No Great Wall: on the continuities of the Chinese Revolution

It is impossible to understand China’s efforts to create an “ecological civilization” without understanding the context of its economic and cultural modernization .

To understand China today it is essential to understand the struggle by the Communist Party of China to rapidly modernize that country – just as it is not possible to genuinely understand China’s efforts to create an “ecological civilization” without understanding the context of the economic modernization.

In this article Carlos Martinez argues that, while the Chinese Revolution has taken numerous twists and turns, and while the CPC leadership has adopted different strategies at different times, there is a common thread running through modern Chinese history: of the CPC dedicating itself to navigating a path to socialism, development and independence, improving the lot of the Chinese people, and contributing to a peaceful and prosperous future for humanity.

The first half of this article deals with the historical background to the Chinese revolution, the New Democracy period, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution (and can be read via the link at the end of this page). Martinez critically places these earlier periods of the Chinese revolution into perspective – one of fundamental continuity of purpose – with the post Mao era and “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.

China's massive new fully-automated port terminal in Shanghai has opened and will soon ship up to 136 million tonnes around the world every year
China’s Port of Shanghai is the world’s largest container port.
China has by far the world’s most extensive High Speed Rail network

Reform and opening up: the great betrayal?

[Extract from second half of article dealing with China from 1978 onwards follows]

From 1978, the post-Mao Chinese leadership embarked on a process of ‘reform and opening up’ – gradually introducing market mechanisms to the economy, allowing elements of private property, and encouraging investment from the capitalist world. This programme of socialism with Chinese characteristics posited that, while China had established a socialist society, it would remain for some time in the primary stage of socialism, during which period it was necessary to develop a socialist market economy – combining planning, the development of a mixed economy and the profit motive – with a view to maximising the development of the productive forces.

Deng Xiaoping, who had been one of the most prominent targets of the Cultural Revolution and who had risen to become de facto leader of the CPC from 1978, theorised reform and opening up in the following terms: “Marxism attaches utmost importance to developing the productive forces… [The advance towards communism] 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… Socialism means eliminating poverty. Pauperism is not socialism, still less communism.”54

Was this the moment the CPC gave up on its commitment to Marxism? Such is the belief of many. For supporters of capitalism, the idea that China ‘ascended’ to capitalism from 1978 onwards is a validation of their own ideology; China was socialist and poor, and then became capitalist and rich. This view is near-universal among mainstream economists. Even the well-known Keynesian Jeffrey Sachs, who is both politically progressive and friendly towards China, considers that the key turning point in Chinese history was not 1949 but 1978: “After nearly 140 years of economic and social strife, marked by foreign incursions, domestic rebellions, civil wars, and internal policy blunders of historic dimensions, China settled down after 1978 to stable, open, market-based production and trade.”55

On the other hand, for many on the left (particularly in the West), 1978 marked a turning point in the wrong direction – away from socialism, away from the cause of the working class and peasantry. The introduction of private profit, the decollectivisation of agriculture, the appearance of multinational companies and the rise of Western influence: these added up to a historic betrayal and an end to the Chinese Revolution.

When Deng Xiaoping came to Kathmandu

The consensus view within the CPC is that socialism with Chinese characteristics is a strategy aimed at strengthening socialism, improving the lives of the Chinese people, and consolidating China’s sovereignty. Although China had taken incredible steps forward since 1949, China in 1978 remained backward in many ways. The bulk of the population lived a very precarious existence, many without access to modern energy and safe water. China’s per capita income was $210. Food production, and consequently average food consumption, was insufficient. “An estimated 30 percent of rural residents, about 250 million, lived below the poverty line, relying on small loans for production and state grants for food.”56 The low per capita income figure is deceptive in the sense that the poor in China had secure access to land and housing – by which measure they were doing much better than most of their counterparts in the developing world; nonetheless the vast majority were genuinely poor.

In Guangdong, the southern province bordering Hong Kong, many were fleeing because, in the words of Hua Guofeng (Mao’s chosen successor as head of the CPC), “Hong Kong and Macao were wealthy and the PRC was poor.” The leadership simply decided to “change the situation and make the PRC wealthy.”58

Meanwhile the capitalist world was making major advances in science and technology, and the gap in living standards between China and its neighbours was growing sufficiently wide as to threaten the legitimacy of the CPC government. Chinese economist Justin Yifu Lin notes that, at the time of the founding of the PRC, there was only a relatively small per capita income gap between China and its East Asian neighbours. “But by 1978 Japan had basically caught up with the United States, and South Korea and Taiwan, China, had narrowed the income gap with developed countries. China, although boasting a complete industrial system, an atomic bomb, and a man-made satellite, had a standard of living a far cry from that of the developed world.”57

Opening up to foreign capital, learning from foreign technology, and integrating into the global market would allow for a faster development of the productive forces. Export manufacturing would allow China to build up sufficient hard currency to acquire technology from rich countries and improve productivity. Foreign capital would be attracted by China’s virtually limitless pool of literate and diligent workers.

All this was highly unorthodox compared to the experience of the socialist world up to that point (with some partial exceptions, such as Yugoslavia and Hungary). Deng Xiaoping’s strong belief was that, unless the government delivered on a significant improvement in people’s standard of living, the entire socialist project would lose its legitimacy and therefore be in peril. Assessing that China was around 20 years behind the advanced countries in science and technology, he stated: “When a backward country is trying to build socialism, it is natural that during the long initial period its productive forces will not be up to the level of those in developed capitalist countries and that it will not be able to eliminate poverty completely. Accordingly, in building socialism we must do all we can to develop the productive forces and gradually eliminate poverty, constantly raising the people’s living standards… If we don’t do everything possible to increase production, how can we expand the economy? How can we demonstrate the superiority of socialism and communism? We have been making revolution for several decades and have been building socialism for more than three. Nevertheless, by 1978 the average monthly salary for our workers was still only 45 yuan, and most of our rural areas were still mired in poverty. Can this be called the superiority of socialism?”59

Interestingly, this sentiment contains echoes of Mao in 1949: “If we are ignorant in production, cannot grasp production work quickly … so as to improve the livelihood of workers first and then that of other ordinary people, we shall certainly not be able to maintain our political power: we shall lose our position and we shall fail.”60

Marx wrote in volume 3 of Capital that “the development of the productive forces of social labour is capital’s historic mission and justification. For that very reason, it unwittingly creates the material conditions for a higher form of production.”61 The vision of the CPC leadership was to replace “unwittingly” with “purposefully”: using capital, within strict limits and under heavy regulation, to bring China into the modern world.

Rather than selling out to capitalism, reform and opening up is better understood as a return to the policies of the New Democracy period. The CPC has always been adamant that what China is building is socialism, not capitalism – “it is for the realisation of communism that we have struggled for so many years… It was for the realisation of this ideal that countless people laid down their lives.”62 The basic guiding ideology of the CPC has not changed in its century of existence, as was summed up succinctly by Xi Jinping: “Both history and reality have shown us that only socialism can save China and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can bring development to China.”63

In borrowing certain techniques and mechanisms from capitalism, China is following a logic devised by the Bolsheviks during the New Economic Policy, using markets and investment to stimulate economic activity, whilst maintaining Communist Party rule and refusing to allow the capitalist class to dominate political power. As Lenin put it in 1921: “We must not be afraid of the growth of the petty bourgeoisie and small capital. What we must fear is protracted starvation, want and food shortage, which create the danger that the working class will be utterly exhausted and will give way to petty-bourgeois vacillation and despair. This is a much more terrible prospect.”64

Modern China has gone much further than the NEP, in the sense that private property is not limited to “the petty bourgeoisie and small capital”; there are some extremely wealthy individuals and companies controlling vast sums of capital. And yet their political status is essentially the same as it was in the early days of the PRC; their existence as a class is predicated on their acceptance of the overall socialist programme and trajectory of the country. As long as they are helping China to develop, they are tolerated. Even in 1957, with socialist construction in full swing, Mao considered that “the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie comes under the category of contradictions among the people… In the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic contradiction between the two classes, if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods.”65

The reform strategy has been undeniably successful in terms of alleviating poverty and modernising the country. Economist Arthur Kroeber notes that workers’ wages have increased continuously, pointing out that, in 1994, a Chinese factory worker could expect to earn a quarter of what their counterpart in Thailand was earning; just 14 years later, the Chinese worker was earning 25 percent more than the Thai worker.66 Jude Woodward writes that per capita income in China doubled in the decade from 1980, “whereas it took Britain six decades to achieve the same after the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century and America five decades after the Civil War.”67

The combination of planning and ever-rising productivity has created a vast surplus, which has been used partly to “orchestrate a massive, sustained programme of infrastructure construction, including roads, railways, ports, airports, dams, electricity generation and distribution facilities, telecommunications, water and sewage systems, and housing, on a proportional scale far exceeding that of comparable developing countries, such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”68

The fundamental difference between the Chinese system and capitalism is that, with capital in control, it would not be possible to prioritise the needs of the working class and peasantry; China would not have been able to achieve the largest-scale poverty alleviation in history. Deng understood this: “Ours is an economically backward country with a population of one billion. If we took the capitalist road, a small number of people in certain areas would quickly grow rich, and a new bourgeoisie would emerge along with a number of millionaires — all of these people amounting to less than one per cent of the population — while the overwhelming majority of the people would remain in poverty, scarcely able to feed and clothe themselves. Only the socialist system can eradicate poverty.”69

In adapting its strategy in accordance with new realities and a sober assessment of the past, the CPC was following the same principle it had always stood for: to seek truth from facts and to develop a reciprocal relationship between theory and practice. In Mao’s words, “the only yardstick of truth is the revolutionary practice of millions of people.”70 The CPC’s experience in practice was that “having a totally planned economy hampers the development of the productive forces to a certain extent.”71 Its leaders therefore conjectured that a combination of planning and markets would “liberate the productive forces and speed up economic growth.” This hypothesis has been proven correct by material reality. As John Ross puts it, “China’s extraordinary success during reform and opening up was based on adherence to Marxist theory and is the largest possible scale vindication of the Marxism in the framework of which reform and opening up was developed.”72

No Great Wall

Reform and opening up wasn’t purely a correction of earlier mistakes; it was also a response to changing objective circumstances; specifically, a more favourable international environment resulting from the restoration of China’s seat at the United Nations (1971) and the rapprochement between China and the US. Thomas Orlik, chief economist at Bloomberg Economics, correctly observes that, “when Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening process, friendly relations with the United States provided the crucial underpinning. The path for Chinese goods to enter global markets was open.”73 So too was the door for foreign capital, technology, and expertise to enter China – first from Hong Kong and Japan, then the West. Zhou Enlai reportedly commented at the time of then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s historic visit to Beijing in 1971 that “only America can help China to modernise.”74 Even allowing for Zhou’s legendary diplomatic eloquence, this statement nevertheless contains an important kernel of truth.

Kultur - german.china.org.cn - Zhou Enlai: Die coolsten ...

Mao and Zhou had seen engagement with the US as a way to break China’s isolation. The US leadership saw engagement with China as a way to perpetuate and exacerbate the division between China and the Soviet Union. (Everyone was triangulating; for its part, the Soviet leadership was hoping to work with the US to undermine and destabilise China.75) Regardless of the complex set of intentions, one key outcome of the US-China rapprochement in the early 1970s was that a favourable external environment was created in which a policy of ‘opening up’ could feasibly be pursued.

Deng was also not the first to recognise that the productive forces were undergoing historic changes in the West and that China would have to catch up. Zhou Enlai noted that “new developments in science are bringing humanity to a new technological and industrial revolution… we must conquer these new heights in science to reach advanced world standards.”76 Indeed it was Zhou that first conceptualised the Four Modernisations that Deng made the cornerstone of his strategy. Zhou talked in January 1975 – during his last major speech – of the urgent need to take advantage of the more peaceful and stable international context and “accomplish the comprehensive modernisation of agriculture, industry, national defence and science and technology before the end of the century, so that our national economy will be advancing in the front ranks of the world.”77

The economic take-off of the post-1978 period “would not have been possible without the economic, political and social foundations that had been built up in the preceding period”, in the words of the late Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin.78 Even with the disruption caused by the Cultural Revolution, the early period of socialist construction achieved “progress on a scale which old China could not achieve in hundreds or even thousands of years.”79 This is widely understood within China. Prominent economist Hu Angang writes that, by 1978, all children received an education, adult illiteracy had fallen from 80 percent to 33 percent, and basic healthcare was available to everyone. Industry had been built up from almost nothing. Meanwhile, “China succeeded in feeding one-fifth of the world’s population with only 7 percent of the world’s arable land and 6.5 percent of its water. China’s pre-1978 social and economic development cannot be underestimated.”80 This can be usefully compared with the same time period in India, which following independence from the British Empire in 1947 was in a similarly parlous state, with a life expectancy of 32. At the end of the pre-reform period in China, ie 1978, India’s life expectancy had increased to 55, while China’s had increased to 67. As John Ross elucidates, “this sharply growing difference was not because India had a bad record – as an increase of 22 years in life expectancy over a 31-year period graphically shows. It is simply that China’s performance was sensational – life expectancy increasing by 32 years in a 29-year chronological period.”81

Xi Jinping has observed that, although the two major phases of the People’s Republic of China are different in many ways, “they are by no means separated from or opposed to each other. We should neither negate the pre-reform phase in comparison with the post-reform phase, nor the converse.”82

The two major phases are both consistent with the CPC’s guiding philosophy and raison d’être. Both have played an invaluable role in China’s continuing transformation from a divided, war-torn, backward and phenomenally poor country in which “approximately one of every three children died within the first year of birth”83 to a unified, peaceful, advanced and increasingly prosperous country which is blazing a trail towards a more developed socialism.

In each stage of its existence, the CPC has sought to creatively apply and develop Marxism according to the prevailing concrete circumstances; always seeking to safeguard China’s sovereignty, maintain peace, and build prosperity for the masses of the people. Through many twists and turns, this has been a constant of a hundred years of Chinese Revolution.

Reform and opening up: the great betrayal?

From 1978, the post-Mao Chinese leadership embarked on a process of ‘reform and opening up’ – gradually introducing market mechanisms to the economy, allowing elements of private property, and encouraging investment from the capitalist world. This programme of socialism with Chinese characteristics posited that, while China had established a socialist society, it would remain for some time in the primary stage of socialism, during which period it was necessary to develop a socialist market economy – combining planning, the development of a mixed economy and the profit motive – with a view to maximising the development of the productive forces.

Deng Xiaoping, who had been one of the most prominent targets of the Cultural Revolution and who had risen to become de facto leader of the CPC from 1978, theorised reform and opening up in the following terms: “Marxism attaches utmost importance to developing the productive forces… [The advance towards communism] 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… Socialism means eliminating poverty. Pauperism is not socialism, still less communism.”54

Was this the moment the CPC gave up on its commitment to Marxism? Such is the belief of many. For supporters of capitalism, the idea that China ‘ascended’ to capitalism from 1978 onwards is a validation of their own ideology; China was socialist and poor, and then became capitalist and rich. This view is near-universal among mainstream economists. Even the well-known Keynesian Jeffrey Sachs, who is both politically progressive and friendly towards China, considers that the key turning point in Chinese history was not 1949 but 1978: “After nearly 140 years of economic and social strife, marked by foreign incursions, domestic rebellions, civil wars, and internal policy blunders of historic dimensions, China settled down after 1978 to stable, open, market-based production and trade.”55

On the other hand, for many on the left (particularly in the West), 1978 marked a turning point in the wrong direction – away from socialism, away from the cause of the working class and peasantry. The introduction of private profit, the decollectivisation of agriculture, the appearance of multinational companies and the rise of Western influence: these added up to a historic betrayal and an end to the Chinese Revolution.

The consensus view within the CPC is that socialism with Chinese characteristics is a strategy aimed at strengthening socialism, improving the lives of the Chinese people, and consolidating China’s sovereignty. Although China had taken incredible steps forward since 1949, China in 1978 remained backward in many ways. The bulk of the population lived a very precarious existence, many without access to modern energy and safe water. China’s per capita income was $210. Food production, and consequently average food consumption, was insufficient. “An estimated 30 percent of rural residents, about 250 million, lived below the poverty line, relying on small loans for production and state grants for food.”56 The low per capita income figure is deceptive in the sense that the poor in China had secure access to land and housing – by which measure they were doing much better than most of their counterparts in the developing world; nonetheless the vast majority were genuinely poor.

Meanwhile the capitalist world was making major advances in science and technology, and the gap in living standards between China and its neighbours was growing sufficiently wide as to threaten the legitimacy of the CPC government. Chinese economist Justin Yifu Lin notes that, at the time of the founding of the PRC, there was only a relatively small per capita income gap between China and its East Asian neighbours. “But by 1978 Japan had basically caught up with the United States, and South Korea and Taiwan, China, had narrowed the income gap with developed countries. China, although boasting a complete industrial system, an atomic bomb, and a man-made satellite, had a standard of living a far cry from that of the developed world.”57

In Guangdong, the southern province bordering Hong Kong, many were fleeing because, in the words of Hua Guofeng (Mao’s chosen successor as head of the CPC), “Hong Kong and Macao were wealthy and the PRC was poor.” The leadership simply decided to “change the situation and make the PRC wealthy.”58

Opening up to foreign capital, learning from foreign technology, and integrating into the global market would allow for a faster development of the productive forces. Export manufacturing would allow China to build up sufficient hard currency to acquire technology from rich countries and improve productivity. Foreign capital would be attracted by China’s virtually limitless pool of literate and diligent workers.

22 July 1977: Deng Xiaoping returns to power in China ...

All this was highly unorthodox compared to the experience of the socialist world up to that point (with some partial exceptions, such as Yugoslavia and Hungary). Deng Xiaoping’s strong belief was that, unless the government delivered on a significant improvement in people’s standard of living, the entire socialist project would lose its legitimacy and therefore be in peril. Assessing that China was around 20 years behind the advanced countries in science and technology, he stated: “When a backward country is trying to build socialism, it is natural that during the long initial period its productive forces will not be up to the level of those in developed capitalist countries and that it will not be able to eliminate poverty completely. Accordingly, in building socialism we must do all we can to develop the productive forces and gradually eliminate poverty, constantly raising the people’s living standards… If we don’t do everything possible to increase production, how can we expand the economy? How can we demonstrate the superiority of socialism and communism? We have been making revolution for several decades and have been building socialism for more than three. Nevertheless, by 1978 the average monthly salary for our workers was still only 45 yuan, and most of our rural areas were still mired in poverty. Can this be called the superiority of socialism?”59

Interestingly, this sentiment contains echoes of Mao in 1949: “If we are ignorant in production, cannot grasp production work quickly … so as to improve the livelihood of workers first and then that of other ordinary people, we shall certainly not be able to maintain our political power: we shall lose our position and we shall fail.”60

Marx wrote in volume 3 of Capital that “the development of the productive forces of social labour is capital’s historic mission and justification. For that very reason, it unwittingly creates the material conditions for a higher form of production.”61 The vision of the CPC leadership was to replace “unwittingly” with “purposefully”: using capital, within strict limits and under heavy regulation, to bring China into the modern world.

Rather than selling out to capitalism, reform and opening up is better understood as a return to the policies of the New Democracy period. The CPC has always been adamant that what China is building is socialism, not capitalism – “it is for the realisation of communism that we have struggled for so many years… It was for the realisation of this ideal that countless people laid down their lives.”62 The basic guiding ideology of the CPC has not changed in its century of existence, as was summed up succinctly by Xi Jinping: “Both history and reality have shown us that only socialism can save China and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can bring development to China.”63

In borrowing certain techniques and mechanisms from capitalism, China is following a logic devised by the Bolsheviks during the New Economic Policy, using markets and investment to stimulate economic activity, whilst maintaining Communist Party rule and refusing to allow the capitalist class to dominate political power. As Lenin put it in 1921: “We must not be afraid of the growth of the petty bourgeoisie and small capital. What we must fear is protracted starvation, want and food shortage, which create the danger that the working class will be utterly exhausted and will give way to petty-bourgeois vacillation and despair. This is a much more terrible prospect.”64

Modern China has gone much further than the NEP, in the sense that private property is not limited to “the petty bourgeoisie and small capital”; there are some extremely wealthy individuals and companies controlling vast sums of capital. And yet their political status is essentially the same as it was in the early days of the PRC; their existence as a class is predicated on their acceptance of the overall socialist programme and trajectory of the country. As long as they are helping China to develop, they are tolerated. Even in 1957, with socialist construction in full swing, Mao considered that “the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie comes under the category of contradictions among the people… In the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic contradiction between the two classes, if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods.”65

The reform strategy has been undeniably successful in terms of alleviating poverty and modernising the country. Economist Arthur Kroeber notes that workers’ wages have increased continuously, pointing out that, in 1994, a Chinese factory worker could expect to earn a quarter of what their counterpart in Thailand was earning; just 14 years later, the Chinese worker was earning 25 percent more than the Thai worker.66 Jude Woodward writes that per capita income in China doubled in the decade from 1980, “whereas it took Britain six decades to achieve the same after the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century and America five decades after the Civil War.”67

The combination of planning and ever-rising productivity has created a vast surplus, which has been used partly to “orchestrate a massive, sustained programme of infrastructure construction, including roads, railways, ports, airports, dams, electricity generation and distribution facilities, telecommunications, water and sewage systems, and housing, on a proportional scale far exceeding that of comparable developing countries, such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”68

The fundamental difference between the Chinese system and capitalism is that, with capital in control, it would not be possible to prioritise the needs of the working class and peasantry; China would not have been able to achieve the largest-scale poverty alleviation in history. Deng understood this: “Ours is an economically backward country with a population of one billion. If we took the capitalist road, a small number of people in certain areas would quickly grow rich, and a new bourgeoisie would emerge along with a number of millionaires — all of these people amounting to less than one per cent of the population — while the overwhelming majority of the people would remain in poverty, scarcely able to feed and clothe themselves. Only the socialist system can eradicate poverty.”69

In adapting its strategy in accordance with new realities and a sober assessment of the past, the CPC was following the same principle it had always stood for: to seek truth from facts and to develop a reciprocal relationship between theory and practice. In Mao’s words, “the only yardstick of truth is the revolutionary practice of millions of people.”70 The CPC’s experience in practice was that “having a totally planned economy hampers the development of the productive forces to a certain extent.”71 Its leaders therefore conjectured that a combination of planning and markets would “liberate the productive forces and speed up economic growth.” This hypothesis has been proven correct by material reality. As John Ross puts it, “China’s extraordinary success during reform and opening up was based on adherence to Marxist theory and is the largest possible scale vindication of the Marxism in the framework of which reform and opening up was developed.”72

No Great Wall

Reform and opening up wasn’t purely a correction of earlier mistakes; it was also a response to changing objective circumstances; specifically, a more favourable international environment resulting from the restoration of China’s seat at the United Nations (1971) and the rapprochement between China and the US. Thomas Orlik, chief economist at Bloomberg Economics, correctly observes that, “when Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening process, friendly relations with the United States provided the crucial underpinning. The path for Chinese goods to enter global markets was open.”73 So too was the door for foreign capital, technology, and expertise to enter China – first from Hong Kong and Japan, then the West. Zhou Enlai reportedly commented at the time of then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s historic visit to Beijing in 1971 that “only America can help China to modernise.”74 Even allowing for Zhou’s legendary diplomatic eloquence, this statement nevertheless contains an important kernel of truth.

Mao and Zhou had seen engagement with the US as a way to break China’s isolation. The US leadership saw engagement with China as a way to perpetuate and exacerbate the division between China and the Soviet Union. (Everyone was triangulating; for its part, the Soviet leadership was hoping to work with the US to undermine and destabilise China.75) Regardless of the complex set of intentions, one key outcome of the US-China rapprochement in the early 1970s was that a favourable external environment was created in which a policy of ‘opening up’ could feasibly be pursued.

Deng was also not the first to recognise that the productive forces were undergoing historic changes in the West and that China would have to catch up. Zhou Enlai noted that “new developments in science are bringing humanity to a new technological and industrial revolution… we must conquer these new heights in science to reach advanced world standards.”76 Indeed it was Zhou that first conceptualised the Four Modernisations that Deng made the cornerstone of his strategy. Zhou talked in January 1975 – during his last major speech – of the urgent need to take advantage of the more peaceful and stable international context and “accomplish the comprehensive modernisation of agriculture, industry, national defence and science and technology before the end of the century, so that our national economy will be advancing in the front ranks of the world.”77

The economic take-off of the post-1978 period “would not have been possible without the economic, political and social foundations that had been built up in the preceding period”, in the words of the late Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin.78 Even with the disruption caused by the Cultural Revolution, the early period of socialist construction achieved “progress on a scale which old China could not achieve in hundreds or even thousands of years.”79 This is widely understood within China. Prominent economist Hu Angang writes that, by 1978, all children received an education, adult illiteracy had fallen from 80 percent to 33 percent, and basic healthcare was available to everyone. Industry had been built up from almost nothing. Meanwhile, “China succeeded in feeding one-fifth of the world’s population with only 7 percent of the world’s arable land and 6.5 percent of its water. China’s pre-1978 social and economic development cannot be underestimated.”80 This can be usefully compared with the same time period in India, which following independence from the British Empire in 1947 was in a similarly parlous state, with a life expectancy of 32. At the end of the pre-reform period in China, ie 1978, India’s life expectancy had increased to 55, while China’s had increased to 67. As John Ross elucidates, “this sharply growing difference was not because India had a bad record – as an increase of 22 years in life expectancy over a 31-year period graphically shows. It is simply that China’s performance was sensational – life expectancy increasing by 32 years in a 29-year chronological period.”81

As Xi Jinping Takes Top Post In China, Hopes Of Reform ...

Xi Jinping has observed that, although the two major phases of the People’s Republic of China are different in many ways, “they are by no means separated from or opposed to each other. We should neither negate the pre-reform phase in comparison with the post-reform phase, nor the converse.”82

The two major phases are both consistent with the CPC’s guiding philosophy and raison d’être. Both have played an invaluable role in China’s continuing transformation from a divided, war-torn, backward and phenomenally poor country in which “approximately one of every three children died within the first year of birth”83 to a unified, peaceful, advanced and increasingly prosperous country which is blazing a trail towards a more developed socialism.

In each stage of its existence, the CPC has sought to creatively apply and develop Marxism according to the prevailing concrete circumstances; always seeking to safeguard China’s sovereignty, maintain peace, and build prosperity for the masses of the people. Through many twists and turns, this has been a constant of a hundred years of Chinese Revolution.” [End extract]


Note: Footnotes 54 onwards are available in the original article.

Source: Invent the Future, https://invent-the-future.org/