Putting citizens at the center

China’s socialist system upholds the creed of ‘country is its people, the people are the country’


Which is superior, the country or the people? This debate has been going on since ancient times. To govern a country well, one must first have a very good understanding of the relationship between the country and its people, and develop the right view about the people.

In Western politics, the state is above the people. In the theoretical vision of many modern Western political thinkers, the people are often treated as an indispensable force to maintain the functioning of society — a tool to maintain the regime of the ruling class.

Niccolo Machiavelli, Montesquieu, David Hume, William Hamilton, James Madison and many other Western thinkers expressed their fear and antipathy toward the people. For them, the people carry the pejorative colors of disorder, ignorance, blind obedience, irrationality, disorganization and violence, and hence they believed the masses are mere tools or means that can be used to meet the ends.

In their eyes, the people have to be restrained within the framework of democracy and the rule of law, and be brought under the guidance of the elites. Many Western thinkers realized the great power of the masses. They wanted to manipulate and use them, but feared and distrusted them.

Since the beginning of this century, the views of the people in the West have been constantly stirred by growing populism. Leaders of French right-wing populist parties and representatives of parties in the United Kingdom both advocate “people’s sovereignty” and “rediscovering the people”, and seemingly attach great importance to the people and put the people above the country. But in fact, they are inclined toward an antagonistic “exclusion” of the people.

In other words, it is extremely offensive to claim to have “rediscovered the people” while actually trying to exclude them from the elites. This challenges the principles of modern politics, creates an artificial barrier between the elites and the common people.

At the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping declared that “this country is its people; the people are the country. As the Communist Party of China has led the people in fighting to establish and develop the People’s Republic, it has really been fighting for their support. Bringing benefit to the people is the fundamental principle of governance”.

This statement explains the relationship between the State and the people under China’s socialist system. The phrase “the country is its people” indicates that the State belongs to the people, and that the State is the form of existence of the social collection of the people. And “the people are the country” indicates the people form the inner element, the core, of the State, and that the State is born from the social collection of the people.

In terms of its form, the social existence of the people is presented in the form of a collection of the State not limited to a territorial or blood collection. In terms of its content, the State takes the people as its core content and the affairs of the people as its own affairs.

Why is such a new view of the people being proposed in China but not in Western countries? And is the Chinese view of the people correct? To answer these questions, one should know the difference between the nature and formation of China and other countries.

No form of state — whether a slave state, feudal state or a modern bourgeois state — represented the people while attempting to maintain public order in society, as the state was a political tool in the hands of the ruling class.

In such states, the people were forced into a political shell, and the relationship between the state and the people was a superficial and coercive relationship.

In China, the great unity of classes, the great unity of nationalities, the great unity of the Chinese people and democratic centralism show that the socialist State is popular and democratic, and that our socialist State is a democratic State created by the people. In other words, the socialist State is the political union of the people, and the State is formed by the people.

“This country is its people; the people are the country” describes the nature of the “people” of the socialist State and its people-oriented nature.

The various unfounded criticisms made by Western countries about China’s democracy and human rights prove baseless against the reality of President Xi’s remarks. China will not export its own social views or political or development system to other countries. Instead, it would like to present to the world its successful experiences in governance and economic development.

The author is an observer of international affairs. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.