Xi Jinping
Original publication: qstheory.cn
Translation: Roderic Day

Regarding the Construction of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (2013)

Xi Jinping was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November 2012. This is an excerpt of a speech made shortly thereafter, on 5 January 2013, to members of the Party’s Central Committee. A public version was published in Qiushi, an official theoretical journal of the CPC, in 2019. Soon thereafter Tanner Greer, an American “strategist,” produced a decent translation, but it was prefaced by and interspersed with his skeptical and Sinophobic commentary. [1] This is an attempt at a more just presentation of the same content. All footnotes and sub-headings in this edition are mine.
 — R. D.


1. Socialism

First of all: Socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism, not any other “ism.” The guiding principles of scientific socialism thus cannot be abandoned. Our Party has always emphasized adherence to the basic principles of scientific socialism, but adapted to the particular conditions of China. This means that socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism, not some other doctrine.

Countries choose their doctrines in response to the historical problems that they face. There was a time when the Chinese nation was impoverished and weak and at the mercy of others. At that time, all kinds of doctrines and trends of thought were explored. Capitalism was tried and failed. Reformism, Liberalism, Social Darwinism, Anarchism, Pragmatism, Populism, and Trade Unionism were also all tried and all failed. None of them could solve the problem of China’s future and destiny. It was Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought that guided the Chinese people out of the long night and established a New China, and it was socialism with Chinese characteristics that led to the rapid development of China.

Ever since the beginning of Reform and Opening Up, and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dramatic changes that followed in Eastern Europe, international commentators have issued endless forecasts about the impending collapse of China. [2] However, instead of collapsing, China’s national power continues to grow comprehensively day after day, the living standards of its people continue to rise, and “the landscape here is beyond compare.” [3] Our history has demonstrated that only socialism was able to rescue China, and only socialism with Chinese characterstics was able to develop China. This is the judgment of history, and the choice of our people.

In recent years commentators both at home and abroad have questioned whether the road pursued by China is truly socialist. Some have called our road “Social Capitalism,” others “State Capitalism,” and yet others “Technocratic Capitalism.” These are all completely wrong. We respond that socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism, by which we mean that despite reform we adhere to the socialist road — our road, our theory, our system, and the goals we set out at the 18th National Party Congress. This includes building a socialist market economy; socialist democratic politics; advanced socialist culture; socialist civil harmony and ecology; all-around human development; the gradual realization of common prosperity for all people; a rich, strong, democratic and harmonious socialist modern state under the leadership of the CPC with economic construction as the center; adhering to the Four Cardinal Principles; insisting on Reform and Opening Up; and the liberation and development of the productive forces. It includes adhering to the system of People’s Congresses; the system of multi-party cooperation under the leadership of the CPC; the systems of national autonomy at the regional level and mass autonomy at the grassroots level; the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics; and the basic economic system in which public ownership is the mainstay and a variety of auxiliary ownership systems develop alongside. These goals embody the basic principles of scientific socialism under our current historical conditions. Adherence to the socialist road demands that we fulfill them.

Comrade Deng Xiaoping once made a profound and concise observation:

In carrying out our modernization programme we must proceed from Chinese realities. Both in revolution and in construction we should also learn from foreign countries and draw on their experience, but mechanical application of foreign experience and copying of foreign models will get us nowhere. [4]

Just as wholesale adoption of the Soviet model made no sense in the past, wholesale adoption of Western or any other models makes no sense today. The end of the Cold War forced many developing countries to adopt the Western model, and this resulted in difficult-to-manage partisan struggles, social unrest, and mass displacement. The Zhuangzi tells the story of a boy from Shouling who went to learn the Handan gait: “He hadn’t mastered what the Handan people had to teach him when he forgot his old way of walking, so he had to crawl all the way back home.” We must not “learn from Handan and lose our old ways.” [5]

We are sinicizing Marxism. This means that we are adapting a socialism with Chinese characteristics. In recent years the rise of China and its international prestige has led to plenty of discussion and study of “the Beijing Consensus,” “the China Model,” and “the China Road” — much of it positive. Some foreign scholars argue that China’s rapid development challenges Western theoretical commonplaces, that this new Marxist theory overturns traditional wisdom. We’ve always believed that the development path of each country should be chosen by its people and that this so-called “Chinese model” is the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics created by the Chinese people in their own struggle and practice. We firmly believe that the ongoing development of socialism with Chinese characteristics will make our system more mature, that its superiority will become more apparent, that the road we travel will become wider, and that our impact on the world will grow. Our institutional and theoretical self-confidence in this road should allow us to confidently claim “from whichever direction the winds howl, though dealt many a blow, I stand strong.” [6]

2. Historical Nihilism

Second: Although the history of our party can be divided into two different yet interrelated periods — before and after Reform and Opening Up — they both ultimately reflect the same practical pursuit of socialist construction carried out by our Party. Socialism with Chinese characteristics was pioneered in the latter period, but its foundations were laid by by the socialist system that was in place throughout the first 20 years of New China.

The correct understanding of this issue requires us to grasp 3 aspects:

  1. Without our Party’s drastic decision to implement Reform and Opening Up in 1978, unswervingly and confidently, socialist China would not be in as good a situation as it is today. Crises would have led to the demise of the Party and possibly the country, as with the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. That said, without the establishment of New China in 1949 — without the important ideological, material, and institutional experiences accumulated in the process of socialist revolution and construction — it would have been difficult for reform to proceed smoothly.
  2. Although these two historical periods of socialist construction differ greatly in their ideological orientation, policies, and practical work, they are by no means separate from each other, let alone fundamentally opposed to each other. Our Party put forward many correct ideas which were not really implemented at the time, but which were later fully implemented in Reform and Opening Up, which we will continue to adhere to and develop in the future. As Marx said long ago, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” [7]
  3. The historical period before reform should be properly evaluated. The present should not be used to negate the past, and the past should not be used to negate the present. Experiments in socialism from before reform produced the conditions that allowed the experiments that came after, and in this way the previous period persists in the new one.

When examining our socialist experience from before Reform and Opening Up we should adhere to the following ideological line: Seek truth from facts, distinguish what is primary from what is secondary, adhere to reality and correct mistakes, carry forward past experience in the form of lessons learned, and on this basis continue to push forward the cause of the Party and the people. [8]

I put emphasis on this matter because its improper handling could have serious political consequences. The ancients once said, “To destroy a nation, you must first destroy its history.” Hostile forces both at home and abroad often seize upon the history of the Chinese Revolution and New China as a weapon. They aim to to sow discord, to overthrow the leadership of our Party, and to tear down our socialist system.

Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union fall to pieces? An important reason is that in the ideological domain, competition is fierce! To completely repudiate the historical experience of the Soviet Union, to repudiate the history of the CPSU, to repudiate Lenin, to repudiate Stalin was to wreck chaos in Soviet ideology and engage in historical nihilism. It caused Party organizations at all levels to have barely any function whatsoever. It robbed the Party of its leadership of the military. In the end the CPSU — as great a Party as it was — scattered like a flock of frightened beasts! The Soviet Union — as great a socialist state as it was — shattered into pieces. This is a lesson from the past! [9]

As Comrade Deng Xiaoping pointed out:

On no account can we discard the banner of Mao Zedong Thought. To do so would, in fact, be to negate the glorious history of our Party. On the whole, the Party’s history is glorious. Our Party has also made big mistakes in the course of its history, including some in the three decades since the founding of New China, not least, so gross a mistake as the ‘Cultural Revolution.’ But after all, we did triumph in the revolution. It is since the birth of the People’s Republic that China’s status in the world has been so greatly enhanced. It is since the founding of the People’s Republic that our great country, with nearly a quarter of the world’s population, has stood up — and stood firm — in the community of nations.

He also stressed:

The appraisal of Comrade Mao Zedong and the exposition of Mao Zedong Thought relate not only to Comrade Mao personally but also to the entire history of our Party and our country. We must keep this overall judgement in mind. It’s not merely a theoretical question that is involved but also and especially a political question of great domestic and international significance. [10]

This was the foresight and vision of a great Marxist statesman.

Ask yourselves: had Comrade Mao Zedong been condemned unsparingly at the time, would our Party still stand? Would our country’s socialist system still stand? They would not. Nihilism would have brought chaos. Therefore, the correct handling of our relationship to experiments in socialist construction before and after reform isn’t a secondary historical question, but a political question of primary importance. We recommend that you read again the Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China. [11]

3. Marxism and Development

Third: Marxism will not remain stagnant. It will certainly keep up with the times, the progress of our practice and the advance of science. Socialism too always advances through practice. Deng Xiaoping clearly defined some basic thoughts and principles on this subject. The Central Committee headed by Jiang Zemin, and later by Hu Jintao, also added some outstanding chapters to it. Now the job of the communists of our generation is to continue with this mission. Socialism with Chinese characterstics has made some outstanding achievements over the past 30 years. Together with the groundwork laid down after the founding of New China, this gives us a solid foundation from which we can go far.

Our understanding of socialism and of the laws which govern socialist development has reached unprecedented and indisputable heights. That said, this all only makes it clear that China’s socialism is still at a primary stage. Difficult challenges still remain unsolved, and we’ve only just begun to tackle many of them. This is also not in doubt. Understanding is a process, and our understanding of socialism is limited to a few decades of experience. It needs to be deepened and developed with further practice.

Our adherence to Marxism and socialism must be centered on development, and must be centered on the practical problems we face in the process of China’s reform, opening up, and modernization. Marxist theory should guide our theoretical thinking on practical problems, leading to new practice and new developments. We maintain that a one-size-fits-all developmental model for the whole world does not exist, and moreover that no given developmental strategy should remain static and unchanging. Our past achievements can help us better face the challenges ahead, but they should not lead to complacency, let alone hinder our progress. The further along we travel, the more unprecedented the problems we face will be. The risks and the challenges will grow more unpredictable. We must hone our senses and prepare for danger in times of peace.

Liberation, seeking truth from facts, and keeping with the times comprise the living soul of Marxism. Marxism is our primary theoretical weapon; with it we can adapt to new situations, understand new concepts, and accomplish new feats. All Party members must follow the guidance of this Marxist perspective of development, treat practice as the sole criterion for testing truth, apply their historic initiative and creativity, develop a clear understanding of changing conditions, model a bold and enterprising spirit of moving mountains and building bridges, analyze and address the actual problems of the masses, and display firm commitmentment to socialism with Chinese characteristics by constantly moving forward and promoting innovation in all domains.

4. Communist Ideal

Fourth: Our Party always adheres to the lofty ideals of communism, and Communist Party members — especially leading Party cadres — should be firm adherents. Faith in Marxism and belief in socialism and communism is the political soul of communists, the spiritual backbone of that allows us to withstand any test. The Party Constitution clearly states that the highest ideal and ultimate goal of the Party is to achieve communism. The Party Constitution also clearly stipulates that the highest ideal of communism pursued by the Chinese communists can be realized only on the basis of a fully developed and highly developed socialist society.

It’s not realistic to imagine one can simply establish communism by issuing a decree. Comrade Deng Xiaoping said that the consolidation and development of the socialist system would require a long historical stage lasting several generations, perhaps a dozen generations, or even dozens of generations of persistent people’s struggle. Dozens of generations is a very long time! From Confucius until today there have only been seventy generations. This way of seeing things is characterstic of the political sobriety of Chinese communists. It’s important to recognize that our present efforts, and the continued efforts of many generations to come, are all directed towards the larger goal of the realization of communism. At the same time, it must be recognized that this realization will take time, and that our Party’s actions and goals must keep pace with the stage of the struggle. Abandoning the ambitious goals of our Party would cause us to lose our way and devolve into pragmatism and opportunism. Socialism with Chinese characteristics comprises both our Party’s final goal and our current goal. The current goal is to build a rich, strong, democratic, civilized and harmonious socialist modern state. Current conditions indicate that China will remain in this primary stage of socialism for a long time, but the lofty ideals remain. As we focus on the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, we must also keep the lofty ideal of communism in mind. We must accomplish the tasks set out in this primary stage.

The revolutionary ideal is higher than the sky. A Communist Party member is characterized both by lofty ideals and by a serious approach to the work of achieving those ideals. Nine decades of our Party’s history have seen generations of communists shed blood and give their lives to the pursuit of national independence and people’s liberation, sustained by this ideal. Although they knew that their ideals would not be realized by their own hand, they believed in future generations. As an old saying goes, “you can cut the flowers, but you cannot stop the coming of spring.” [12]

Today we can gauge whether a leading cadre of the Communist Party is firm in their commitment by way of objective criteria: they wholeheartedly serve the people, they volunteer for the frontlines but accept support duties, they work diligently and honestly and their dedication knows no limit. Confusion, hesitation, hedonism, selfishness, and all the various justifications for inaction are all incompatible with this. Some others think that communism is unattainable, or that it’s a vague and nebulous goal. This relates to the question of materialism versus idealism. The reason some comrades waver in their commitment is because their grasp of historical materialism is weak. Education plays a key role in enabling Party members to unify communist ideals with the practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Firm ideals allow us to stand tall and survey broadly with an open mind. They allow us to temper pride and impatience in good times, and to overcome despair and panic in bad ones. They allow us to navigate risks and challenges, to resist decadent temptations, and to safeguard the essence of the Communist Party.

Facts have repeatedly shown that Marx and Engels’ analysis of the basic contradictions inherent to capitalism is not outdated, and their historical materialist assessment that capitalism will perish and socialism will triumph is not outdated either. Although the road is winding, this general trend of socio-historical development is irreversible. The demise of capitalism and the final triumph of socialism is by necessity a long historical process. We must not underestimate the self-regulating capacity of capitalist society, and fully account for the reality of the long-term economic, scientific, and military superiority of developed Western countries. We must prepare for both long-term cooperation and struggle between their social systems and ours, along all fronts. This primary stage process will last a long time. They are more developed in terms of productive forces, and so we must study and learn from the positive aspects of capitalists, and even tolerate comparisons of their advantages to our shortcomings. Our strategic determination must be strong, and we must resolutely resist all pressure to abandon socialism, and instead consciously correct misconceptions throughout until we surpass this primary stage. By resolving our issues, growing our national power, and improving the lives of our people we will continue to demonstrate socialism’s superiority over capitalism, and this initiative will become an advantage and eventually a victory.

5. Conclusion

The preceding analysis should illustrate why the question of the character of the road is of vital importance to the Party, and to the success or failure of our cause. Comrade Mao Zedong once wrote that “a revolutionary party is the guide of the masses, and no revolution ever succeeds when the revolutionary party leads them astray.” [13] Throughout revolution, reform, and construction our Party has charted its own course. The new democratic revolution, the road of socialist transformation, and the road of socialism with Chinese characterstics all accord to China’s real situation. This is the independent and determined spirit of our Party, and it turns setbacks into awakenings and victories into progress. It’s as Lu Xun said, “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” [14]

Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the dialectical unity of the theoretical logic of scientific socialism and the historical logic of China’s social development. It’s scientific socialism rooted in Chinese realities, reflecting the will of Chinese people, and adapted to the requirements of China and its circumstances. As long as we unswervingly adhere to this independent road and uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, we will succeed in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, and a rich strong democratic civilized and harmonious modernized socialist country by the 100th year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

  1. Tanner Greer, 2019. Xi Jinping in Translation: China’s Guiding Ideology. [web] 

  2. For an excellent rundown of this phenomenon see Sun Feiyang’s When the Sky Refuses to Fall (2020). [web] 

  3. A verse from Mao Zedong’s poem Huichang (1934). [web] 

  4. Deng Xiaoping, 1982. Opening Speech At the Twelfth National Congress of the Communist Party of China. [web] 

  5. The Zhuangzi is a classic Daoist text from the Warring States (pre-unification) period. This particular excerpt is from The Floods of Autumn. [web] 

  6. From Qing Dynasty poet Zheng Xie’s Bamboo and Rock. [web] 

  7. Karl Marx, 1852. The 18th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte. [web] 

  8. Generally matches Deng Xiaoping’s vision as laid down in Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth From Facts and Unite As One In Looking to the Future (1978). [web] 

  9. Credit to T. Greer: I liked his translation of this section so much I basically left it unchanged. I have to assume he thought it made Xi Jinping sound bad. 

  10. Deng Xiaoping, 1981. Remarks on Successive Drafts of the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China.” [web] 

  11. Communist Party of China, 1981. Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China. [web] 

  12. Xi Jinping isn’t actually quoting Pablo Neruda here. I decided against a literal translation, and in favour of a verse well-known in the West expressing the same sentiment, because I felt it better captured the intent. 

  13. Mao Zedong, 1926. Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society. [web] 

  14. From Lu Xun’s My Old Home (1921). [web]