Deng Xiaoping

On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership


Published: August 18, 1980
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine



The main task of this enlarged meeting is to discuss the reform of the system of Party and state leadership and some related questions.


Changing the leadership of the State Council will be a major item on the agenda of the forthcoming Third Session of the Fifth National People’s Congress. The proposed changes will include the following: Comrade Hua Guofeng will no longer hold the concurrent post of Premier, which will be assumed by Comrade Zhao Ziyang; Comrades Li Xiannian, Chen Yun, Xu Xiangqian, Wang Zhen and I will cease to serve concurrently as Vice-Premiers so that more energetic comrades can take over; Comrade Wang Renzhongwill cease to serve concurrently as Vice-Premier, so that he can concentrate on his important job in the Party; and Comrade Chen Yonggui has asked to be relieved of his post of Vice-Premier and the Central Committee of the Party has decided to endorse his request. Moreover, following consultations with the organizations concerned, we are proposing some personnel changes for the posts of Vice-Chairmen of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and Vice-Chairmen of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. These changes have been repeatedly discussed by the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, and they will be incorporated into formal proposals which the Central Committee will submit to the forthcoming sessions of the NPC and the CPPCC for discussion and decision.

Why is the Central Committee proposing the above changes in the leadership of the State Council?

First of all, it is not good to have an over-concentration of power. It hinders the practice of socialist democracy and of the Party’s democratic centralism, impedes the progress of socialist construction and prevents us from taking full advantage of collective wisdom. Over-concentration of power is liable to give rise to arbitrary rule by individuals at the expense of collective leadership, and it is an important cause of bureaucracy under the present circumstances.

Second, it is not good to have too many people holding two or more posts concurrently or to have too many deputy posts. There is a limit to anyone’s knowledge, experience and energy. If a person holds too many posts at the same time, he will find it difficult to come to grips with the problems in his work and, more important, he will block the way for other more suitable comrades to take up leading posts. Having too many deputy posts leads to low efficiency and contributes to bureaucracy and formalism.

Third, it is time for us to distinguish between the responsibilities of the Party and those of the government and to stop substituting the former for the latter. Those principal leading comrades of the Central Committee who are to be relieved of their concurrent government posts can concentrate their energies on our Party work, on matters concerning the Party’s line, guiding principles and policies. This will help strengthen and improve the unified leadership of the Central Committee, facilitate the establishment of an effective work system at the various levels of government from top to bottom, and promote a better exercise of government functions and powers.

Fourth, we must take the long-term interest into account and solve the problem of the succession in leadership. As precious assets of the Party and state, the older comrades shoulder heavy responsibilities. Their primary task now is to help the Party organizations find worthy successors to work for our cause. This is a solemn duty. It is of great strategic importance for us to ensure the continuity and stability of the correct leadership of our Party and state by having younger comrades take the “front-line” posts while the older comrades give them the necessary advice and support.

These considerations are put forth by the Central Committee with a view to carrying out the necessary reform of the system of Party and state leadership. The Central Committee has already taken the first step so far as Party leadership is concerned by deciding at its Fifth Plenary Session [in February 1980] to re-establish the Secretariat. This Secretariat has done a remarkable job ever since its re-establishment. Now the proposed changes in the leadership of the State Council represent a first step in improving the system of government leadership. In order to meet the requirements of socialist modernization and of the democratization of the political life of the Party and state, to promote what is beneficial and eliminate what is harmful, many aspects of our system of Party and state leadership and of our other systems need to be reformed. We should regularly sum up historical experience, carry out intensive surveys and studies and synthesize the correct views so as to continue the reform vigorously and systematically, step by step from the central level on down.


The purpose of reforming the system of Party and state leadership and other systems is to take full advantage of the superiority of socialism and speed up China’s modernization.

To take full advantage of the superiority of socialism, we should work hard, now and for some time to come, to achieve the following three major objectives: (1) In the economic sphere, to rapidly develop the productive forces and gradually improve the people’s material and cultural life. (2) In the political sphere, to practise people’s democracy to the full, ensuring that through various effective forms, all the people truly enjoy the right to manage state affairs and particularly state organs at the grass-roots level and to run enterprises and institutions, and that they truly enjoy all the other rights of citizens; to perfect the revolutionary legal system; to handle contradictions among the people correctly; to crack down on all hostile forces and criminal activities; and to arouse the enthusiasm of the people and consolidate and develop a political situation marked by stability, unity and liveliness. (3) In the organizational sphere, if we are to achieve these objectives, there is an urgent need to discover, train, employ and promote a large number of younger cadres for socialist modernization, cadres who adhere to the Four Cardinal Principles and have professional knowledge.

In the drive for socialist modernization, our objectives are: economically, to catch up with the developed capitalist countries; and politically, to create a higher level of democracy with more substance than that of capitalist countries. We also aim to produce more and better-trained professionals than they do. It may take us different lengths of time to attain these three objectives. But as a vast socialist country, we can and must attain them. The merits of our Party and state institutions should be judged on the basis of whether or not they help us advance towards our objectives.

I would now like to discuss at some length the question of making the best use organizationally of the superiority of socialism and of consciously renewing the leadership in Party and government organs at the different levels so as to bring increasing numbers of younger and professionally more competent persons into leading positions.

We should have freely promoted and used younger comrades with both professional knowledge and practical experience, on the condition that we bore in mind the four cardinal principles. For years, however, we failed to do so. Then, during the “cultural revolution”, a great many of our cadres were persecuted by Lin Biao and the Gang of Four, and our cadre work suffered seriously. That’s one of the reasons why most of our present leaders at various levels are too old. The question of qualified personnel is mainly one of organizational line. We need to turn out large numbers of trained people, and our major task at present is to discover and promote fine young and middle-aged cadres, even if we have to bypass certain regulations. This is not just the whim of a few veteran comrades: it is an objective and pressing need of our modernization drive.

Some comrades worry that in promoting young and middle-aged cadres we might select some factionalists or even some individuals who engaged in beating, smashing and looting during the “cultural revolution”. Their concern is not entirely groundless, because the leading bodies in some localities and departments have yet to be well consolidated and factionalists might seize upon the promotion of young and middle-aged cadres as an opportunity to upgrade their own followers. As I said in my speech of January 6 this year, we must not underestimate the residual influence of the Gang of Four in the organizational and ideological fields, and we must be clear-headed on this point. Those who rose to prominence by following Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and their like in “rebellion”, those who are strongly factionalist in their ideas and those who engaged in beating, smashing and looting must never be promoted — not a single one of them. And any who are already in leading posts must be removed without the slightest hesitation. They could do untold harm if, relaxing our vigilance, we allowed even a few to occupy leading posts, engage in further double-dealing, gang up with each other and conceal themselves in our ranks.

Some comrades argue that it is better to promote cadres one step at a time. In fact, I said so too in 1975 when expressing my disapproval of the erroneous practices during the “cultural revolution”. We shall never repeat the mistake of elevating cadres so quickly that they soar like a rocket or a helicopter. Generally speaking, promoting cadres step by step means that they should go through the process of learning their profession, tempering themselves, working among the masses, and accumulating experience. But we can’t stick to the old concept of a “staircase” forever. In promoting cadres we can’t limit ourselves to having them step up from the district to the county level, then to the prefectural and provincial levels, as the present system in the Party and government requires. All trades and professions should have their own “staircases” as well as their own job categories and professional titles. With the advance of our socialist construction, we shall work out new requirements and new methods for the promotion of cadres and the use of trained personnel in the trades and professions. In future, many positions will be filled and titles granted solely on the basis of examinations. Only by doing away with the outdated concept of the “staircase”, or by creating new staircases suited to the new situation and tasks, can we boldly break through the conventions in promoting cadres. But whether the staircases are new or old, we must not just pay lip-service to the necessity of promoting young and middle-aged cadres. We must see to it that the really outstanding ones are indeed promoted, and promoted in good time. We must not be too hasty in this matter, but if we are too slow we will retard our modernization programme. Hasn’t it already been delayed long enough? Exceptional candidates should be provided with a sort of light ladder so they can come up more quickly, skipping some rungs. It is to make room for the young and middle-aged cadres that we have proposed reducing concurrent posts and eliminating over-concentration of power. How can they come up the staircase if all the steps are occupied, or if they aren’t allowed to occupy the empty ones?

Some comrades worry that the young people may be too inexperienced and not equal to the tasks. As I see it, there’s no need for worry. When we say a person is experienced or inexperienced, we are only talking in relative terms. To be frank, isn’t it true that even old cadres may lack experience in dealing with the new problems in our modernization drive and may make mistakes on that account? Yes, younger people generally have less experience. But if you think back, many of us were in our twenties or thirties when we became higher cadres and were given rather important tasks. We should admit that some of the young and middle-aged comrades of today are no less knowledgeable than we were then. It is owing to objective conditions that they have not been adequately tested in struggle and have not gained sufficient experience as leaders. After all, if it’s not your job, you don’t worry about it. Give young and middle-aged comrades the job and they will gradually become competent. Most of the seven to eight million people graduated from universities, colleges and vocational secondary schools since Liberation are of worker or peasant origin and have gone through more than 10 years of tempering. Despite their lack of college or vocational secondary education, some young and middle-aged cadres do have practical experience. Their level of general knowledge is relatively low, but surely many of them can become “red and expert”, provided they are given systematic training and education. Furthermore, there are many young and middle-aged people who have become qualified through diligent independent study. And among the educated youth who have settled in the rural areas, quite a few have acquired special skills by sharing the life of the masses and studying hard on their own. As a matter of fact, many young and middle-aged cadres have already become the mainstay in various fields of work. They understand the masses and the actual situation better than those cadres who are far removed from the grass roots. In much of our work, it is mainly these young and middle-aged cadres that we rely on. However, they have no power to make decisions, because they have not been duly promoted. So they have no choice but to keep asking for instructions from above. This has become a major cause of our bureaucratism. To sum up, we must never underestimate this large contingent of young and middle-aged cadres. Many of them are politically sound and are not involved in factionalism; their thinking is on the right track and they possess a fair amount of professional knowledge. So why shouldn’t we select and use them, bypassing the conventional rules? In some enterprises and other units, cadres who volunteered for leading posts or were elected to them by the masses have achieved much in little time and proved more capable than cadres appointed from above. Doesn’t that give us food for thought? Qualified young and middle-aged cadres are to be found everywhere. For years they disapproved of the evil-doings of Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and their ilk in the “cultural revolution” and carried on active or passive resistance. They have conducted themselves well politically and are professionally competent and willing to work hard. Such people can be found in all trades, professions and units. The problem is that we have failed to discover and promote them. As for those people who are well trained but who, for a time, were misled by Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and the like and so made some mistakes, we should not discard them if they have really become conscious of their mistakes and changed their attitude. More than a few of our comrades limit their vision to the people around them and invariably pick for promotion people they happen to know, instead of selecting the best by going deep among the masses. This, too, is bureaucracy of a sort.

We must draw lessons from the “cultural revolution”. At the same time, we must be soberly aware of the enormous task of modernization confronting our country and of the fact that a great many of our cadres are not up to its requirements. We must endeavour to overcome short-sightedness and to take the long-term view. Now that we are equipped with correct ideological, political and organizational lines, we can certainly promote to leading positions a large number of fine young and middle-aged people so that our cause will be assured of successors who are, if possible, better than their predecessors. We can do so provided we work boldly yet carefully, conduct thorough investigation and study, and ask as many people as possible for their opinions.

Comrade Chen Yun said that in selecting cadres we should stress political integrity and professional competence. By political integrity he meant principally keeping to the socialist road and upholding leadership by the Party. With this as a prerequisite, he added, we should see to it that our cadres are younger on the average, better educated and better qualified professionally. Comrade Chen Yun said, moreover, that the employment and promotion of such cadres should be institutionalized. These ideas of his are very good. Many comrades pay scant attention not only to the problem of lowering the average age level of our cadres, but also to the problem of their becoming better educated and acquiring professional knowledge. This is yet another evil result of the long period of “Left” thinking about the question of intellectuals.

The problem facing us is that, in addition to the way of thinking of quite a few cadres, the existing organizational system also works against the selection and use of the trained persons who are so badly needed for China’s four modernizations. We hope that Party committees and organizational departments at all levels will make major changes in this area, resolutely emancipate their minds, overcome all obstacles, break with old conventions and have the courage to reform outmoded organizational and personnel systems. We also hope that they will try hard to discover, train and employ excellent, qualified persons by bypassing the conventional rules and that they will firmly oppose any move to keep such people down or to waste their talent. After the many tests of the past dozen years the political attitudes of our young and middle-aged comrades are basically clear to both the leadership and the rank and file. With veteran comrades still around, we should be able to select the right cadres if we combine the efforts of the leaders and the masses. We should, of course, proceed with this work methodically but not too slowly. If we fail to seize the present opportunity and leave the solution of this problem until the veterans are all gone, we’ll have waited too long and it will be much more difficult. We old comrades will have made a major historical mistake.


Some of our current systems and institutions in the Party and state are plagued by problems which seriously impede the full realization of the superiority of socialism. Unless they are conscientiously reformed, we can hardly expect to meet the urgent needs of modernization and we are liable to become seriously alienated from the masses.

As far as the leadership and cadre systems of our Party and state are concerned, the major problems are bureaucracy, over-concentration of power, patriarchal methods, life tenure in leading posts and privileges of various kinds.

Bureaucracy remains a major and widespread problem in the political life of our Party and state. Its harmful manifestations include the following: standing high above the masses; abusing power; divorcing oneself from reality and the masses; spending a lot of time and effort to put up an impressive front; indulging in empty talk; sticking to a rigid way of thinking; being hidebound by convention; overstaffing administrative organs; being dilatory, inefficient and irresponsible; failing to keep one’s word; circulating documents endlessly without solving problems; shifting responsibility to others; and even assuming the airs of a mandarin, reprimanding other people at every turn, vindictively attacking others, suppressing democracy, deceiving superiors and subordinates, being arbitrary and despotic, practising favouritism, offering bribes, participating in corrupt practices in violation of the law, and so on. Such things have reached intolerable dimensions both in our domestic affairs and in our contacts with other countries.

Bureaucracy is an age-old and complex historical phenomenon. In addition to sharing some common characteristics with past types of bureaucracy, Chinese bureaucracy in its present form has characteristics of its own. That is, it differs from both the bureaucracy of old China and that prevailing in the capitalist countries. It is closely connected with our highly centralized management in the economic, political, cultural and social fields, which we have long regarded as essential for the socialist system and for planning. Our leading organs at various levels have taken charge of many matters which they should not and cannot handle, or cannot handle efficiently. These matters could have been easily handled by the enterprises, institutions and communities at the grass-roots level, provided we had proper rules and regulations and they acted according to the principles of democratic centralism. Difficulties have arisen from the custom of referring all these things to the leading organs and central departments of the Party and government: no one is so versatile that he can take on any number of complex and unfamiliar jobs. This can be said to be one of the main causes of the bureaucracy peculiar to us today. Another cause of our bureaucracy is that for a long time we have had no strict administrative rules and regulations and no system of personal responsibility from top to bottom in the leading bodies of our Party and government organizations and of our enterprises and institutions. We also lack strict and explicit terms of reference for each organization and post so that there are no rules to go by and most people are often unable to handle independently and responsibly the matters, big or small, which they should handle. They can only keep busy all day long making reports to higher levels, seeking instructions from them, writing comments on documents and passing them around. Some people are seriously afflicted with selfish departmentalism: they are always ducking responsibility, jockeying for power and wrangling with others, thinking only of the interests of their own unit. What is more, we have no regular methods for recruiting, rewarding and punishing cadres or for their retirement, resignation or removal. Whether they do their work well or poorly, they have “iron rice bowls”. They can be employed but not dismissed, promoted but not demoted. These things inevitably result in overstaffing and in too many administrative levels and deputy and nominal posts, all of which, in turn, foster the proliferation of bureaucracy. Hence the necessity for radical reform of these systems. Of course, bureaucracy is also connected with ways of thinking, but these cannot be changed without first reforming the relevant systems. That is why we have made so little headway in our repeated attempts to reduce bureaucracy. Much work, including education and ideological struggle, has to be done to solve the problems I have mentioned in the various systems. But it must be done, or it will be impossible for us to make substantial progress in our economic and other work.

Over-concentration of power means inappropriate and indiscriminate concentration of all power in Party committees in the name of strengthening centralized Party leadership. Moreover, the power of the Party committees themselves is often in the hands of a few secretaries, especially the first secretaries, who direct and decide everything. Thus “centralized Party leadership” often turns into leadership by individuals. This problem exists, in varying degrees, in leading bodies at all levels throughout the country. Over-concentration of power in the hands of an individual or of a few people means that most functionaries have no decision-making power at all, while the few who do are overburdened. This inevitably leads to bureaucratism and various mistakes, and it inevitably impairs the democratic life, collective leadership, democratic centralism and division of labour with individual responsibility in the Party and government organizations at all levels. This phenomenon is connected to the influence of feudal autocracy in China’s own history and also to the tradition of a high degree of concentration of power in the hands of individual leaders of the Communist Parties of various countries at the time of the Communist International. Historically, we ourselves have repeatedly placed too much emphasis on ensuring centralism and unification by the Party, and on combating decentralism and any assertion of independence. And we have placed too little emphasis on ensuring the necessary degree of decentralization, delegating necessary decision-making power to the lower organizations and opposing the over-concentration of power in the hands of individuals. We have tried several times to divide power between the central and local authorities, but we never defined the scope of the functions and powers of the Party organizations as distinct from those of the government and of economic and mass organizations. I don’t mean that there is no need to emphasize centralism and unification by the Party, or that it is wrong to emphasize them under any circumstances, or that there is never any need to oppose decentralism or the assertion of independence. The problem is that we have gone too far in these respects, and we have even failed to clarify what we mean by decentralism and assertion of independence in the first place. Now that ours has become the ruling party in the whole country, and especially since we have basically completed the socialist transformation of the ownership of the means of production, the Party’s central task is different from what it was in the past. Now that we are engaged in the extremely difficult and complicated task of socialist construction, over-concentration of power is becoming more and more incompatible with the development of our socialist cause. The long-standing failure to understand this adequately was one important cause of the “Cultural Revolution”, and we paid a heavy price for it. There should be no further delay in finding a solution to this problem.

Besides leading to over-concentration of power in the hands of individuals, patriarchal ways within the revolutionary ranks place individuals above the organization, which then becomes a tool in their hands. Patriarchal ways are an antiquated social phenomenon which has existed from time immemorial and has had a very damaging influence on the Party. Chen Duxiu, Wang Ming and Zhang Guotao were all patriarchal in their ways. During the period from the Zunyi Meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee [in 1935] to the socialist transformation [in the mid-50s], the Central Committee and Comrade Mao Zedong invariably paid due attention to collective leadership and democratic centralism, so that democratic life within our Party was quite normal. Unfortunately, this fine tradition has not been upheld, nor has it been incorporated into a strict and perfected system. For example, when major issues are discussed inside the Party, very often there is insufficient democratic deliberation. Hasty decisions are made by one or a few individuals and votes are seldom taken, as they should be under the principle of majority rule. This shows that democratic centralism has not yet become a strictly applied system. After the criticism of the opposition to rash advance in 1958 and the campaign against “Right deviation” in 1959, democratic life in the Party and state gradually ceased to function normally. There was a constant growth of such patriarchal ways as letting only one person have the say and make important decisions, practising the cult of personality and placing individuals above the organization. Lin Biao1 propagated the “peak theory”, saying that Chairman Mao’s words were supreme instructions. This theory was widespread throughout the Party, army and country. After the smashing of the Gang of Four, the personality cult continued for a period of time. Commemorative activities in honour of some other leaders also sometimes smacked of the cult of personality. Recently, the Central Committee issued a directive insisting that there should be less publicity for individuals. It pointed out, among other things, that improper commemorative methods not only mean extravagance and waste and lead to divorce from the masses, but also imply that history is made by a few individuals — a notion which is detrimental to education in Marxism inside and outside the Party and to the elimination of feudal and bourgeois ideological influences. This directive, which contained some regulations designed to correct undesirable practices, is a very significant document. Here I must also mention that after 1958 residential quarters were built in many places for Comrade Mao Zedong and some other comrades on the Central Committee, and that after the downfall of the Gang of Four work still continued on some such building projects in Zhongnanhai. All this had a very bad influence and entailed much waste. Furthermore, to this day a few high-ranking cadres are still given welcoming and farewell banquets, and traffic is held up and great publicity made wherever they go. This is most improper. All the practices I have mentioned, which seriously alienate us from the masses, must be banned at all levels from the top down.

Many places and units have their patriarchal personages with unlimited power. Everyone else has to be absolutely obedient and even personally attached to them. One of our organizational principles is subordination of the lower Party organizations to the higher, which means that a lower organization must implement the decisions and instructions from the higher one. This does not, however, preclude relations of equality among Party comrades. All Party members, those who take on leadership work as well as the rank and file, should treat each other as equals, equally enjoy all rights to which they are entitled and fulfil all the duties they are expected to perform. Comrades at the higher levels should not imperiously order about those at lower levels, and they certainly must not make them do anything in violation of the Party Constitution or the country’s laws. No one should fawn on his superiors or be obedient and “loyal” to them in an unprincipled way. The relationship between a superior and a subordinate must not be the one repeatedly criticized by Comrade Mao Zedong, the relationship between cat and mouse. Nor should it be like the relations in the old society between monarch and subject, or father and son, or the leader of a faction and his followers. The patriarchal ways I have described are partly responsible for the grave mistakes some comrades make. Even the formation of the counter-revolutionary cliques of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing was inseparable from the patriarchal ways surviving inside the Party. In a word, unless such ways are eliminated once for all, the practice of inner-Party democracy in particular and of socialist democracy in general is out of the question.

Tenure for life in leading posts is linked both to feudal influences and to the continued absence of proper regulations in the Party for the retirement and dismissal of cadres. The question of retirement did not arise during the period of revolutionary wars when we were all still young, nor in the fifties when we were all in the prime of life, but it was unwise of us not to have solved the problem later. Still, it should be acknowledged that it could not have been solved, or at least not completely, under the conditions then prevailing. In the draft of the revised Party Constitution discussed at the Fifth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee, it was proposed that life tenure in leading posts be abolished. As we see it now, this provision needs to be further revised and supplemented. What is essential is to improve the systems of election, recruitment, appointment, removal, assessment, impeachment and rotation of cadres and, in the light of specific conditions, to work out appropriate and explicit regulations for the terms of office and retirement of leading cadres of all categories and at all levels (including those elected, appointed or invited). No leading cadre should hold any office indefinitely.

During the “Cultural Revolution”, Lin Biao and the Gang of Four did everything to procure a privileged life style for themselves and inflicted great suffering upon the masses. At present there are still some cadres who, regarding themselves as masters rather than servants of the people, use their positions to seek personal privileges. This practice has aroused strong mass resentment and tarnished the Party’s prestige. Unless it is firmly corrected, it is bound to corrupt our cadres. The privileges we are opposed to today are political and economic prerogatives not provided for by law or the existing regulations. The appetite for personal privilege shows that there are still lingering feudal influences. From old China we inherited a strong tradition of feudal autocracy and a weak tradition of democratic legality. Moreover, in the post-Liberation years we did not consciously draw up systematic rules and regulations to safeguard the people’s democratic rights. Our legal system is far from perfect and has not received anywhere near the attention it deserves. Privileges are sometimes restricted, criticized and attacked, but at other times they are allowed to proliferate again. To eradicate privilege, we must solve both the ideological problems involved and problems relating to rules and regulations. All citizens are equal before the law and the existing rules and regulations, and all Party members are equal before the Party Constitution and regulations on Party discipline. Everyone has equal rights and duties prescribed by law, and no one may gain advantages at others’ expense or violate the law. Whoever does violate the law must be subjected to investigation by the public security organs and brought to justice by the judicial organs according to law. No one is allowed to interfere with law enforcement, and no one who breaks the law should go unpunished. No one may violate the Party Constitution or discipline, and anyone who does must be subjected to disciplinary action. No one is allowed to interfere with the enforcement of Party discipline, and no one who does should be allowed to escape disciplinary sanctions. Only when these principles are implemented resolutely can such problems as the pursuit of privilege and the violation of law and discipline be eliminated for good. There must be a system of mass supervision so that the masses at large and the Party rank and file can supervise the cadres, especially the leading cadres. The people have the right to expose, accuse, impeach, replace and recall, according to law, all those who seek personal privileges and refuse to change their ways despite criticism and education. The people have the right to demand that these persons pay for what they have unlawfully taken and that they be punished according to law or through disciplinary measures. Regulations must be worked out governing the scope of powers attached to particular posts and the political seniority and material benefits of cadres at all levels. Here, the most important thing is to have definite organizations to exercise impartial supervision.

It is true that the errors we made in the past were partly attributable to the way of thinking and style of work of some leaders. But they were even more attributable to the problems in our organizational and working systems. If these systems are sound, they can place restraints on the actions of bad people; if they are unsound, they may hamper the efforts of good people or indeed, in certain cases, may push them in the wrong direction. Even so great a man as Comrade Mao Zedong was influenced to a serious degree by certain unsound systems and institutions, which resulted in grave misfortunes for the Party, the state and himself. If even now we still don’t improve the way our socialist system functions, people will ask why it cannot solve some problems which the capitalist system can. Such comparisons may be one-sided, but we must not just dismiss them on that account. Stalin gravely damaged socialist legality, doing things which Comrade Mao Zedong once said would have been impossible in Western countries like Britain, France and the United States. Yet although Comrade Mao was aware of this, he did not in practice solve the problems in our system of leadership. Together with other factors, this led to the decade of catastrophe known as the “Cultural Revolution”. There is a most profound lesson to be learned from this. I do not mean that the individuals concerned should not bear their share of responsibility, but rather that the problems in the leadership and organizational systems are more fundamental, widespread and long-lasting, and that they have a greater effect on the overall interests of our country. This is a question that has a close bearing on whether our Party and state will change political colour and should therefore command the attention of the entire Party.

Some serious problems which appeared in the past may arise again if the defects in our present systems are not eliminated. Only when these defects are resolutely removed through planned, systematic, and thorough reforms will the people trust our leadership, our Party and socialism. Then our cause will truly have a future of boundless promise.

We cannot discuss the defects in our system of Party and state leadership without touching upon Comrade Mao Zedong’s mistakes in his later years. The resolution on certain questions in the history of our Party since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, a document now being drafted, will include a systematic exposition of Mao Zedong Thought and a reasonably comprehensive assessment of Comrade Mao’s own merits and demerits, including criticism of his mistakes during the “Cultural Revolution”. As thoroughgoing materialists, we Communists cannot but accept what should be accepted and reject what should be rejected, basing our judgement strictly on facts. Comrade Mao rendered immortal service to our Party, our country and our people throughout his life. His contributions are primary and his mistakes secondary. But to avoid mentioning his mistakes because of his contributions would not be a materialist approach. Neither is it a materialist approach to deny his contributions because of his mistakes. The “Cultural Revolution” was a blunder and a failure because it ran completely counter to the scientific tenets of Mao Zedong Thought. These tenets, which have been tested and proved correct through long years of practice, not only guided us to victory in the past but will remain our guiding ideology in the years of struggle ahead. It is incorrect and against the fundamental interests of the Chinese people to have any doubt or to waver to any degree on this important principle of our Party.


Now I come to the question of eliminating the influence of feudalism and of bourgeois thinking.

All the defects I have just described bear the stamp of feudalism to one degree or another. Of course, surviving feudal influences are not manifested only in such defects. They are also to be seen in, for example, a lingering clan mentality and hierarchy in social relations, in certain instances of assumed inequality of status in the relations between leading comrades and their subordinates and between cadres and the masses, in a weak sense of the rights and duties of citizens, and in certain “mandarin” systems and high-handed work styles in industry, commerce and agriculture. In addition, there is excessive emphasis on regional and departmental jurisdictions in the management of economic work, which has led to compartmentalization and the tendency to profit at the expense of others. This has sometimes created unnecessary difficulties between two socialist enterprises or regions. The surviving influences of feudalism are also manifest in the autocratic style of work of some persons in the cultural sphere, in the failure to recognize how vital science and education are to socialism and how impossible it is to build socialism without them, in a closed-door policy and ignorant chauvinism in foreign relations, and so on and so forth. And let’s look at clannish practices. During the “cultural revolution”, when someone got to the top, even his dogs and chickens got there too; likewise, when someone got into trouble, even his distant relatives were dragged down with him. This situation became very serious. Even now, the abominable practice of appointing people through favouritism and factionalism continues unchecked in some regions, departments and units. There are quite a few instances where cadres abuse their power so as to enable their friends and relations to move to the cities or to obtain jobs or promotions. It is thus clear that the residual influences of clannishness must not be underestimated. We need to exert ourselves if these problems are to be solved.

Through 28 years of new-democratic revolution we succeeded in overthrowing once for all the reactionary feudal regime and the feudal system of landownership. However, we did not complete the task of eliminating the surviving feudal influences in the ideological and political fields, because we underestimated their importance and because we quickly proceeded to the socialist revolution. Now it is essential to state clearly that we must continue to labour at this task and that we must carry out a series of effective reforms in our institutions. Otherwise, our country and people will suffer further losses.

To accomplish this task we must adopt the scientific approach of seeking truth from facts and apply Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought in making a concrete and accurate analysis of the manifestations of the lingering influences of feudalism. First and foremost, we must draw a clear line of demarcation between socialism and feudalism and never allow anyone to oppose socialism under the pretext of opposing feudalism or to use the kind of phoney socialism advocated by the Gang of Four to promote feudalism. Second, we must carefully distinguish between the democratic values in our cultural heritage and the feudal dross, and between the lingering feudal influences and certain unscientific methods and unsound procedures in our work resulting from lack of experience. We should guard against raising yet another storm and indiscriminately labelling everything “feudal”.

For most of the cadres and the masses, the process of eliminating surviving feudal influences is a kind of self-education and self-remoulding, which will enable them to free themselves from such influences, emancipate their minds, raise their political awareness, adapt themselves to the needs of our modernization programme and thus make contributions to the people, society and mankind. In endeavouring to eliminate these influences, we must stress the need to effectively restructure and improve the systems of the Party and state in such a way as to ensure institutionally the practice of democracy in political life, in economic management and in all other aspects of social activity and thus to promote the smooth progress of modernization. To this end we must conduct conscientious investigations and studies, compare the experience of other countries and work out realistic plans and measures by drawing on collective wisdom. We should not think that we have only to “put destruction first” and construction will follow automatically. It must be made very clear that no anti-feudal political movement or propaganda campaign should be launched. There should be no political criticism of the kind that has been directed at some individuals in the past, and still less should there be struggles directed against either the cadres or the masses. Historical experience has shown that no problem of mass ideological education was ever solved by launching a mass movement instead of organizing exhaustive persuasion and calm discussion, and that no currently functioning systems were ever reformed or new ones established by substituting a mass movement for solid, systematic measures. This is true because solving the ideological problems of the masses and concrete problems in the organizational and work systems in a socialist society is, in principle, fundamentally different from cracking down on counter-revolutionaries and destroying the reactionary system in the period of revolution.

While working to eliminate feudal influence in the political and ideological fields, we must not in the least neglect or slacken criticism of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies, of ultra-individualism and anarchism. Which of the two influences — feudal or bourgeois — is more serious? There can never be one answer to this question, because the extent of the influence may vary greatly, depending on the geographical region or the sector of work involved, the particular issue under consideration, and the ages, personal experience and cultural backgrounds of the persons affected. Furthermore, in our society, which was a semi-feudal and semi-colonial one for more than a century, feudal ideology is in some cases intermingled with bourgeois ideology and the slavish colonial mentality, and the three are sometimes inseparable. With the increasing international contacts of recent years, instances of worshipping things foreign, or fawning on foreigners have begun to appear, owing to the influence of the decadent ideology, work style and way of life of the bourgeoisie abroad. And such phenomena may increase in the future. This is a by no means trivial problem, and we must take it seriously and solve it.

China may be backward in economic and cultural development, but it is not necessarily backward in everything. Some foreign countries may be advanced in technology and management, but they are not necessarily advanced in everything. Our Party and people established a socialist system after long years of bloody struggle. After all, although our socialist system is still imperfect and has suffered disruption, it is much better than the capitalist system based on the law of the jungle and the principle of “getting ahead” at the expense of others. Our system will improve more and more with the passage of time. By absorbing the progressive elements of other countries, it will become the best in the world. Capitalism can never achieve this. It is absolutely wrong to lose faith in socialism and think that it is inferior to capitalism just because we have made mistakes in our practice of socialist revolution and construction. It is also absolutely wrong to think that in trying to eliminate surviving feudal influences we may spread capitalist ideology. We must firmly repudiate these wrong ideas and check their spread. By upholding the principle “to each according to his work” and by recognizing material interests we intend to increase the material well-being of the entire people. Everyone is bound to have material interests, but this in no sense means that we encourage people to work solely for their personal material interests without regard for the interests of the state, the collective and other people, or that we encourage people to put money above all else. If we did that, what would be the difference between socialism and capitalism? We have maintained all along that in a socialist society there is a basic community of interests between the state, the collective and the individual. If they clash, it is the individual interests which should be subordinated to those of the state and the collective. Where necessary, all people with a high level of revolutionary consciousness should sacrifice their personal interests for those of the state, the collective and the people. We should make more efforts to disseminate this noble outlook among our people, especially the young people.

We have some young people now, including children of cadres, and even some cadres themselves, who have violated the law and regulations, accepted bribes and engaged in smuggling, speculation and profiteering so as to make money or to find a way to go abroad — at the expense of their own moral integrity, the dignity of our state and national self-respect. This is despicable. In the last couple of years, some pornographic, obscene, filthy and repulsive photographs, films, publications and the like have been smuggled into our country through different channels. These things have tended to debase the standards of social conduct and corrupt some young people and cadres. If we allow this plague to spread unchecked, it will affect many weak-willed persons and bring about their moral and mental degradation. Organizations at all levels should pay earnest attention to this problem and take firm and effective measures to ban and destroy this decadent rubbish and make sure that no more of it is allowed to enter China. Furthermore, in our domestic economic work, increasing numbers of individuals, groups and even enterprises and other units are engaging in illegal practices by distorting our economic policies and taking advantage of loopholes in our system of economic management. We must be constantly on guard against such illegal, anti-socialist activities and struggle against people who engage in them.

To sum up, elimination of surviving feudal influences must be combined with the criticism of decadent bourgeois ideas, such as the notion of putting profit above everything else and trying to “get ahead” at the expense of others.

Naturally, we should adopt a scientific approach towards capitalism and towards bourgeois ideas. Not long ago, in order to educate people in the revolutionary outlook, some localities again raised the slogan, “Foster proletarian ideology and eliminate bourgeois ideology”. I read the relevant documents and didn’t find anything wrong at the time. As I see it now, however, this old slogan is neither comprehensive nor precise enough. For lack of sufficient investigation and analysis, certain comrades have criticized as “capitalism” some of our current reforms, which are useful to the development of production and the socialist cause as a whole. They are wrong in this. We need to make further studies and correctly specify just what are the bourgeois ideas that should be sternly criticized and prevented from spreading, what are the capitalist tendencies in our economic life that should be firmly resisted and overcome, and what is the correct method of criticism. We must do this if we don’t want to repeat past mistakes.


The Central Committee of the Party has repeatedly examined the question of reforming our system of Party and state leadership. Some reform measures were initiated following the Fifth Plenary Session of the Central Committee, others will be put forward at the Third Session of the Fifth National People’s Congress, and still others will be adopted when conditions are ripe. In addition to the reforms I have already referred to, we are planning to gradually introduce the following major changes:

First, the Central Committee will submit proposals for revising the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China to the Third Session of the Fifth National People’s Congress. Our Constitution should be made more complete and precise so as to really ensure the people’s right to manage the state organs at all levels as well as the various enterprises and institutions, to guarantee to our people the full enjoyment of their rights as citizens, to enable the areas inhabited by minority nationalities to exercise genuine regional autonomy, to improve the system of people’s congresses, and so on. The principle of preventing the over-concentration of power will also be reflected in the revised Constitution.

Second, the Central Committee has already set up its Commission for Discipline Inspection, and is now considering the establishment of an advisory commission (which may be given a different name). Together with the Central Committee itself, these commissions are to be elected by the National Congress of the Party, and their respective functions and powers are to be specified. In this way, a great many veteran comrades who have been working in the Central Committee and the State Council will be able to put their experience to full use by giving guidance, advice and supervision. At the same time, the regular executive bodies of the Central Committee and the State Council will become more compact and efficient and the average age of their personnel will gradually go down.

Third, a truly effective work system will be set up for the State Council and the various levels of local government. From now on, all matters within the competence of the government will be discussed and decided upon, and the relevant documents issued, by the State Council and the local governments concerned. The Central Committee and local committees of the Party will no longer issue directives or take decisions on such matters. Of course, the work of the government will continue to be carried out under the political leadership of the Party. Strengthening government work means strengthening the Party’s leadership.

Fourth, step by step and in a planned manner we should reform the system under which the factory director or manager assumes responsibility under the leadership of the Party committee. We should first experiment with this reform in selected units, then gradually introduce it into more units, instituting a system under which factory directors and managers assume responsibility under the leadership and supervision of the factory management committee, the board of directors of the company, and the joint committee of united economic entities. We should also consider reforming the system under which university and college presidents and heads of research institutes assume responsibility under the leadership of the Party committee. Through our experience over a long period of time, the old system of factory management has proven unfavourable to the modernization of both factory management and the industrial management system, and also to improvement of Party’s work in factories. These reforms are designed to free the Party committees of routine matters, enabling them to concentrate on conducting ideological and political work and to take charge of organization and supervision. This does not weaken but improves and strengthens the leadership of the Party. The administrators of various units should conscientiously study the relevant managerial and technical skills, but they should not be engrossed in meetings for too long a period of time, remaining always laymen. If this were the case, we could never accomplish the goal of modernization. Most of these administrators are Party members. When the management system is reformed, the directors and managers should accept the leadership of higher-level administrative departments, the political leadership of higher-level Party organizations, and supervision by Party organizations at the same levels. The responsibilities of Party organizations at the same levels will not be diminished, rather, Party work will truly be strengthened. The Party organizations in factories, companies, colleges, schools and research institutes should educate all Party members well, do solid mass work and encourage Party members to play exemplary vanguard roles at their posts. The Party organizations should truly become the backbone of all enterprises and institutions and educate and supervise all Party members, so as to ensure the implementation of the Party’s political line and the accomplishment of all tasks. Considering that this reform has a great impact on a large number of primary Party organizations throughout the country, we should continue to solicit opinions from all walks of life before making the decision to introduce this reform when conditions are ripe.

Fifth, congresses or conferences of representatives of workers and office staff will be introduced in all enterprises and institutions. That was decided long ago. The question now is how to popularize and perfect the system. These congresses or conferences have the right to discuss and take decisions on major questions of concern to their respective units, to propose to the higher organizations the recall of incompetent administrators, and to introduce — gradually and within appropriate limits — the practice of electing their leaders.

Sixth, Party committees at all levels are genuinely to apply the principle of combining collective leadership and division of labour with individual responsibility. It should be made clear which matters call for collective discussion and which fall within the competence of individuals. Major issues must certainly be discussed and decided upon by the collective. In the process of taking decisions, it is essential to observe strictly the principle of majority rule and the principle of one-man-one-vote, a Party secretary being entitled only to his single vote. That is, the first secretary must not take decisions by himself. Once a collective decision is taken, it should be carried out by all members, each taking his own share of responsibility. No buck-passing should be allowed on any account, and those who neglect their duties should be penalized. As the top person in the collective leadership, the first secretary of a Party committee must assume chief responsibility for its day-to-day work, while among its other members the stress should be on individual responsibility according to the division of labour. We should encourage leading cadres to shoulder responsibility boldly, but this is totally different from making arbitrary personal decisions. The two should never be confused.

I ask the comrades to study and discuss these six points carefully and to freely express their opinions, including divergent ones. With regard to some matters, after the central authorities have decided on general principles, experiments will have to be carried out in order to gain experience and pool collective wisdom. We will try to solve one specific problem after another when the necessary conditions are ripe. The central authorities will make a formal decision on each of them and then draw up realistic, well-thought-out, practicable and lasting rules and regulations which should be systematically applied. Until such time as these are formulated and promulgated by the central authorities, work in various fields should continue to be carried out under the regulations now in force.

The purpose of reforming the system of Party and state leadership is precisely to maintain and further strengthen Party leadership and discipline, and not to weaken or relax them. In a big country like ours, it is inconceivable that unity of thinking could be achieved among our several hundred million people or that their efforts could be pooled to build socialism in the absence of a Party whose members have a spirit of sacrifice and a high level of political awareness and discipline, a Party that truly represents and unites the masses of people and exercises unified leadership. Without such a Party, our country would split up and accomplish nothing. The people of all our nationalities have come to a deep understanding of this truth through long years of struggle. The unity of the people, social stability, the promotion of democracy and the reunification of our country all depend on Party leadership. The core of the Four Cardinal Principles is to uphold leadership by the Party. The point is that the Party must provide good leadership; only through constant improvement can its leadership be strengthened.

We have before us the extremely arduous and complex task of socialist modernization. While many old problems still remain to be solved, many new ones are emerging. Only by consistently relying on the masses, maintaining close ties with them, listening to what they have to say, understanding their feelings and always representing their interests can the Party become a powerful force capable of smoothly accomplishing its tasks. At present, there are many ideological problems, both among the masses and in the Party, that call for solution. We must give priority to ideological and political work and earnestly endeavour to do it well, never slackening our efforts. This work should be performed by Party committees and leading cadres at all levels, as well as by all other Party members. It should be done painstakingly and thoroughly, with a clear objective in mind and in a way acceptable to the masses. Here the decisive condition for success is that all Party members, especially those in leading positions, be the first to do what they expect the masses to do. Thus, for our ideological and political work to be successful, it is necessary to improve the leadership provided by the Party and to improve its leadership system.

Comrades! The reform and improvement of the various Party and state systems is a long-term and difficult task, and the key to its accomplishment is the reform and improvement of the system of Party and state leadership. We must thoroughly understand this. Comrade Mao Zedong and the other veteran revolutionaries who have already passed away left us without being able to complete this task, so it has fallen on our shoulders. All Party members, especially veteran comrades, should devote their efforts to it. We have done a good deal, solved many problems and accomplished much that reflects credit on us since the Third Plenary Session of the Party’s Eleventh Central Committee. So we have a solid position from which to proceed further. The time and conditions are now ripe for us to undertake the task of reforming and improving the system of Party and state leadership so as to meet the needs of our modernization drive. While our generation may not be able to finish this work, at least we have the responsibility of laying a firm foundation and establishing a correct orientation for its accomplishment. This much, I believe, we can do.

(This speech to an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China was discussed and endorsed by the Political Bureau on August 31, 1980.)