Deng Xiaoping

Speech At the National Conference On Education


Spoken: April 22, 1978
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine



There have been many new developments on the educational front since the smashing of the Gang of Four and particularly since the college enrolment system was reformed and the “two appraisals” were criticized. These achievements should be fully recognized. Still, both in educational circles and in society at large, people are hoping for even faster progress in this sphere. There are many problems to be solved and many things to be done in this connection. Today, I would like to offer some opinions on the subject.

First, we must improve the quality of education and raise the level of teaching in the sciences, social sciences and humanities so as to serve socialist construction better.

Our schools are places for the training of competent personnel for socialist construction. Are there qualitative standards for such training? Yes, there are. They were stated by Comrade Mao Zedong: We should enable everyone who receives an education to develop morally, intellectually and physically and become a worker possessed of both socialist consciousness and a general education.

The Gang of Four were opposed to placing strict demands on students in their study of the sciences, social sciences and humanities, and to making such studies the main concern of the students. They made the ridiculous claim that that would be “putting intellectual education first” and thus “being divorced from proletarian politics”. They declared that they would rather have labourers without education and that the more a person knew, the more reactionary he would become. What is more, they slandered all working people or children of working people who had received some education, calling them “bourgeois intellectuals”. Even today, much effort is still needed to eliminate the pernicious influence of these absurdities spread by the Gang.

Lenin emphasized time and again that the workers should not for a minute forget their need for knowledge. Without knowledge, he said, they would have no way of defending themselves, while with it they would be strong. The importance of this truth stands out even more clearly today. We must train workers with a high level of scientific and general knowledge and build a vast army of working-class intellectuals who are both “red and expert”. Only then will we be able to master and advance modern science and culture and the new technologies and skills in every trade and profession. Only then will we be able to attain a productivity of labour higher than that under capitalism, transform China into a modern and powerful socialist country and ultimately defeat bourgeois influences in the superstructure. Proletarian politics demands that all these be done.

Beyond all doubt, schools should always attach first importance to a firm and correct political orientation. But this doesn’t mean they should devote a great many classroom hours to ideological and political teaching. Students must indeed give top priority to a firm and correct political orientation, but that by no means implies that they should abandon the study of the sciences, social sciences and humanities. On the contrary, the higher the students’ political consciousness, the more consciously and diligently they will apply themselves to the study of these subjects for the sake of the revolution. Hence the Gang of Four were not only being utterly ridiculous but were actually negating and betraying proletarian politics when they opposed efforts to improve the quality of education and to raise the students’ scientific and cultural level on the basis of a firm, correct political orientation and declared that that was “putting intellectual education first”.

It is not good to put too heavy a load on students, and we should continue to take effective measures to prevent this bad practice or remedy it. But it is equally obvious that we will not be able to raise the level of our scientific and cultural knowledge substantially unless we maintain the work style of the “three honests and four stricts”, and unless demands are exacting and training rigorous. If we are to catch up with and surpass the advanced countries in science and technology, we must improve not only the quality of our higher education but, first of all, that of our primary and secondary education. In other words, the primary and secondary school courses should be enriched with advanced scientific knowledge, presented in ways the pupils at these levels can understand.

Examinations are a necessary way of checking on the performance of students and teachers, just as the testing of factory products is a necessary means of quality control. Of course, we must not put blind faith in examinations or consider them the only method for checking up on study. Conscientious research and experimentation are required to improve the form and content of examinations and make them serve their purpose better. Students who don’t do well on their examinations should be encouraged and helped to continue their efforts instead of being subjected to unnecessary psychological pressure.

Second, our schools must make an effort to strengthen revolutionary order and discipline, bring up a new generation with socialist consciousness and help to revolutionize the moral tone of our society.

Not only did the sabotage of education by the Gang of Four cause an alarming decline in the quality of scientific and cultural education; it also did grave damage to ideological and political education in the schools, undermined school discipline and sapped the revolutionary spirit of socialist society. The Gang shouted to high heaven about the importance of politics, but in fact their politics were counter-revolutionary and anti-socialist. They used the most decadent and reactionary exploiting-class ideas in their attempt to poison the minds of our young people and turn them into illiterate hooligans. The eradication of the Gang’s pernicious influence is a political task which is of the utmost importance and which has a direct bearing on the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat in China.

We should foster revolutionary ideals and communist morality in young people from childhood. This has always been a fine tradition in our Party’s educational work. During the years of revolutionary wars, members of the Children’s Corps and the Communist Youth League performed stirring deeds of heroism. After Liberation, young people were encouraged to carry on this fine tradition by the schools, the Young Pioneers and the Youth League. For a long time, our children and young people studied well and made progress every day. They were filled with love for their motherland, for the people and for labour, science and public property, and they struggled heroically and resourcefully against bad elements and enemies, setting the tone for a new era. The revolutionary spirit in our schools helped foster a revolutionary spirit in our whole society. This spirit was unprecedented in Chinese history and won the admiration of people the world over. We hope that not only the comrades working in education and related fields but also every family in our society will pay close attention to the ideological and political progress of our children and young people, so as to revive and enrich the fine revolutionary traditions which the Gang of Four undermined. Comrade Mao Zedong once said: “All departments and organizations should shoulder their responsibilities in ideological and political work. This applies to the Communist Party, the Youth League, government departments in charge of this work, and especially to heads of educational institutions and teachers.” The responsibility for training young successors for the revolutionary cause rests particularly heavily on the primary and secondary school teachers and on kindergarten personnel. We should strive to inculcate in our young people the revolutionary style of diligent study, observance of discipline, love of labour, pleasure in helping others, defiance of hardships and courage in the face of the enemy. In this way they can become fine and competent people loyal to the socialist motherland, to the proletarian revolutionary cause and to Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. Thus, when they finish their schooling and take up their jobs, they will be workers imbued with a strong sense of political responsibility and collectivism and a firm revolutionary ideology; their style of work will be to seek truth from facts and follow the mass line, and they will observe strict discipline and work wholeheartedly for the people.

We hope that everyone will do his best to make progress because, when all is said and done, progress depends on individual effort. Collective effort is the sum of individual efforts. And individual effort will continue to differ even in communist society. Comrade Mao Zedong once said that 10,000 years hence there will still be a gap between the advanced and the backward. Therefore, while we encourage and help everyone to do his best, we have to recognize that differences in the abilities and character of different people will manifest themselves in the course of their development. We must take these differences into account and do everything possible to enable each individual, in accordance with his particular circumstances, to keep pace with the general movement of society towards socialism and communism. At the same time, conscientious efforts must be made and strict measures taken to correct and reform those who seriously undermine revolutionary order and discipline and refuse to mend their ways after repeated efforts to educate them; in no case should we let a handful of such persons harm our schools and society as a whole.

From now on, it is not only the secondary schools and institutions of higher education that should examine applicants in an overall way — taking into account their moral and intellectual qualities and the state of their health — and admit only those who are best qualified. All units should gradually follow suit and recruit only those job applicants who are best qualified. This will require that students be enabled to develop morally, intellectually and physically and to become workers with both socialist consciousness and a general education. Thus the policy put forward by Comrade Mao Zedong to the same effect will be thoroughly implemented in all aspects of social life. This system of selection will be most useful in raising the political, scientific and cultural levels of our working personnel, in meeting the special needs of different trades and professions, and in creating, among the young people and throughout our society, a revolutionary atmosphere in which everyone is eager to make progress and work hard and is unwilling to lag behind.

Third, education must meet the requirements of our country’s economic development.

To train qualified personnel for socialist construction, we must try to find improved ways of combining education with productive labour, ways that are suited to our new conditions. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Comrade Mao Zedong all laid great stress on combining education with productive labour. They considered this to be one of the most powerful means for reforming society under capitalism. They also believed that after the seizure of political power by the proletariat, it should be the fundamental way to train a new generation that would integrate theory with practice, unite study with practical application and develop in an all-round way, and they looked upon it as an essential measure for gradually abolishing the distinction between mental and manual labour. As early as 80 years ago, Lenin said: “… Neither training and education without productive labour, nor productive labour without parallel training and education [can] be raised to the degree required by the present level of technology and the state of scientific knowledge.” In our own day, rapid economic and technological progress demands rapid improvement in the quality and efficiency of education. This includes steady improvement in the methods of combining study with productive labour and of selecting the type of labour appropriate for this purpose.

To this end, educational institutions of all types and levels must make appropriate decisions as to what kind of labour the students should engage in, which factories and rural areas they should go to and for how long, and how to relate their labour closely to their studies. More important still, education as a whole must be in keeping with the requirements of our growing economy. If, on the contrary, what the students learn isn’t suited to the needs of their future jobs, if they study what they aren’t going to apply or if they can’t apply what they study, won’t this flatly violate the principle of combining education with productive labour? And, if that is so, how can we arouse the students’ enthusiasm for study and work and how can education meet the enormous demands placed on it by the new historical period?

As our economy develops in a planned and balanced way, we must also carefully plan the training of future workers and professionals to meet its needs. We must bear in mind not only immediate needs but future ones as well. We must make plans that take into full account not only the needs of growing production and construction but also the trends in modern science and technology.

The State Planning Commission, the Ministry of Education and other organizations should collaborate in making education an integral component of the national economic plan. We should co-ordinate the development of various types and levels of educational institutions and, in particular, we should plan to increase the number of agricultural secondary schools and vocational and technical secondary schools. We should also consider what types of institutions of higher learning to build up, how to readjust the specialities offered, how to institute the courses on basic theory and how to improve teaching materials. We must take steps to accelerate the development of modern media of education, including radio and television. Broadcasting offers an important means of developing education with greater, faster, better and more economical results, and we should take full advantage of it. We should study and find ways of co-ordinating productive labour and scientific experiment and research more effectively in our schools so as to better meet the needs of our economic and educational plans. In order to speed up the training of qualified personnel and to raise the overall level of education, we must consider concentrating our forces and strengthening key colleges and universities and key primary and secondary schools, thus raising their level as quickly as possible.

From now on, the state will be trying to open up new productive enterprises and new lines of work so as to serve the four modernizations more effectively. In working out our educational plan, we should co-ordinate it with the state plan for the utilization of labour and consider how to meet the needs for increased employment.

Lastly, I would like to say a few words about ensuring respect for the labour of our teachers and about improving their qualifications.

Teachers are the key to a school’s success in training personnel suited to the needs of our socialist construction, that is, its success in training workers who have both socialist consciousness and a good general education and who are highly developed morally, intellectually and physically.

In the past two decades and more, we have built up a contingent of nine million teachers devoted to serving the people. The overwhelming majority of teachers and other school personnel love the Party and socialism. They work industriously to provide a socialist education and so have made great contributions to the nation and the proletariat. Educational workers who serve the people are high-minded workers for the revolution. We salute this multitude of educational workers for their painstaking efforts and express our appreciation to all of them and especially to the primary school teachers, who have worked tirelessly under particularly difficult conditions to bring up successors for the revolutionary cause.

We must raise the political and social status of teachers. They should command the respect not only of their students but also of the whole community. We urge students to respect their teachers and teachers to love their students. Respect and love, with teacher and student learning from each other — that is the appropriate comradely, revolutionary relationship between teachers and students. Outstanding educational workers should be commended, rewarded and widely acclaimed.

The present pay scale for teachers, especially those in primary and secondary schools, should be reviewed. Proper steps should be taken to encourage people to dedicate their whole lives to education. Particularly outstanding teachers may be designated “special-grade teachers”. Owing to our country’s economic limitations, we cannot bring about a marked improvement in the material life of teachers and other school personnel for the time being, but we must make every effort to create the conditions needed for this. The Party committees at all levels and the administrative authorities in charge of education should, first of all, do everything possible to provide better collective welfare services.

All Party committees and Party organizations in the schools should take a warm interest in the teachers’ ideological and political progress. They should help the teachers to study Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought so that more of them will have a firm proletarian, communist world outlook. We must make a point of recruiting outstanding teachers into the Party. The tasks of education are becoming heavier and heavier. All educational units must strive to raise the capabilities of teachers and improve the quality of instruction. The Ministry of Education and local educational departments should adopt effective measures to train teachers, making full use of radio and television, setting up training classes and advanced courses of various kinds, compiling reference material for teachers, and so forth. We hope that all teachers will work hard to steadily raise their political and professional levels and become increasingly socialist-minded and professionally competent.

Comrades! I hope that some of the major issues in educational work will be fully discussed at this conference. We urge you to proceed in the revolutionary spirit of daring to think and speak. It doesn’t matter if opinions differ. We can compare the different proposals. We must follow the mass line in everything we do. Good ideas can be produced only if democracy is practised fully within the ranks of the people. Of course, a good idea will not turn into reality by itself. Bright prospects remain merely idle talk unless we devise practical measures and work hard to implement them. If we are to achieve the four modernizations within a reasonable length of time, we must insist on a practical, revolutionary style of work that will gradually help us turn lofty ideals into reality.

I believe that if — under the leadership of the Central Committee of the Party — we rely on the efforts of the teachers, students, administrators and other school workers, carry through to the end the struggle to expose and criticize the Gang of Four, and approach our work in a practical way, we will see more and more people of a new type emerge. Good news will pour in from the educational front as our work in this domain thrives the way it is doing in all others.