Deng Xiaoping

We Shall Speed Up Reform


Published: June 12, 1987
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


Since our two parties resumed contact we have had very good relations. It was Comrade Tito who visited China first and turned a new page in the history of relations between the two parties. At that time our Party Chairman was Comrade Hua Guofeng. I met with Comrade Tito just as an old soldier. We had a cordial talk and agreed to forget the past and look to the future. This is the attitude we adopted when we resumed relations with other East European parties and countries; we take the present as a fresh starting point from which to develop friendly, cooperative relations. Of course, it’s still worthwhile to analyse events of the past. But I think the most important thing is that each party, whether it is big, small or medium, should respect the experience of the others and the choices they have made and refrain from criticizing the way the other parties and countries conduct their affairs. This should be our attitude not only towards parties in power but also towards those that are not in power. When we had talks with representatives of the Communist parties of France and Italy, we expressed this view that we should respect their experience and their choices. If they have made mistakes, it is up to them to correct them. Likewise, they should take the same attitude towards us, allowing us to make mistakes and correct them. Every country and every party has its own experience, which differs from that of the others in a thousand and one ways.

We were opposed to the idea of a “patriarchal party”, and our stand on that question has been proved correct. We were also opposed to the notion of a “centre”. Unfortunately, we ourselves have been guilty of criticizing other parties. That experience taught us that relations of a new type should be established between parties, and we therefore formulated a principle to govern such relations. I believe that if we abide by it, our friendship and cooperation will have a more solid and enduring foundation and that relations between the two parties and two countries will steadily improve.

China is now carrying out a reform. I am all in favour of that. There is no other solution for us. After several decades of practice it turned out that the old ways didn’t work. We used to copy foreign models mechanically, which only hampered the development of our productive forces, induced ideological rigidity and kept the people and grass-roots units from taking any initiative. We made some mistakes of our own as well, such as the Great Leap Forward and the “cultural revolution”, which were our own inventions. I would say that since 1957 our major mistakes have been “Left” ones. The “cultural revolution” was an ultra-Left mistake. In fact, during the 20 years from 1958 through 1978, China was hesitating, virtually at a standstill. There was little economic growth and not much of a rise in the standard of living. How could we go on like that without introducing reforms? So in 1978, at the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee, we formulated a new basic political line: to give first priority to the drive for modernization and strive to develop the productive forces. In accordance with that line, we drew up a series of new principles and policies, the major ones being reform and the open policy. By reform we mean something comprehensive, including reform of both the economic structure and the political structure and corresponding changes in all other areas. By the open policy we mean opening to all other countries, irrespective of their social systems.

We introduced reform and the open policy first in the economic sphere, beginning with the countryside. Why did we start there? Because that is where 80 per cent of China’s population lives. An unstable situation in the countryside would lead to an unstable political situation throughout the country. If the peasants did not shake off poverty, it would mean that China remained poor. Frankly, before the reform the majority of the peasants were extremely poor, hardly able to afford enough food, clothing, shelter and transportation. After the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee, we decided to carry out rural reform, giving more decision-making power to the peasants and the grass-roots units. By so doing we immediately brought their initiative into play, and great changes took place. By diversifying agriculture in accordance with local conditions, the peasants have grown grain and cash crops in places suited to them and have substantially increased the output of both.

The rural reform has achieved much faster results than we had anticipated. Of course, not everyone was in favour of reform at the outset. Two provinces took the lead: Sichuan — my home province — and Anhui, led by Comrade Wan Li. It was on the basis of the experience accumulated by those two provinces that we worked out the principles and policies of reform. Some provinces had misgivings about these principles and policies, and others didn’t know what to think for one or two years, but in the end they all followed suit. The Central Committee’s policy was to wait for them to be convinced by facts.

In the rural reform our greatest success — and it is one we had by no means anticipated — has been the emergence of a large number of enterprises run by villages and townships. They were like a new force that just came into being spontaneously. These small enterprises engage in the most diverse endeavours, including both manufacturing and trade. The Central Committee takes no credit for this. Their annual output value has been increasing by more than 20 per cent a year for the last several years. This increase in village and township enterprises, particularly industrial enterprises, has provided jobs for 50 per cent of the surplus labour in the countryside. Instead of flocking into the cities, the peasants have been building villages and townships of a new type. If the Central Committee made any contribution in this respect, it was only by laying down the correct policy of invigorating the domestic economy. The fact that this policy has had such a favourable result shows that we made a good decision. But this result was not anything that I or any of the other comrades had foreseen; it just came out of the blue. In short, the rural reform has produced rapid and notable results. Of course, that doesn’t mean all the problems in the countryside have been solved.

Our success in rural reform increased our confidence, and, applying the experience we had gained in the countryside, we began a reform of the entire economic structure, focused on the cities.

In the meantime, we have implemented the policy of opening China to the outside world in many ways, including setting up special economic zones and opening 14 coastal cities. It was the leaders of Guangdong Province who first came up with the proposal that special zones be established, and I agreed. But I said they should be called special economic zones, not special political zones, because we didn’t like anything of that sort. We decided to set up three more special zones in addition to Shenzhen: Zhuhai and Shantou, both also in Guangdong Province, and Xiamen in Fujian. I visited Shenzhen a couple of years ago and found the economy flourishing. The Shenzhen people asked me to write a message for them, and I wrote: “The development and experience of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone prove that our policy of establishing such zones is correct.”

At the time, some people in the Party had doubts about that policy, and some of the people in Hong Kong, whether they were for us or against us, were skeptical too and thought it was incorrect. But the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone has achieved remarkable successes since it was established almost eight years ago. This zone is an entirely new thing, and it is not fair for the people who run it not to be allowed to make mistakes. If they have made mistakes, they were minor ones. The people in Shenzhen reviewed their experience and decided to shift the zone’s economy from a domestic orientation to an external orientation, which meant that Shenzhen would become an industrial base and offer its products on the world market. It is only two or three years since then, and already the situation in Shenzhen has changed greatly. The comrades there told me that more than 50 per cent of their products were exported and that receipts and payments of foreign exchange were in balance.

I am now in a position to say with certainty that our decision to establish special economic zones was a good one and has proved successful. All skepticism should by now have vanished. Recently a comrade told me that the Xiamen Special Economic Zone is developing even faster than Shenzhen. When I visited Xiamen in 1984, there was only an airport surrounded by wasteland. Great changes have taken place there since then. Now we are preparing to make all of Hainan Island a special economic zone, much larger than the others. Hainan Island, which is almost as big as Taiwan, has abundant natural resources, such as rich iron ore, oil and natural gas, as well as rubber and other tropical and subtropical crops. When it is fully developed, the results should be extraordinary.

In short, our achievements in the last few years have proved the correctness of our policies of reform and of opening to the outside world. Although there are still problems in various fields, I don’t think they’ll be too hard to solve, if we go at it systematically. So we must not abandon these policies or even slow them down. One of the topics we have been discussing recently is whether we should speed up reform or slow it down. That’s because reform and the open policy involve risks. Of course we have to be cautious, but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing. Indeed, on the basis of our experience to date, the Central Committee has been considering the possibility of accelerating the reform and our opening to the outside world.

So much for reform of the economic structure.

Now a new question has been raised, reform of the political structure. This will be one of the main topics at the Thirteenth National Party Congress to be held next October. It’s a complicated issue. Every measure taken in this connection will affect millions of people, mainly cadres, including the veterans. When people discuss reform of the political structure, they always talk about democratization, but they are not clear about what that means. The democracy in capitalist societies is bourgeois democracy — in fact, it is the democracy of monopoly capitalists. It is no more than a system of multiparty elections, separation of judicial, executive and legislative powers and a bicameral legislature. Ours is the system of the people’s congresses and people’s democracy under the leadership of the Communist Party; we cannot adopt the practice of the West. The greatest advantage of the socialist system is that when the central leadership makes a decision, it is promptly implemented without interference from any other quarters. When we decided to reform the economic structure, the whole country responded; when we decided to establish special economic zones, they were soon set up. We don’t have to go through a lot of discussion and consultation, with one branch of government holding up another and decisions being made but not carried out. From this point of view, our system is very efficient. The efficiency I’m talking about is overall efficiency. We have superiority in this respect, and we should keep it — we should retain the advantages of the socialist system.

In terms of administration and economic management, the capitalist countries are more efficient than we in many respects. China is burdened with bureaucratism. Take our personnel system, for example. I think the socialist countries all have a problem of aging cadres, so that leaders at all levels tend to be rigid in their thinking. Therefore, we must reform the political structure, but in doing so we cannot copy Western democracy, the separation of the three powers or the capitalist system; we must practise socialist democracy. We socialist countries have to work out the content of the reform and specific measures to implement it in the light of our own practice and our own conditions. The particular reform to be carried out in each socialist country is different too. Since each has a different history, different experience and different current circumstances to confront, their reforms cannot be identical. But we have in common the desire to retain our superiority and avoid the defects and evils that exist in capitalist societies.

What is the purpose of political restructuring? Its general purpose is to consolidate the socialist system, leadership by the Party and the development of the productive forces under that system and that leadership. So far as China is concerned, the reform should make it easier to implement the line, principles and policies laid down by the Party since the Third Plenary Session of its Eleventh Central Committee. To this end we have to do the following, I believe: (1) revitalize the Party, the administrative organs and the whole state apparatus, so that they are staffed with people whose thinking is not ossified and who can bring fresh ideas to bear on new problems; (2) increase efficiency; and (3) stimulate the initiative of the people and of the grass-roots units in all fields of endeavour.

About revitalization. Here, it is crucial to have younger leading cadres at all levels. In China the problem of aging cadres with rigid ideas is more serious than it is in your country. For example, in the Central Committee of our Party the average age of members is higher than it is in any other Communist party in the world. The average age of the members of our Political Bureau, of its Standing Committee and of the Secretariat of the Central Committee is also quite high. There was no such problem when the People’s Republic of China was founded. At that time the leaders were young. The problem of aging didn’t manifest itself until the Eleventh National Party Congress [held in August 1977]. There was an objective reason for this: a great many veterans who had been brought down during the “cultural revolution” had been rehabilitated and reinstated in their leading posts at an advanced age.

This problem exists in leading organs at all levels of the Party and government and in all fields of endeavour. It is a problem peculiar to China. In general, old people tend to be conservative. They all have one thing in common: they consider problems only in the light of their personal experience. In today’s world things are moving with unprecedented rapidity, especially in science and technology. There is an old saying in China, “Progress is made every day”, and that’s the way things are today. We must keep abreast of the times; that is the purpose of our reform. We must firmly carry out the policy of promoting younger leading cadres, but we must be cautious. And we should not regard youth as the only criterion for promoting cadres. They should have political integrity and professional competence, broad experience and familiarity with conditions, so that they will form an echelon of leaders of different ages. We are bound to meet with obstacles, and we shall have to overcome them. It’s going to take a lot of effort.

Increasing efficiency and eliminating bureaucratism include, among other things, streamlining Party and government organs.

To stimulate the people’s initiative, the most important thing is to delegate power to lower levels. The reason our rural reform has been so successful is that we gave the peasants more power to make decisions, and that stimulated their initiative. We are now applying this experience to all fields of work.

When the people’s initiative is aroused, that’s the best manifestation of democracy. As to how to put democracy into practice in different forms, that depends on specific conditions. Take general elections for instance. We hold direct elections at the primary level — that is, for township and county posts, district posts in cities, and municipal posts in cities that are not divided into districts — and we hold indirect elections at the provincial and autonomous-region level, at the municipal level in cities that are divided into districts, and at the central level. China is such a huge country, with such an enormous population, so many ethnic groups and such varied conditions, that it is not yet possible to hold direct elections at higher levels. Furthermore, the people’s educational level is too low.

Speaking of different parties, China also has a number of democratic parties, and they all accept leadership by the Communist Party. Ours is a system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. In this connection, even Westerners agree that in a country as vast as China, if there were no leadership by the Communist Party many problems would be hard to solve — first of all, the problem of food. Our reform cannot depart from socialism and it cannot be accomplished without the leadership of the Communist Party. Socialism and Party leadership are interrelated; they cannot be separated from each other. Without the leadership of the Communist Party, there could be no building of socialism. We shall never again allow the kind of democracy we had during the “cultural revolution”. Actually, that was anarchy.

In short, so far as economic reform is concerned, the principles, policies and methods have been set. All we have to do now is to speed up their implementation. As for reform of the political structure, it is still under discussion. We shall work out the details before the Thirteenth National Party Congress. It took three years for the rural economic reform to achieve good results, and it should take at least three to five years for the urban economic reform to produce visible results, because conditions there are more complicated than in the countryside. Reform of the political structure will be even more complicated. In certain areas, results can be obtained in three to five years, but in certain others it may take ten.

(Excerpt from a talk with Stefan Korosec, member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia.)