The work report delivered and the resolutions made at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China suggest that China’s socialist system is gradually coming of age.
Developed countries in the West offered China plenty of advice in the early stage of China’s reform and opening-up in the hope that China could ditch the development model of the Soviet Union and follow the Western path to modernization. “Crossing the river by touching the stones” has become a well-known quote after then-State leader Deng Xiaoping used this figurative expression to encourage the cadres to explore a way forward for the country’s socioeconomic development. In 1992, or about 15 years into the country’s reform and opening-up process, Deng foresaw that it would take another 30 years to form a more-mature and steadier development model.
Now that three decades have passed, China’s development model and institutional system has become more sophisticated and has been fully formed. The country has chosen a path different from that of the Soviet Union and the West, one that integrates public ownership, the market economy, Confucianism, and a variety of other elements, all of which constitute “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
Great achievements were made and extraordinary phenomena emerged during the journey of exploration, which are beyond the theories of traditional socialism; thus the term “Chinese characteristics” was introduced to describe the practice of socialism in China.
“Chinese characteristics” accommodates the differences between socialist and capitalist systems. For instance, traditional socialism rejects private ownership, while “socialism with Chinese characteristics” allows the co-existence of public ownership and other forms of ownership, with the former being the mainstay. To date, the nonpublic sectors of the economy account for half of the Chinese mainland’s economy. Another example is that traditional socialism rejects the market economy, while “socialism with Chinese characteristics” regards the market economy as a means to achieve economic goals.
“One country, two systems” is the most prominent example of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. This innovative framework has no place in traditional socialism, but the CPC has incorporated it into China’s socialist institutional system. Not only has it successfully resolved the Hong Kong and Macao questions but also ensured the bright future of the two cities. The versatility of “Chinese characteristics” has provided answers to many seemingly insoluble conundrums.
“Chinese characteristics” is actually the crystallization of Chinese wisdom and culture nourished by Confucianism. General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized in his work report to the Party Congress that “we must not return to the isolation and rigidity of the past, nor veer off course by changing our nature or abandoning our system. We must develop our country and our nation with our own strength, and we must maintain a firm grasp on the future of China’s development and progress”. This confirms that China will firmly stay on its unique path of development underpinned by “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
The goal of the Chinese nation, as Xi noted in his work report, is to “promote national rejuvenation through a Chinese path to modernization”. The “Chinese path to modernization” is a new concept with five basic traits: the modernization of a huge population; the modernization of common prosperity for all; the modernization of material and cultural-ethical advancement; the modernization of harmony between humanity and nature; and the modernization of peaceful development. Chinese-style modernization will ultimately create a new form of human advancement.
Developed countries in the West have kept preaching their definition of “modernization” and taken every chance to export their values and democratic models, which have failed to ensure the well-being of the people of the vast majority of countries that have adopted them. Moreover, many Western countries have colonized other countries and plundered resources from their colonies to push ahead their modernization process. Thus, the West’s path to modernization is not the best model, nor does it fit the national context of most countries.
Chinese-style modernization, an alternative path, has offered people a new perspective on modernization.
General Secretary Xi Jinping also laid out a blueprint for the country’s democratic development in his work report, asserting that “whole-process people’s democracy is the defining feature of socialist democracy; it is democracy in its broadest, most genuine, and most effective form”, and: “We will improve the system of institutions through which the people run the country. We will encourage the people’s orderly participation in political affairs and guarantee their ability to engage in democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight in accordance with the law.”
For a long time, Western countries have also monopolized the definition of “democracy”. They attach great importance to electoral democracy. They deploy a great deal of manpower and resources for elections held every few years. When the elections are over, however, democracy often enters a state of dormancy in which there are no checks and balances on the elected politicians. Although this democratic model has many advantages, it is far from perfect and should not be the only or final model.
“Whole-process people’s democracy” redefines the essence of democracy. It covers democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management and oversight. Take “democratic oversight”, for example, in the handling of COVID-19: Chinese officials who were responsible for the spread of the disease and loss of lives were held accountable and penalized. In contrast, virtually no government officials were held accountable for the plethora of infections and deaths in the West, which exposes the inherent flaws of the Western democratic model.
The breadth and depth of the 20th Party Congress report reveal the maturation of the Chinese development model as well as the CPC’s confidence in China’s path to modernization.
The author is a Hong Kong member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.