economic system, adhere to quality first, give priority to benefits, and improve the total factor productivity mainly around the supply side structure of reform. It is also important to promote China’s economy to evolve to a stage where it possesses a more advanced form, a more optimized labor division and a more reasonable structure through the integrative development of new industrialization, informatization, digitization, and a modern service industry. This will be an important symbol representing the move towards the industrial structure of an advanced economic entity.
(6) Socialist modernization is a historical process whereby a country undergoes a gradual transformation. It starts with a very large agricultural population and mainly relies on manual labor. However, it transforms into an industrialized country in which the non-agricultural population is the majority, and the modern agricultural and service industry are the leading industries. Socialist modernization requires the modernization of the economic system, production, industry, and enterprise, and is also likely to lead to the large-scale migration of industrial populations to higher industrial forms. China has achieved a significant historical leap by transforming from a nation based on agriculture (in 1978, 70.5% of all workers were employed in the agricultural sector) to one with a growing service industry (in 2015, 43.8% of all workers were employed in the service industry). In the future, with the continuous development of service, urbanization, informatization, and digitization, the proportion of workers in the service industry will continue to increase, and that of workers in agriculture and industry will further decrease. This trend represents the transition towards the employment structure of an advanced economic entity.
(7) Socialist modernization is a process that gradually narrows the gap of greatly imbalanced regional economic and social development by first developing particular regions and then others. Balanced regional development is an important step to complete the creation of a modern socialist society in all respects. To achieve this, China is following a strategy in which first just a few regions are developed, and then gradually more and more, until full and balanced regional development has been accomplished. In more detail, China has created three supporting zones of the “Belt and Road” initiative and initiated strategies of coordinated development for Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and the Yangtze River Economic Zone. Furthermore, a general pattern of “across east and west, and through north and south” has been established to integrate four major economic zones: eastern coastal, central, western, and northeast. These measures are beneficial to achieve regional and nationwide integration, further promoting the regional and international integration of the “Belt and Road,” and greatly enhancing efforts to continuously narrow regional gaps. This is important to achieve balanced, active, and common development.
(8) Socialist modernization is a historical process of the gradual transformation of a country with very large illiterate and semi-illiterate populations and backward technological education to a country with advanced technological education. Socialist modernization is essentially human modernization, and therefore one measure of its success is to be found in improvements to technological education and the level of per capita education. In 1949, the average number of schooling years of China’s working-age population was 1.0. By 2015 this had increased to 10.2. This achievement represents a historical increase in China’s level of human capital. Furthermore, it reflects the essence and core significance of socialist modernization as “people-centered.”
(9) Socialist modernization is a long-term process, in which the gap between nature and humans first widens, then gradually narrows, until finally a harmonious coexistence between the two is achieved. The relationship between humans and nature is crucial to the process of achieving socialist modernization. The understanding and orientation of, and attitude towards, the relationship between humans and nature are related to the scientificity and sustainability of the socialist modernization process. In China the gap between humans and nature initially increased, but is now narrowing. During the period of the 13th Five-Year Plan, China will enter a stage in which the environmental quality will be generally improved and green, low-carbon production modes and lifestyles will become the norm. Furthermore, energy resource development and utilization efficiency will significantly increase, the total amount of main pollutant emissions will be significantly reduced, and the layout of China’s main functional areas and eco-security shield will be established. Thus, China is entering an era of ecological civilization construction, green development, and ecological surplus.
(10) Socialist modernization is a historical process whereby the gap between China and advanced countries is gradually narrowed and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is realized. These achievements are all based on socialism. The course for China to realize socialist modernization is also the course whereby China takes its place at the center of the world stage and is able to complete its great national rejuvenation. Compared with the United States, in terms of the total GDP index (by purchasing power parity, 2011 international dollar), export volume, generation capacity, and number of invention patent applications, China has achieved considerable improvements. In 1950, China was a backward nation in all respects. Yet by 2015, China had successfully caught up with and even surpassed more established developed nations in all aspects of the economy, international competitiveness, modernization, and technology innovation. This directly reflects the superiority and huge potential of the socialist system of China.
In short, it took nearly 70 years for China to develop from disunity to a great unified country that is home to many nationalities. China has become a world power. It has developed from an industrially backward country to become a global leader of industry, from a country with backward technology to a world innovator, from a country with no coherent traffic system to one with a world-leading modern traffic infrastructure. What was once considered the largest traditional rural society in the world is now the largest modern urban society. Once described as a country with poor material foundation with backward culture and science, China is now a leading economic power. It has further transitioned from a big power that is the home to illiterates” to a “great power rich in human resources. Similarly, China was known as the “sick man of East Asia,” but is now healthy and thriving; it was a poverty-stricken big power, but is now a “moderately prosperous society.” China has also transformed from a closed society to a comprehensively open society, and from a closed country with a backward culture to an open power with advanced soft power. While it was once a country with a large population and weak military and technological strength, it is now a great power which ranks highly in global terms in all aspects of national strength. All these changes reflect the success and the great achievements of the China Road to socialist modernization.Footnote 30
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Ibid. p. 479.
Zhao Ziyang (1987).
Jiang Zemin (1997a).
Jiang Zemin (2002).
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Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. Report delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Oct. 18, 2017.
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In an analysis of China’s modernization published in 1991, Hu Angang pointed out that, as a modernized later-starter country, China enjoys many late starter advantages. This is because in the early and middle stages of industrialization, China can directly introduce appropriate technologies, processes, management experiences and enterprise organization systems, and attract foreign investment; moreover, by referring to the experiences of other countries, and learning from their successes and failures, it can avoid pitfalls and prevent damaging side effects in the modernization process. In this way it can achieve “leapfrogging” development, thereby shortening the period required for industrialization and modernization. Furthermore, China’s participation in international competition helps optimize the structure of domestic industries and promote modernization of the economic structure. In addition, China’s greatest resource is abundant labor at relatively low cost. As long as resources are well organized, correctly used, and become important sources of economic growth, social wealth can be created. Hu AnGang (1991).
Over the thousand years or so leading up to the eighteenth century, the per capita income of Western European countries doubled only once every 630 years. Since the spread of modern capitalism, the per capita income of Western European countries now doubles every 50 or 60 years; that of the United States and Japan doubles every 40 and 25 years, respectively. Thomas McGraw (2010).
In 1978–2018, China’s annual average per capita GDP growth rate was 8.4%, equivalent to doubling every 8.3 years. National Bureau of Statistics: China Statistical Abstract (2019) (Beijing: China Statistics Press, 2019), p. 29. In the same period, according to the world bank database, per capita GDP growth rate for the OECD countries was only 1.7%.
In 1964, Mao Zedong stated that it was reasonable for the later starter to surpass former leaders. China had many superior conditions, so it could be confident of catching up with and surpassing countries with advanced science and technology relatively quickly. In short, it will take a few decades for China to catch up with and surpass the level reached by Western capitalist countries over hundreds of years. Collected Works of Mao Zedong since the Founding of New China, Vol. 11 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 1996), p. 272.
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Comrade Xi Jinping noted that China’s ancient civilization is one of the four ancient civilizations, along with the ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indian civilizations. However, while the other three have experienced interruptions, Chinese civilization has enjoyed one continuous line for 5,000 years and continues today. Xi Jinping, Leading cadres shall read history. Speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the 2011 Fall Semester of the Central Party School. Study Times, Sep. 5, 2011.
Robert Shapiro, former Undersecretary of the US Department of Commerce, believed that China’s biggest advantage is not its economy but its politics. China has always followed an authoritarian system, and its leadership not only has strong political power and decision-making abilities, but also enjoys extensive support from society, which is unthinkable in India, Brazil and other large developing countries. This authoritarian system provides China with political ability and social discipline. Although the modernization process will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of common people, and is likely to form powerful interest groups, China can vigorously push its modernization process. Robert Shapiro (2009).
See “Historical Evaluation of Mao Zedong Times,” in Hu AnGang (2016).
In development economics the “poverty trap” refers to the situation in which developing countries lag behind and find it difficult to eliminate poverty and backwardness because of vicious circles in the economy.
The five-year plans of the Soviet Union generally focused on industrialization and heavy industry, while China’s five-year plans and medium- and long-term plans are not limited to economic aspects but cover many areas, including social, cultural, technological, and ecological fields.
Compared with the traditional Western market economy, the biggest difference and innovation of the market economy with Chinese characteristics is that we have not only the invisible hand of the market, but also the visible hand of government under the guidance of the five-year plans and the medium- and long-term strategic plans. These “two hands” form a resultant force that is better, steadier, and faster than one hand.
Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Reader of a Series of Important Speeches of the General Secretary Xi Jinping (Xuexi Publishing House, People's Publishing House, 2016 edition), pp. 30–31.
Ibid. p. 38.
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Hu, A., Yan, Y., Tang, X., Liu, S. (2021). China’s Road to Socialist Modernization. In: 2050 China. Understanding Xi Jinping’s Governance. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-9833-3_1
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