Deng Xiaoping

We Must Tell Our Young People About China’s History


Published: February 18, 1987
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


Recently the college and university students created some disturbances. It is not the students themselves who are to blame for it but a small number of persons with ulterior motives, mainly higher intellectuals inside the Party who incited them to action. We have dealt with the matter sternly. But the struggle against bourgeois liberalization has not ended. Some people are still not clear what we are doing now in China. Everyone says that the modernization programme is a good thing, but some people have an understanding of it that is different from ours. By modernization we mean socialist modernization, but what those people advocate is modernization without socialism. This shows that they have forgotten the essence of the matter and that they have departed from the road China must take in its development.

This question is vital: here we can make no concessions. We shall continue to struggle against bourgeois liberalization throughout the process of modernization, not only in this century but in the next. However, precisely because this will be a long-term struggle, instead of launching a political movement we shall use mainly the method of education. Education and persuasion are also a form of struggle. But only our achievements in economic development can eventually convince those who do not believe in socialism. If we can become comparatively prosperous by the end of this century, they will be partly convinced, and when we have turned China into a moderately developed socialist country by the middle of the next century, they will be completely convinced. By that time most of them will have recognized their mistake. I think it will be possible for us to reach that magnificent goal.

Generally speaking, over the past few years things have been going very well in our country: the economic situation has been good, and living standards have gradually risen. During the winter vacation the students went home; they found their families were living better, and their parents must have educated them too. So the student unrest won’t have any great impact on the country, much less cause us to change our established principles and policies. The Party’s General Secretary Hu Yaobang has submitted his resignation, and that has something to do with the student unrest. But this change of personnel in the Central Committee will have no effect on our principles and policies. That is, they will not be changed, and they will even be carried out more smoothly. In short, things will go on as usual; the only difference is that we have become more determined.

The positive result of the student unrest is that it has reminded us to review the experience gained in economic development over the past few years and has enabled us to see more clearly where things went wrong. The principles and policies we have formulated in recent years have been proved correct. Nevertheless, economic development has brought with it some negative effects, and if we want it to proceed in a sound way, we have to eliminate them. These negative effects have manifested themselves mainly in the spheres of theory, ideology and culture. That is why we have particularly stressed the need to uphold the Four Cardinal Principles and combat bourgeois liberalization. At the same time, we must do a better job of persuasion and education, improve our political and ideological work and struggle against undesirable conduct, including the tendency to seek privileges. The “cultural revolution” had a pernicious influence on the younger generation. That is why we encourage all our people, including cadres, to have high ideals, moral integrity, a good education and a strong sense of discipline.

The ideals of the exponents of bourgeois liberalization are different from ours. We advocate socialist and communist ideals, and they advocate capitalist ideals. After the Opium War of 1840 China was reduced to the status of a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society, and the Chinese nation was known as “the sick man of Asia”. For almost a century after that war, high-minded persons, including Dr. Sun Yat-sen, tried to find ways to save China. At first Dr. Sun Yat-sen looked to the West — that is, to capitalism. But later, when he found that what he learned from the capitalist West did not work in China, he put forward the idea of learning from Russia, which had been through the October Revolution. He initiated cooperation between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party, which brought about the success of the Northern Expedition [in 1926 against the northern warlords]. After Dr. Sun Yat-sen died, China under the rule of the Kuomintang remained a miserable semi-colonial and semi-feudal country, and when the Japanese invaded, a large part of its territory was turned into a Japanese colony. Under the oppression of imperialism, feudalism and the bureaucrat-capitalism that developed later, the country became poorer and poorer.

This history teaches us that capitalism would lead China nowhere and that we must follow the socialist road — there is no alternative. If China abandoned that road, it would return to its semi-colonial and semi-feudal status, and the Chinese people would not have enough food and clothing, let alone become prosperous. So we have to know the history of our country. Since our young people do not know much about our past, we should tell them about it, and the rest of the people too.

In short, in the last dozen years of this century and the first 30 to 50 years of the next, we shall continue to demonstrate that we are on the right road. We are optimistic about developing our economy. But we also realize that it will not be easy and that we must not rest on our oars. We shall have to be more careful in our work and review our experience regularly.

(Excerpt from a talk with President EI Hadj Omar Bongo of the Gabon Republic.)