Deng Xiaoping

China’s Historical Experience In Economic Construction


Published: May 6, 1982
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


China has not given much help to its third-world friends. That is because our country, although vast in territory, is very poor and still faces many difficulties. Since the founding of our People’s Republic [in 1949], we have essentially solved the problems of food and clothing and have become self-sufficient in grain. That in itself is quite remarkable, because these problems remained unsolved for so long in old China. In industry, we have laid a comparatively sound foundation, and although we are still very backward in this regard, the present industrial base is much better than before. We are now devoting all our efforts to construction and the rather rapid development of our economy. When we have succeeded, we shall be able to do more for our friends in the third world. Our per-capita GNP is now only US$250-260. Yours isn’t high either, but our country has a great many more people, so if we are to increase the GNP by 100 dollars per capita, that means an additional 100 billion dollars. A large population brings its own difficulties and many problems that aren’t easy to solve. A small country has some special advantages, as does a small population. Since your country is small in population and rich in natural resources, your affairs are easier to handle than ours.

Our country is now implementing an economic policy of opening to the outside world and using funds and advanced technology from abroad to help our economic development. This policy has already shown some positive results. However, it isn’t easy to get funds and advanced technology from the developed countries. There are still some people around who are wedded to the ideas of the old-line colonialists; they are reluctant to see the poor countries develop, and attempt to throttle them. Therefore, while pursuing the policy of opening to the outside world, we must stick to the principle of relying mainly on our own efforts, a principle consistently advocated by Chairman Mao Zedong since the founding of our People’s Republic. We must seek outside help on the basis of self-reliance, depending mainly on our own hard work.

You would like to know about China’s experience. The most important thing we have learned is to rely mainly on our own efforts. We have done many things on our own. The Soviet Union under Stalin gave us some assistance. But it began to take a hostile attitude towards us when Khrushchev came to power. It not only stopped helping us but stationed a million troops along the Sino-Soviet border to threaten us. The United States also was hostile to us for a long time until 1972, after which things changed somewhat. From the mid-50s to the 70s — that is, for more than 20 of the 32 years since the founding of our People’s Republic — we had no outside help, or virtually none, and had to rely mainly on our own efforts. Having no outside help also had its positive side, because we were forced to exert ourselves. In the spirit of self-reliance we managed to make atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and missiles and to launch man-made satellites. Thus the primary thing that we’ve learned from our experience and that we would like to propose to our third-world friends is self-reliance. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek outside help, but the main thing is to rely on our own efforts. Through self-reliance we can unite the people, inspire the whole country to work hard for prosperity, and thus make it easier to overcome the many difficulties in the way.

Another thing we have learned from experience is the importance of developing agriculture. As long as the people are well fed, everything else is easy, no matter what may happen in the world.

Industrial undertakings should not be on too large a scale. It is better to build medium- and small-sized projects. Conditions in your country are different from ours. With its vast territory and huge population, our country can’t get along without some large key industries. But our experience shows that one shouldn’t try to move ahead too fast or too rashly. We used to be in too much of a hurry, and we made some mistakes — “Left” mistakes, as we call them. That is to say, we made some decisions that, contrary to our expectations, resulted in a slowing down of economic growth. In our current economic development, we intend to continue to rely mainly on our own efforts and to act according to our true capability. We are working out our Sixth Five-Year Plan [1981-85] and have some tentative ideas regarding the Seventh [1986-90]. China’s economic growth will not be very rapid in the next decade because we have to tackle many problems left over from the past, including the imbalances between the different branches of the economy. For the next five or ten years, our rate of growth can probably average only 4 per cent annually; 5 per cent would be wonderful. We hope to have a higher rate of economic growth in the following 10 years, the last decade of this century.

This is just a brief summary of China’s experience in economic construction during the last three decades.

(Remarks at a meeting with the Liberian Head of State, Samuel Kanyon Doe.)