We are pleased to publish this paper by Hong Xiaonan, Dean of the School of Marxism at China’s Dalian University of Technology (DUT), part of our occasional series of selected presentations from the Cloud International Workshop on ‘New forms of human civilization from a world perspective’, held by the School, October 29-31, 2021.
In his paper, Professor Hong argues that Chinese-style modernization is new in five aspects. It is mega-scale; is one where the entire population enjoys common prosperity; where material and spiritual civilization are in harmony; where humanity and nature co-exist in harmony; and that follows the path of peaceful development. In a few words, it is socialist modernization and modernization for developing countries.
Professor Hong outlines the stages of modernization theory, through the paradigm of “America First”, the emergence of capitalist and socialist camps headed respectively by the United States and the Soviet Union, the wave of decolonization and national liberation movements, through to the emergence of Chinese-style modernization.
The author notes that General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that China’s modernization means that more Chinese people than the population of all developed countries combined would enter the ranks of modernization. By way of comparison, the pre-18th century rise of the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, with a combined population of about one million, was at best equivalent to the rise of a county in China today.
He compares China’s modernization, aimed at “the all-round development of human beings”, to the western model, which is “entirely oriented towards the logic of capital, with the market economy as the only driving mechanism. This inevitably leads to an ever-greater division between rich and poor… Western capitalist modernization was constructed on the foundation of primitive accumulation, in terms of blood-soaked colonial plunder external to capitalist countries and ruthless exploitation of the people within these countries. As Marx observed… ‘capital comes [into the world] dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.’… The British ‘Enclosure Movement,’ the United States’ ‘Westward Movement,’ and the criminal slave trade are all examples of the ‘original sin’ of Western capitalist modernization.”
In contrast, Professor Hong echoes Xi Jinping’s words in his report to the 19th Party Congress, in pointing out that China’s modernization, “offers a completely new option for those countries and peoples in the world that want to accelerate development while maintaining their independence.”
Once again, we are grateful to the DUT translation team and to Professor Roland Boer for their work to make this important paper available in English.
Abstract: The new path of Chinese-style modernisation is “new” in that it is different from the Western path of modernisation. The “new” characteristic has five aspects: 1) modernisation on a mega-scale; 2) modernisation in which the entire population enjoys common prosperity; 3) modernisation in which material and spiritual civilisation are in harmony; 4) modernisation in which humanity and nature coexist in harmony; 5) and modernisation that follows the path of peaceful development. Chinese-style modernisation is socialist modernisation, with unique characteristics that are different from capitalist modernisation. Chinese-style modernisation has changed the long-standing dominance of the model of Western modernisation and the power of its discourse monopoly. It has broken the stereotype and “beautiful myth” that “globalisation = Westernisation,” that “westernisation = modernisation,” and that “modernisation = marketisation.” It has overcome the inherent and innate defects of capitalist modernisation, and provided a completely new option for modernisation, thereby showing a promising prospect for the modernisation of human society. Chinese-style modernisation is a modernisation for developing countries, opening up a completely new path towards modernisation for late-developing countries.
Keywords: New path of Chinese-style modernisation; Western modernisation; new forms of human civilisation.
The new path of Chinese-style modernisation is “new” in that it is different from the Western path of modernisation
Modernisation as a world historical process reflects the tremendous changes that human society has undergone from traditional agricultural societies to modern industrial societies. This process began in Western Europe, expanded across North America and the rest of Europe, and spread to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The study of the theory of modernisation emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, with the main academic fronts in the United States, West Germany, Japan, and other countries. The object of this research concerned the newly independent post-war countries, that is, the developing countries of the Third World. The task was to examine the new paths, strategies, and models for the development of these new countries. Generally speaking, Western research on modernisation began as a sub-discipline, mainly using theories and methods from different Western disciplines such as sociology, economics, political science, and psychology to construct theoretical frameworks so as to analyse and compare the modernisation of non-Western developing countries and to conduct field research.
After the Second World War, the new scientific and technological revolution in the Western capitalist world brought about rapid development of the productive forces and rapid growth of the capitalist economy, which not only quickly healed the wounds of war in the capitalist world, but also strengthened the confidence in Western civilisation, which had for a time been lost as a result of the economic crisis and war. In particular, through the Second World War, the United States leapt ahead to become the centre and leader of the Western capitalist world. Many Western scholars, including some in the United States, were filled with a sense of novelty and admiration for the United States, creating the illusion of “America first” and arguing theoretically for the superiority and rationality of the Western capitalist system. In terms of this background, research on the emergence of modern society began to flourish in a number of universities in the United States, and from this research the so-called “modernisation theory” – or to be precise, “Western modernisation theory” – gradually took shape.
After the Second World War, two camps were formed in the world, the capitalist camp led by the United States and the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union. The two camps were in a state of cold war with each other. In the 1950s and 1960s, a wave of decolonisation and national liberation movements enabled many Third World countries to gain political independence and to seek one after another their own paths for development. Against this background, some modernisation theorists, in their absolute belief in their own social systems while paying close attention to the development of Third World countries, strove to make the vast number of non-Western underdeveloped countries accept Western social systems and achieve capitalist modernisation and development so as to be incorporated within their capitalist systems. These changes forced the United States, as the leader of the Western world, to revise its traditional Euro-centric starting point for world policy, and a new global policy was formed by relying on the study of socialist and developing countries. By around 1960 the Cold War had reached its peak and so had the study of non-Western countries in the United States. This background determined the ideological hue of modernisation studies from the outset. Modernisation theorists argued that the main challenge in the post-Second World War period was to find ways of reviving and spreading United States liberal social values, capitalist economic organisation, and bourgeois democratic political structures.
Victory, they claimed, depended on defeating the ironclad forces of communism, and that this goal could be achieved only by accelerating the natural process of transformation of “traditional” societies into enlightened and progressive “modernity,” embodied most vividly in the United States itself (Latham 2000). Western modernisation theorists originally defined modernisation as “the process by which the systems and values that emerged in Western Europe and North America spread to the rest of Europe from the 17th century onwards, and to the rest of the world from the 18th to the 20th century.” To see the process of modernisation as a process of spreading Western civilisation throughout the world is in essence to equate modernisation simply with Westernisation. This is a refurbished version of Western-centrism. This theoretical framework has led modernisation studies to a dead end. In addition, the failure of “Westernisation” in some Third World countries forced Western modernisation research to change its direction from the 1970s. Criticism mounted against the idea that Western systems and values should serve as a model for all peoples and regions of the world to follow, and that modernisation can be achieved only by rigidly imitating the complete Western system and its values.
The new path of Chinese-style modernisation: characteristics of the “new”
First, Chinese-style modernisation is a mega-modernisation that will profoundly change the face of the world and make an unprecedented contribution to the development of human society as a whole.
The realisation of China’s modernisation will be a prodigious feat in human history and a major event in the course of world modernisation. General Secretary Xi Jinping profoundly pointed out that realising the modernisation of China, the world’s largest developing country, means that more Chinese people than the population of all developed countries combined would enter the ranks of modernisation, and it will have a qualitatively worldwide influence. Looking back at the history of human modernisation, the pre-18th century rise of the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, with a combined population of about one million, was at best equivalent to the rise of a “county” in China today. When Britain, France, and other countries rose during the 19th century, their population was barely ten million, which is at best comparable to the rise of a “city” in China today. When the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, and other countries rose in the 20th century, their populations were at the level hundreds of millions, which is at best comparable to the rise of a “province” in China today. By contrast, with the modernisation of China in the 21st century, its population is in the billion range, which is more than the combined population of the countries and regions of the world that have achieved modernisation. This is not merely a matter of the quantitative increase in the number of people, but also a significant contribution to the progress of human civilisation with far-reaching implications.
The United States, the largest developed country in the world today, is home to just over 300 million people. The success of China’s modernisation will profoundly change the structure of the world and promote the transformation of the world in terms of “rising in the east and falling in the west.” It will lead more than 1.4 billion people, who are more than the population of all developed countries combined, on the path of modernisation, and this will certainly be a prodigious feat in human history and in the development of human civilisation. It has made an indelible contribution to freeing the whole world from poverty, modernising, and leading the way for the development of human civilisation.
Second, Chinese-style modernisation is a modernisation in which all the people share prosperity.
Western modernisation is entirely oriented towards the logic of capital, with the market economy as the only driving mechanism. This inevitably leads to an ever-greater division between rich and poor. In Capital in the 21st Century (2013), the French scholar Thomas Piketty demonstrates that since the rate of return on capital is always higher than the growth rate of wages, there is an objective trend of increasing wealth differentiation between rich and poor in modern times. Western modernisation has not only brought about an increasing division between rich and poor, but this can also lead to social rifts and class conflict. Chinese-style modernisation adheres to the logic of production, in which the worker is the basis, and the realisation of common prosperity. So as to achieve common prosperity gradually, during the process of reform it seeks in different forms to solve the problem of the gap between rich and poor. In 2020, a leading US public relations firm released a trust survey showing that the Chinese people have 95% trust their government, which is the highest among the countries surveyed (Edelman 2020). What is popular support? This is popular support. What is the yardstick of human rights? This is the yardstick of human rights.
Third, Chinese-style modernisation is a modernisation in which material and spiritual civilisations are harmonised.
Western modernisation is essentially a singular civilisational form with material modernisation at its core. Chinese-style modernisation has realised the leap from economic to comprehensive modernisation and from material to human modernisation. Fundamentally, Chinese-style modernisation is comprehensive since it is centred on human modernisation. This is expressed in terms of the “1+6+1” system of modernisation: “1” refers to “human modernisation”; “6” refers to “modernisation in all fields,” including the modernisation of the economy, politics, culture, society, ecological civilisation, and of national defence and the army; and “1” refers to the “modernisation of governance,” that is, modernisation of the national governance system and governance capacity (Tang 2021). As a comprehensive type of modernisation, Chinese-style modernisation is an organic whole, from the productive forces to the relations of production, from the economic base to the superstructure. With human modernisation at the core, all other aspects of modernisation are designed to provide support for the all-round development of human beings. As a comprehensive form of modernisation, Chinese-style modernisation gives expression to the form of “holistic civilisation”: these are known as the “five-in-one” of material, political, spiritual, social and ecological civilisation.
Fourth, Chinese-style modernisation is a modernisation in which humanity and nature are in harmonious coexistence.
The historical course of modernisation by developed Western countries has basically taken the industrialisation path of initial pollution and subsequent efforts to control pollution. They have all faced profound environmental crises, resulting in a shocking waste of natural resources and environmental destruction, thus paying a heavy ecological price. The general improvement of the ecological environment in the developed Western countries today is due to the fact that they have learned their lessons and invested heavily in ecological management over a long period of time, but it is also related to the fact that they have transferred highly polluting and energy-consuming industries to developing countries, reaping the dividends of modernisation at the expense of the ecological environment of other countries. Due to its earlier weak base and poor foundation, China also encountered very serious ecological and environmental problems in the process of achieving industrialisation and modernisation. Drawing a lesson from bitter experience, China has made a timely revision of its line on industrialisation and proposed a new type of industrialisation with low resource consumption and reduced environmental pollution. Further, we have integrated the construction of ecological civilisation into the “five-in-one” integrated plan of socialism with Chinese characteristics; made “beautiful China” an important element in building a strong socialistically modernised country; and have cultivated and are carrying out in the whole of society the conviction that “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets.” Thus, we have inaugurated a new way for the synergistic promotion of high-quality economic development and green development.
Fifth, Chinese modernisation is a modernisation that follows the path of peaceful development.
Western modernisation was based on the “logic of hegemony,” a path of internal plunder and external colonial expansion. As the core element of the new form of human civilisation, Chinese modernisation goes beyond the logic of “a strong country is bound to seek hegemony” and presents the intrinsic quality of peacefulness. This is determined by the genes of Chinese civilisation and the logic of socialism.
The “Global Significance” of the “New Road of Chinese-Style Modernisation”
First, Chinese-style modernisation is socialist modernisation, which has unique characteristics and is distinct from capitalism.
Western capitalist modernisation was constructed on the foundation of primitive accumulation, in terms of blood-soaked colonial plunder external to capitalist countries and ruthless exploitation of the people within these countries. As Marx observed (1867, 748), “capital comes [into the world] dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” According to statistics, since the end of the 15th century Western colonists have, in a period of over 300 years, robbed 2.5 million kilograms of gold and 100 million kilograms of silver from Central and South America alone. The British “Enclosure Movement,” the United States’ “Westward Movement,” and the criminal slave trade are all examples of the “original sin” of Western capitalist modernisation. Since the English Industrial Revolution, there has been too much “blood and fire” aggression and too much undisguised plunder in the modernisation of humankind. Even within these modernised countries, an enormous chasm in terms of income has developed and a significant gap between rich and poor has emerged, bringing about ongoing social unrest. By contrast, the Communist Party of China has led the Chinese people on the journey of modernisation, not only embarking on their own successful path of development, but also creating “two miracles” that are rarely seen in the world: rapid economic development and long-term social stability.
Second, Chinese-style modernisation has changed the pattern in which the model of Western-style modernisation has long dominated and monopolised the right to speak. It has broken the stereotype and “beautiful myth” that “globalisation = Westernisation,” that “Westernisation = modernisation,” and that “modernisation = marketisation” (Han 2021), China has overcome the inherent malpractice of capitalist modernisation, providing a brand new alternative to modernisation, and showing a bright prospect for the modernisation of human society.
The development of the Western countries was a “serial” process, with industrialisation, urbanisation, agricultural modernisation, and informatisation developing sequentially, taking more than 200 years to develop to their current level. If China wants to come from behind and surpass its predecessors, thereby recovering the “lost 200 years,” it cannot imitate every move of the modernisation and development process of Western countries. It must give full play to its latecomer advantages, base itself on China’s reality, follow its own path and promote modernisation in a comprehensive manner.
China’s development is a “parallel” process, and industrialisation, informatisation, urbanisation, and agricultural modernisation are layered upon one another. By comparison with developed Western countries, which have taken a century or even a number of centuries for development, China has taken only a few decades. Since the founding of the New China more than 70 years ago, China has been running at full speed on the race track of modernisation, going from being a “late moderniser” to being “the growth pole of world modernisation” and “the largest laboratory of economic and social transformation.”
Third, Chinese modernisation is a modernisation for developing countries. It expands the ways for developing countries to achieve modernisation, offers a completely new option for those countries and peoples in the world that want to accelerate development while maintaining their independence, and contributes Chinese wisdom and Chinese programs for solving human problems.
Modernisation is not a single-choice question, but a multiple-choice one, and countries choose different paths to modernisation due to different historical conditions. There is neither a one-size-fits-all model of modernisation nor a universally applicable standard of modernisation. In terms of the historical form of modernisation, Chinese-style modernisation is the modernisation of developing and late-developing countries. The successful practice of Chinese-style modernisation makes clear to people of the world that there is more than one way that leads to modernisation, and as long we find the correct direction, move forward continuously, and follow our own path, we will achieve modernisation.
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