Deng Xiaoping

Building a Socialism With a Specifically Chinese Character


Published: June 30, 1984
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


Since the defeat of the Gang of Four and the convocation of the Third Plenary Session of the Party’s Eleventh Central Committee, we have formulated correct ideological, political and organizational lines and a series of principles and policies. What is the ideological line? To adhere to Marxism and to integrate it with Chinese realities — in other words, to seek truth from facts, as advocated by Comrade Mao Zedong, and to uphold his basic ideas. It is crucial for us to adhere to Marxism and socialism. For more than a century after the Opium War, China was subjected to aggression and humiliation. It is because the Chinese people embraced Marxism and kept to the road leading from new-democracy to socialism that their revolution was victorious.

You may ask, what if the Chinese people had taken the capitalist road instead? Could they have liberated themselves, and could they have finally stood up? Let us review the history. The Kuomintang followed the capitalist road for more than 20 years, but China was still a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society, which proved that that road led nowhere. In contrast, the Communists, adhering to Marxism and Mao Zedong Thought, which integrates Marxism with actual conditions in China, took their own road and succeeded in the revolution by encircling the cities from the countryside. Conversely, if we had not had faith in Marxism, or if we had not integrated Marxism with Chinese conditions and followed our own road, the revolution would have been a failure, and China would have remained fragmented and dependent. So faith in Marxism was the motive force that enabled us to achieve victory in the revolution.

At the founding of the People’s Republic, we inherited from old China a ruined economy with virtually no industry. There was a shortage of grain, inflation was acute and the economy was in chaos. But we solved the problems of feeding and employing the population, stabilized commodity prices and unified financial and economic work, and the economy rapidly recovered. On this foundation we started large-scale reconstruction. What did we rely on? We relied on Marxism and socialism. Some people ask why we chose socialism. We answer that we had to, because capitalism would get China nowhere. If we had taken the capitalist road, we could not have put an end to the chaos in the country or done away with poverty and backwardness. That is why we have repeatedly declared that we shall adhere to Marxism and keep to the socialist road. But by Marxism we mean Marxism that is integrated with Chinese conditions, and by socialism we mean a socialism that is tailored to Chinese conditions and has a specifically Chinese character.

What is socialism and what is Marxism? We were not quite clear about this in the past. Marxism attaches utmost importance to developing the productive forces. We have said that socialism is the primary stage of communism and that at the advanced stage the principle of from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs will be applied. This calls for highly developed productive forces and an overwhelming abundance of material wealth. Therefore, the fundamental task for the socialist stage is to develop the productive forces. The superiority of the socialist system is demonstrated, in the final analysis, by faster and greater development of those forces than under the capitalist system. As they develop, the people’s material and cultural life will constantly improve. One of our shortcomings after the founding of the People’s Republic was that we didn’t pay enough attention to developing the productive forces. Socialism means eliminating poverty. Pauperism is not socialism, still less communism.

Given that China is still backward, what road can we take to develop the productive forces and raise the people’s standard of living? This brings us back to the question of whether to continue on the socialist road or to stop and turn onto the capitalist road. Capitalism can only enrich less than 10 per cent of the Chinese population; it can never enrich the remaining more than 90 per cent. But if we adhere to socialism and apply the principle of distribution to each according to his work, there will not be excessive disparities in wealth. Consequently, no polarization will occur as our productive forces become developed over the next 20 to 30 years.

Our political line is to focus on the modernization programme and on continued development of the productive forces. Nothing short of a world war could tear us away from this line. And even if a world war broke out, we would engage in reconstruction after the war. The minimum target of our modernization programme is to achieve a comparatively comfortable standard of living by the end of the century. I first mentioned this to former Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira during his visit here in December 1979. By a comparatively comfortable standard we mean a per capita GNP of US$800. That is a low level for you, but it is really an ambitious goal for us. China has a population of 1 billion now, and by then it will have reached 1.2 billion. If, when the GNP reaches $1 trillion, we were to apply the capitalist principle of distribution, most of the people would remain mired in poverty and backwardness. But the socialist principle of distribution can enable all the people to lead a relatively comfortable life. This is why we want to uphold socialism. Without socialism, China can never achieve that goal.

The present world is open. One important reason for China’s backwardness after the industrial revolution in Western countries was its closed-door policy. After the founding of the People’s Republic we were blockaded by others, so the country remained virtually closed, which created difficulties for us. The experience of the past thirty or so years has demonstrated that a closed-door policy would hinder construction and inhibit development. There could be two kinds of exclusion: one would be directed against other countries; the other would be directed against China itself, with one region or department closing its doors to the others. Both kinds of exclusion would be harmful. We are suggesting that we should develop rapidly, but not too rapidly because that would be unrealistic. To do this, we have to invigorate the domestic economy and open to the outside world.

Proceeding from the realities in China, we must first of all solve the problem of the countryside. Eighty per cent of the population lives in rural areas, and China’s stability depends on the stability of those areas. No matter how successful our work is in the cities, it won’t mean much without a stable base in the countryside. We therefore began by invigorating the economy and adopting an open policy there, so as to bring the initiative of 80 per cent of the population into full play. We adopted this policy at the end of 1978, and after a few years it has produced the desired results. Now the recent Second Session of the Sixth National People’s Congress has decided to shift the focus of reform from the countryside to the cities. The urban reform will include not only industry and commerce but science and technology, education and all other fields of endeavour as well. In short, we shall continue the reform at home and open still wider to the outside world.

We have opened 14 large and medium-sized coastal cities. We welcome foreign investment and advanced techniques. Management is also a technique. Will they undermine our socialism? Not likely, because the socialist sector is the mainstay of our economy. Our socialist economic base is so huge that it can absorb tens and hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of foreign funds without being shaken. Foreign investment will doubtless serve as a major supplement in the building of socialism in our country. And as things stand now, that supplement is indispensable. Naturally, some problems will arise in the wake of foreign investment. But its negative impact will be far less significant than the positive use we can make of it to accelerate our development. It may entail a slight risk, but not much.

Well, those are our plans. We shall accumulate new experience and try new solutions as new problems arise. In general, we believe that the course we have chosen, which we call building socialism with Chinese characteristics, is the right one. We have followed this road for five and a half years and have achieved satisfactory results; indeed, the pace of development has so far exceeded our projections. If we go on this way, we shall be able to reach the goal of quadrupling China’s GNP by the end of the century. And so I can tell our friends that we are even more confident now.

(Excerpt from a talk with the Japanese delegation to the second session of the Council of Sino-Japanese Non-Governmental Persons.)