A Comprehensive and Accurate Understanding of “The New Road of Chinese-Style Modernisation”

We are pleased to publish this paper by Han Qingxiang, from the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Han presents a detailed outline and explanation of the CPC’s understanding of the new phase of China’s socialist modernisation, highlighting both the new aspects since the first phase of China’s reform and opening up, as well as the continuities, along with its antecedents in Marxist theory, specifically work by Marx and Engels in the 1840s and 1850s. The paper was delivered at the Cloud International Workshop on “New Forms of Human Civilization from a World Perspective,” held by the School of Marxism, Dalian University of Technology (DUT), 29-31 October 2021. We are grateful to the DUT Translation Team for their work, as well as to Professor Roland Boer for his meticulous sub-editing and cooperation.

General Secretary Xi Jinping’s speech at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (referred to as the “7.1” speech) pointed out:

Following our own road – this is the firm foothold of all the theories and practices of our Party. More than that, it is the historical conclusion our Party has drawn from its struggles over the past century. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is a fundamental achievement of the Party and the people, forged through untold hardships and great sacrifices, and it is the correct path for us to achieve the great rejuvenation of China. By upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and promoting the coordinated development of material, political, spiritual, social and ecological civilisations, we have created a new Chinese-style path of modernisation and a new form of human civilisation.[1]

Here, from “following our own road” to “the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and then to “the new road of Chinese-style modernisation” provides a comprehensive exposition of the Chinese road’s formative and developmental logic, essential characteristics, important position, and comprehensive elaboration of global significance, all of which has rich political and scientific value.

Clarification of Three Basic Concepts

There are three logically related but distinct concepts that need to be clarified.

“Following our own road” is relative to “following an other’s road.” Further, from the general point of view of the Chinese road, it is the common feature of the socialist road with Chinese characteristics and the new road of Chinese-style modernisation, that is, “it is China’s own,” which aims to break book worship, dogmatism, and the mechanical borrowing of ideas, in relation to the problem of what road to follow. The “road of socialism with Chinese characteristics” arises from the perspective of the basic experience of China’s socialist construction, and is the concrete embodiment of taking our own road during the period of reform, opening up, and socialist modernisation. In the practice of China’s socialist construction, we have found from concrete experience that the road we have chosen and determined should not only adhere to the fundamental principles of socialism, but also suit China’s national conditions. If we do not adhere to the fundamental principles of socialism, we will go on an “evil road,” which is not suitable for China’s national conditions and is therefore an “impossible road.” Seen from the perspective of the concrete realisation of modernisation, the “new road of Chinese-style modernisation” is not only relative to  the road of Western-style modernisation, but is also relative to the road of Chinese-style modernisation at the beginning of the reform and opening-up. At the same time, the new road of Chinese-style modernisation refers to what has been created in the course of adhering to and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

“Following our own road” and “the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics” in relation to one another emphasise “China’s national conditions” (of course, they also have some “elements” of world significance). Keeping in mind that the historical development of the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics has become the course of world history, it follows that while the “new road of Chinese-style modernisation” also emphasises “China’s national conditions,” it highlights even more the “newness” of this modernisation style and its global significance.

“The New Road of Chinese-Style Modernisation”: A Comprehensive Exposition of Its Connotations

In terms of major documents of the CPC Central Committee, the “7.1” speech was the first time that the “new road of Chinese-style modernisation” was formally proposed. In the past, comrade Deng Xiaoping proposed the concept of the “road of Chinese-style modernisation,” but he did not mention the word “new.” Deng said that “the modernisation we are striving for is a Chinese-style modernisation. The socialism we are building is socialism with Chinese characteristics.”[2] The “7.1” speech added “new” to the concept of “Chinese-style modernisation,” with profound implications.

The new road of Chinese-style modernisation belongs to the road of “modernisation.” In this case, it must follow the general law of modernisation. This law can be divided into two levels:

(1) From the general elements of modernisation, we must pay attention to industrialisation in the process of historical transformation from an agricultural to an industrialised economy, and to a market economy as well as science and technology in the process of industrialisation. The development of a market economy and science and technology not only emancipates and develops social productive forces, but also pays attention to democracy and the rule of law in the political field, freedom and equality in the cultural field, and fairness and justice in the social field. This is a law that pays attention to the interlocking and mutual promotion of various elements of modernisation.

(2) In terms of the process of the historical development of modernisation, we should first pay attention in the initial “take-off” stage of modernisation to activating the driving force of economic and social development. While activating the power of economic and social development in the further stage of deepening the development of modernisation, we should pay more attention to maintaining the balance of economic and social development. When the capacity of economic and social development is insufficient and unbalanced, governance is the key. This is the law of adhering to the unity of “power-balance-governance.” This general law shows that modernisation is a natural historical process.

The new road of Chinese-style modernisation also belongs to the contemporary “Chinese-style” road. This “Chinese-style” is reflected in adhering to: the leadership of the CPC: the socialist market economic structure and the economic road of common prosperity; the people as the centre in terms of culture, social fairness and justice, and comprehensive social progress and human development; and to the harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature in terms of ecology.

The new road of Chinese-style modernisation arises from the process of China’s historical development. It contains the “basic experience” accumulated by Chinese Communists in this historical process, which may be divided into four major historical periods: new democratic revolution; socialist revolution and construction; reform and opening-up and socialist modernisation; and the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The core lesson is that the Chinese road should not only conform to China’s national conditions, but also adhere to socialism.

As mentioned above, the “new” in the “new road of Chinese-style modernisation” refers not only to the sense of being different from Western-style modernisation, but also in terms of the innovations from the beginning of China’s reform and opening-up. As such, it has entered a “new era” and is committed to “becoming stronger.” In the process of history becoming world history, the “new era”  Chinese modernisation has a “completely new global significance.”

If we combine all of the above – the general pattern of “modernisation,” “Chinese style,” “basic experience” and the “new” – we may identify its essence and connotations as follows: it adheres to socialism (paying attention to democracy and the rule of law, freedom and equality, fairness and justice); is in line with China’s national conditions; stays in tune with the times; adheres to the leadership of the CPC; pays attention to the liberation and development of social productive forces; gradually realises common prosperity; continuously promotes people’s all-round development; strives to achieve strength; integrates the powers of the Party’s leadership, market allocation, and the people at the centre (adhere to coordinating all of the country’s activities, mobilising the positive factors of all parties, and concentrating on the major tasks); pays attention to building a community of shared future for humankind; focuses on the organic unity of motivating force, balance and governance; and puts life first, seeks a better life, while ensuring high-quality production and ecological protection.

We may gain two inspirations here:

(1) The new road of Chinese-style modernisation has expanded the options for developing countries to move towards modernisation, and thus has provided a new choice for those countries and peoples who want to speed up their development and maintain their independence. It has changed the long-standing pattern in which the Western mode of modernisation dominated and monopolised the right to speak. That is, it has broken the mindset and “beautiful myth” of “globalisation = Westernisation; Westernisation = modernisation; modernisation = marketisation.”

(2) While the new road of Chinese-style modernisation pays attention to the use of markets, it is not dominated by markets. Instead, its emphasis is people-centred, and it provides Chinese wisdom for human beings to explore a better social system.

From the new road of Chinese-style modernisation, a new form of human civilisation opens up

What is the relationship between “the new road of Chinese-style modernisation” and “the new form of human civilisation”?

The new road of Chinese-style modernisation and the new form of human civilisation have a relationship of mutual inter-penetration, interaction, and integration. Undoubtedly, the new road of Chinese-style modernisation arises from inheritance of the Chinese people’s 5,000-year-old civilisation. It has the gene of China’s traditional civilisation, with concepts such as “people-centred,” “building a community of shared future for humankind,” “overall coordination” and “pluralistic tolerance.” We have basically reached a consensus on these matters and will not repeat them here. Instead, the focus is on the major issue of “how the new road of Chinese-style modernisation opens up a new form of human civilisation.”

The new form of human civilisation is a creation of the new road of Chinese-style modernisation, which itself has a global dimension and significance. “Civilisation” here includes “implement,” “system” and “culture.”

First, from a historical perspective. The new road of Chinese-style modernisation inherits the traditional concepts of people-oriented and world harmony. At the same time, the new road enables transformation and innovation, developing people-oriented into people-centred, and world harmony into actively promoting the construction of a community of shared future for humankind. People-centred – meaning adherence to the people’s supremacy – means criticising and transcending the so-called “capital-led” logic in which capital is supreme in the Western road of modernisation. In other words, China’s approach to modernisation shifts the emphasis from “capital first” to “people first,” from “capital-led” logic to “people-led” logic, with the latter a gradual realisation of what may be called Marx’s “completed humanism.”[3] Building a community with a shared future for humankind adheres to the Chinese philosophical emphasis on “host-host” equality and advocates the civilised logic of a harmonious world characterised by the coordination of all nations, and that beauty represents itself with diversity and integrity. This approach criticises and transcends the Western philosophical approach of a  “host-guest” dichotomy, and the logic of “world-centred” theory that “a strong country is bound to seek hegemony.” From the logic based on the division of “host-guest” to the civilisational logic of the equality of “host-host,” the idea of “real community” as conceived by Marx is being realised.[4]

Second, from the perspective of reality. The development of civilisation depends on the condition of the road. The process of the reform and opening-up and now the new era may be understood in terms of a deepening and expansion, moving from a singular focus and then moving from “two in one” to “five in one.” a) The singular focus refers to the beginning of China’s reform and opening up, when the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics was mostly committed to liberating and developing social productive forces and paying attention to the construction of material civilisation. b) “Two in one” refers to the initial deepening of reform and opening-up, when socialist construction emphasised the construction of material and spiritual civilisations. c) “Three in one” designates a further deepening of reform, when there was a concern with the coordinated development of material, spiritual, and political civilisations. d) “Four in one” refers to the inclusion of social civilisation to the previous three. e) “Five in one” refers to the new era after the CPC’s 18th National Congress, which arose from the all-round deepening of reform and a new phase of modernisation, when we find the coordinated development of five types of civilisation: material, political, spiritual, social, and ecological.

To examine these five types of civilisation further: today, China’s material civilisation goes beyond the logic of Western modernisation, in which “personal independence is based on dependence mediated by things,”[5] and is instead the logic of letting all people share the fruits of material civilisation and paying attention to people’s all-round needs. In terms of the relationship between the ruling party and the people, political civilisation here means going beyond the Western logic that the ruling party is the representative of capital interest groups, and is instead the logic of “building the party for the public good and exercising power for the sake of the people,” “representing the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people” and the “aspirations of the people to live a better life must always be the focus of our efforts.”[6] Our spiritual civilisation concerns the question of spiritual ontology[7] and focuses on the spirit of courage, thereby surpassing the hedonism and consumerist logic of Western modernisation. The social civilisation referred to here goes beyond the Western approach of “taking others more as a means,” which is characterised by “possession” and a “one-dimensional person,” and is instead committed to the logic of “taking people as the goal.” Finally, ecological civilisation refers to relations between human beings and nature, and surpasses the Western assumption that human beings are the masters of nature, conquering and plundering nature, and is instead the logic of harmonious coexistence between human beings and nature.

These five types of civilisation comprise the new form of human civilisation, which goes beyond the regional “egoism” and “Western centrism” that is based on individuals in Western civil society, and is instead the logic of a “Community of Shared Future for Humankind” that is based on socialised human beings in the process of history becoming world history. In a word, based on the new road of Chinese-style modernisation, we have created, innovated, and developed a new and holistic form of human civilisation.

Third, from the perspective of theory. The new road of Chinese-style modernisation contains both the elements for and can give rise to a new form of human civilisation. The road metaphor involves five basic levels: historical position (coordinate: where I am), goal (direction: where I am going), basic route (general plan: how to walk), driving force (power: how to move), and leading body (pilot: who will lead). To elaborate:

  • Historical position: The new road of Chinese-style modernisation emphasises advancing in step with the times, which means that it is open and innovative. The new form of human civilisation is at a higher level than Western civilisation and its egotism. By contrast, the new form of civilisation is open to the future and the world, actively absorbs the outstanding achievements of all human civilisations, and constantly innovates and develops.
  • Goal of the struggle: The new road of Chinese-style modernisation pays attention to liberating and developing social productive forces, gradually realising common prosperity, and constantly promoting people’s all-round development, which means that it is people-oriented and humane. The new form of human civilisation is at a higher level than Western civilisation because it is not capital-oriented, but people-oriented.
  • Basic route: the new road of Chinese-style modernisation pays attention to the implementation of the five new development concepts,[8] promotes the coordinated implementation of the “Five in One” integrated plan and the strategic layout of the “Four Comprehensives.”[9] These indicate the systematic integrity of the various spheres of development. They pay attention to the high-quality development of material, political, spiritual, social, and ecological civilisations, as well as their overall coordinated development, and to the coexistence and co-development of China and the world. The new human civilisation is superior to Western civilisation because it does not focus on “one-dimensional development.” Instead, it is a civilisation that emphasises overall, coordinated, and harmonious development on the basis of each other’s high-quality development.
  • Driving force of economic and social development: the new road of Chinese-style modernisation pays attention to exerting and integrating three forces, that of the CPC’s centralised and unified leadership, market allocation, and the main force of the people. It has the characteristics and advantages of focusing on the overall situation, mobilising the positive factors of all parties, and concentrating resources to accomplish major tasks. This new human civilisation is superior to Western civilisation since it does not focus on the power of capital at the expense of people; instead, it is a civilisation of construction, sharing, and governance in common.
  • Leadership strength: the new road of Chinese-style modernisation adheres to the leadership of the CPC, which is a political party with global responsibilities and a vision for humanity. It pays attention to liberating all of humankind, seeks common ground for the world, actively constructs a community of shared future for humankind, focuses on world peace and development, and win-win cooperation. The CPC’s concerns in the world are more ethical and just, and therefore more attractive. This new form of human civilisation is superior to Western civilisation, which focuses on the interests of the bourgeoisie; instead, it is a civilisation that seeks common ground and the interests of all the  people of the world.
  • World outlook: the new road of Chinese-style modernisation emphasises the world’s diversity, in terms of concepts, roads, and civilisations. The new form of human civilisation is superior to Western civilisation, which is characterised by “Western Centrism,” “Western Civilisational Superiority,” “Conflict of Civilisations” and “the end of history”; instead, the new civilisation advocates equality among countries, learning from one another, inclusive development, and mutual and universal benefit.

Therefore, the new road of Chinese-style modernisation is based on contemporary China and human beings as socialised. It is inherently “human-centred.”

Since the CPC’s 18th National Congress in 2012, CPC members have not forgotten their original aspiration, continue to absorb the experiences of other countries, face the future, and are guided by the need to solve problems. Based on the new road of Chinese-style modernisation, the new era of Chinese socialism has increasingly become world history and influenced world history, creating both a new road of Chinese-style modernisation and a new form of human civilisation.

Compared with Chinese traditional civilisation and Western civilisation, the basic connotations of the new form of human civilisation are: 1) it is committed to solving the three major problems of the insufficient driving force for economic growth, unbalanced development, and stagnating governance in today’s world; 2) it is a civilisation that follows the general laws of human development, which entails the unity of “power-balance-governance” and highlights consistency; 3) it transcends the limitations of the so-called “universal values” in the West, and is a common civilisation with peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom as its core concepts; 4) it transcends the capital-led logic, and is concerned with an inclusive civilisation that takes the people as the centre, adheres to the road of common prosperity, and enables people to live a better life; 5) it transcends Western centrism and liberalism, and sees the construction of a community of shared future for humankind as the outlook for countries, civilisations, development, justice, benefit, security, while also paying attention to diversity, equality, mutual learning, and inclusiveness with diversity; 6) it transcends “one-dimensional” development, and is a comprehensive and progressive society with the coordinated development of material, political, spiritual, social, and ecological civilisations; 7) it moves well beyond unilateralism, focusing on the people of the world to create a civilisation of shared construction, governance, and benefit.

Mao Zedong once pointed out that China should make greater contributions to humankind. Creating a new road of Chinese-style modernisation and a new form of human civilisation is China’s contribution to humankind in the new era!

References

Deng Xiaoping. 1983. “We Are on the Right Track and Our Policies Will Not Change (18 June 1983).” In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 3, 39. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1994.

Jiang Zemin. 2006.Selected Works of Jiang Zemin, vol. 3. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2006. In Chinese.

Marx, Karl. Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58 (First Version of Capital, also known Grundrisse). In Marx Engels Collected Works, Vol. 28. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1986.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. 1846. The German Ideology. In Marx Engels Collected Works, Vol. 5, 19-539. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976.

Xi Jinping. 2017. “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era: Report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, October 18, 2017.” In The Governance of China, vol. 3, 1-82. China: Foreign Languages Press, 2020.


[1]      Translation from the Chinese text of the speech, first published in the CPC Central Committee’s theoretical journal, Qiushi, issue 14 of 2021. http://www.qstheory.cn/dukan/qs/2021-07/15/c_1127656422.htm.

[2]      Deng Xiaoping, ”We Are on the Right Track and Our Policies Will Not Change (18 June 1983).” In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 3, 39. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1994, p. 39. Translation modified in light of the Chinese text.

[3]      This phrase, “completed humanism,” summarises the arguments of Marx’s writings in the 1840s, which focused on “human liberation.”

[4]      The “real community” in Marx is opposed to the “illusory community” of capitalism. These terms are common in Chinese Marxist scholarship and are drawn from Marx and Engels, 1846, The German Ideology. In Marx Engels Collected Works, Vol. 5. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976, pp. 46, 78.

[5]      The phrase “personal independence based on dependence mediated by things” alludes to the “illusory community” of capitalism mentioned earlier. In this case, the quotation comes from Marx’s Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58 (First Version of Capital, also known Grundrisse). In Marx Engels Collected Works, Vol. 28. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1986, p. 95.

[6]      The first two phrases are different ways of expressing the third of Jiang Zemin’s “three represents.” See Selected Works of Jiang Zemin, vol. 3. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2006 (In Chinese),pp. 279-81, 384. The third phrase has been used by Xi Jinping on many occasions, especially in “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era: Report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, October 18, 2017.” In The Governance of China, vol. 3, 1-82. China: Foreign Languages Press, 2020.p. 63.

[7]      Translator’s note: the words used here are difficult to translate: 精神 jingshen is usually translated as “spirit” and “spiritual,” but it does not have the religious connotations found in Western languages. The semantic field includes vitality, vigour, and drive, and its adjectival form means lively and spirited. 本体 benti may be translated as “ontology” or “noumenon,” but it does have the reference to ontological transcendence that is characteristic of Western philosophy.

[8]      The “five development concepts” are innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development, having been initially proposed at the Fifth Plenary Session of the CPC Central Committee in October, 2015, for the sake of guiding the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan. The Fourteenth Five-Year Plan is focused on taking the five concepts to a new level of completion.

[9]      The “Five in One” integrated plan is a signature feature of the new era of social and economic development, which began in 2012.  It refers to advancing economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress in an all-round way. The “four comprehensives” refer to comprehensively achieving a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepening reform, comprehensively governing the country according to law, and comprehensively enforcing strict self-governance of the CPC. These also date from the beginning of the new era in 2012.

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