In a country with under-developed social productive forces, the initiative to promote socialist modernization construction constituted a brand-new subject, and no readily available solution or historical precedent existed. The Chinese Communists with Mao Zedong as the leader integrated the fundamental principles of Marxism with the reality of China, proactively explored China’s own path of building socialism, and formulated the grand strategy for China to advance towards a consolidated socialist country, which would be accomplished in two stages: The first stage was to establish an independent and relatively integrated industrial system and national economic system; the second stage was to comprehensively realize the modernization of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology, so as to become one of the world’s leading economies.
Through arduous and painstaking efforts, China, starting from virtually nothing while also languishing in poverty, built up an independent and relatively complete industrial hierarchy and national economic system, accumulating all the while excellent experiences for exploring the path of building socialism with Chinese characteristics and providing a better life and future for its people.
Kicking off Chinese-style Modernization
After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee which ushered in China’s reform and opening-up in 1979, the Chinese Communists, led by Deng Xiaoping, reviewed the previous experience in socialist construction, focused on the fundamental issues of how to define socialism and what approaches should be taken to build socialism, and called for taking our own road and building socialism with Chinese characteristics, successfully blazing a road for China’s socialist modernization. As Deng Xiaoping pointed out, “In our democratic revolution, we had to act in accordance with China’s specific situations and follow the path explored by Comrade Mao Zedong of encircling the cities with the rural areas. Now, in our national construction, we must likewise act based on our present situation and find a Chinese path to modernization.” He emphasized that at least two important features must be taken into account in order to carry out the modernization of China: First, China started from a weak foundation, and second, China has a large population but not enough arable land. So China’s modernization drive must proceed from the specific characteristics of the country.
What is the Chinese way of modernization? Deng Xiaoping inventively borrowed the concept of “a moderately prosperous society,” to convey the significant concept of “Chinese-style modernization.” Deng explained that China meant to achieve a comparative prosperity, with a per capita GNP of US $1,000 being set as a significant parameter.
Citizens watch a dazzling fireworks display on the night of the Chinese National Day in Beijing on October 1, 2019. Yu Xiangjun
At that point, the per capita GNP of Western powers including the U.S. and Germany had outstripped US $10,000, while China was barely confined to a meager portion of US $200. Deng later made a conclusion of China’s approach to building socialism after the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee, saying that in the final analysis, it was necessary to expand the productive force and progressively actuate China’s economic drive. He set a two-step goal, with the first step to quadruple the country’s GDP by the end of the 1990s and attain a modest level of prosperity, and the second step to catch up with the level of developed countries in the following 30 to 50 years. Deng repeatedly underlined that the actualization of the set objectives would be no easy task. The whole Party and whole country had to engage in grueling hard work, and wage an arduous struggle resolutely and wholeheartedly. Since then, “quadrupling of GDP,” “moderately prosperous society,” and “Chinese-style modernization” have become key concepts of socialism with Chinese characteristics and Deng Xiaoping theory. They have been serving as a banner under which China’s development engine carried out its flurry of activities. Furthermore, the identification of China’s development goals using these concepts not only conforms to China’s basic national circumstances and realities of its development, but also has been easily understood and supported by the general public, which was instrumental in mobilizing and rallying the whole Party and people of all ethnic groups to pool efforts and resources to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
The Arduous Journey Towards a Moderately Prosperous Society
As socialism with Chinese characteristics develops steadily, China’s socialist path has become wider, and the goal of a moderately prosperous society has been enriched with the infusion of new insights contained in a series of strategic policies rolled out for raising the level and quality of social development.
The 16th National Congress of the CPC which was convened in 2002 marked the start of a new phase of development in China for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and speeding up socialist modernization. On the one hand, thanks to the joint efforts of the whole Party and the people of all ethnic groups, we have attained the objectives of the first two steps of the three-step strategy for China’s modernization drive, and by and large, the people have become well-off. In 2000, China’s GDP topped RMB 8,940.4 billion, with the goal of quadrupling its per capita GNP being met compared with 1980. But on the other hand, the well-off life that Chinese people were leading still remained at a low level; it was not all-inclusive and was very uneven. While economic development was advancing at a fast speed, the country was also encumbered by multiple challenges, including unbalanced urban-rural progress and lack of balance in regional development, an imperfect labor market and social security system, as well as great pressure on environment and resources.
The 16th National Congress of the CPC unequivocally proposed that in the first 20 years of this century, China should concentrate on building a moderately prosperous society of a higher standard to the benefit of over one billion people, and would further develop the economy, improve democracy, advance science and education, enrich culture, foster social harmony, and upgrade the texture of life for the people.
Based on the periodical features of China’s development, the 17th National Congress of the CPC proposed five new and higher aims for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, which included promoting balanced development, expanding socialist democracy, promoting cultural development, accelerating the development of social programs, and promoting ecological progress. These new demands further upgraded the objectives of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects defined at the previous CPC national congress. In particular, it made it clear that China would quadruple the per capita GDP of the year 2000 by 2020 while the development pattern would be significantly transformed. This new requirement replaced the gross GDP target with the per capita GDP target, and also attached conditions such as optimizing economic structure, improving economic returns, reducing consumption of resources, and protecting the environment. This no doubt set higher requirements on the quality of development, and therefore, the tasks to achieve the goal became even more arduous.
The 18th National Congress of the CPC, in line with new changes in the situation at home and abroad, enriched and improved the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, explicitly vowed to attain the goal of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020. The new requirements set forth at this meeting include: The economy should maintain sustained and sound development; cultural soft power should be improved significantly; living standards should be raised for everyone; and major progress should be made in building a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society. Of these new demands, the most spectacular is to double its 2010 GDP and per capita income of urban and rural residents on the basis of making the country’s development much more balanced, coordinated, and sustainable, a notch higher than the target set forth at the 17th CPC National Congress. It is also the first time in its history for the CPC to set the target of doubling 2010 per capita income for urban and rural residents. All this exemplified the people-oriented approach to building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, complying with the new expectations of people for a better life, and further reflects the CPC’s conception that the Party is built for the public and that it exercises state power for the people.
Realization of Moderate Prosperity Lies in the Rural Areas
After the 18th CPC National Congress, building a moderately prosperous society in all respects has entered a decisive stage. The CPC Central Committee, with Comrade Xi Jinping as its core, keeping an eye on the country and Party’s overall development, formulated the four-pronged strategy to tackle the changing social contradictions and resolve unbalanced and inadequate development in China so as to win a decisive victory of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. President Xi pointed out, “To complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects is our strategic goal, which, when realized by 2020, will mark a major step in our national development; prior to this, all of our hard work will focus on this goal.” Furthering reform, advancing the rule of law, and strengthening Party discipline represent the major strategic measures that must be taken to realize this target. None of these three aspects can be neglected. Furthering reform and advancing the rule of law, just like the wings of a bird or the wheels of a car, will become a source of strength and a legal guarantee for completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
To realize a moderately prosperous society in all respects, we must not only have it in our mind, we must also focus on the issue of “in all respects” – the latter being more important and more difficult to achieve. “A moderately prosperous society” represents a certain level of development, while “in all respects” extends that level of development to one that is balanced, coordinated, and sustainable. President Xi pointed out that to achieve a moderately prosperous society in all respects, China must seek economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress, must ensure that all the people are covered and share the fruits of development, and must ensure that every aspect is covered and there is moderate prosperity in both urban and rural areas. He stressed that uplifting all the impoverished residents in rural areas out of poverty is a symbolic benchmark of China’s efforts to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realize the first centenary goal. This issue and the plight of those in straitened circumstances have been among the top priorities in President Xi Jinping’s mind which he considers of great importance to the country, and he has focused a lot of his attention and energy. Xi has repeatedly emphasized that the measurement of moderate prosperity lies in the rural areas. A moderate prosperous society excluding rural areas, especially those in straitened circumstances, cannot be regarded as a moderate prosperous society in all respects. This is a society to be enjoyed by each and every one of us. On the march towards common prosperity, no one will be left behind.
Since the 18th CPC national congress, the central leadership has placed high importance on tackling poverty and adopted a series of policies and action plans. Such poverty eradication efforts have reached unprecedented levels in terms of their intensity, scale, and impact in order to reach the country’s target of lifting all rural poor population and impoverished counties out of poverty by 2020, thus completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
CHEN LI is director of the Academic and Editorial Committee of the Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee.