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Qiushi: China’s Reform Must Stay on the Socialist Path

[Editor’s Note: Qiushi published an article discussing different opinions on whether to continue reform in China. It talked about the importance of reform and how reform is needed. However, it then stressed that the most critical issue is the political direction that reform takes. China’s reform must take place under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The major political reform that Western countries hope will take place in China will never happen. To strengthen its point, the article discussed Deng Xiaoping’s words, "It is a dead end if we don’t reform or open up," which some people keep quoting in order to promote further (political) reform. The article argues that the correct way to say it is, "It is a dead end if we don’t insist on using Socialism as the basis of our reform; and it is also a dead end to insist on reform that embraces Capitalism." The following is a translation of the article.] [1]

Recently, especially since the 18th Party Congress, the public has had heated discussions and expectations on deepening reform.

I. The Main Views on Reform

The main discussions on reform are currently focusing on how to evaluate the current reform, whether to continue reform, the drives for and resistance against reform, and the direction and path that reform should take.

A. Evaluating the Current State of Reform

Most people think that China’s reform has been successful and has resulted in great achievements. They think that the current problems and potential future problems resulting from reform can only be resolved by continuing to deepen the reform. Others think that the reform has brought about many problems, such as unequal income distribution, large scale corruption, and declining morality. This indicates to them that the current reform has not been thorough enough, with the main defect being insufficient reform in the political system. Still others think that the current reform has deviated from Socialist values and principles, and that the path of reform needs to be fixed; otherwise the nation will face major problems.

B. On Whether China Needs Further Reform

A majority of the people acknowledge the following: “reform has been the biggest economic dividend for China,” “reform is the natural choice for China’s development,” and “only through deepening reform can we resolve all of the problems that China faces.” However, people have different views about the content of reform: for example, how to handle the relationship between economic system reform and political system reform; how to handle the relationship between reform, development, and stability; and how to handle the relationship between the purpose of reform and the result of reform. Some people think that reform in China is almost complete and that we should shift our focus to maintaining the results of reform and starting regular development.

C. On the Drive for and Resistance against Reform

Some people think that reform should be done top-down, that we should have top-level design, and that the drive for reform should come from the top. Some think that the new interest groups that have formed since China’s reform and opening up have been resisting reform and that it is therefore impossible to conduct top-down reform; instead, in order for reform to occur, the people at the grassroots level need to push the upper level. Some think that self-motivated people will drive reform, so reform should rely on people. However, if the top level of government does not support people’s self-driven efforts, people won’t succeed either; therefore reform needs support from both the top and the bottom levels.

D. On the Direction and Path of Reform

A vast majority of the people think that reform is the self-improvement and development of the Socialist system, that we must stick to the right direction and adhere to Socialism with Chinese characteristics, and that we should not take the evil path (Editor’s note: The evil path refers to the Capitalist path). Some think that reform means to take the path of market-orientation, privatization, and democracy. They insist on a multi-party system, separation of powers, and other attributes of the Western political model. They conclude that China has all of these problems with reform because it does not have the Western political system. Some even, under the banner of reform, label those who insist on Socialism with Chinese characteristics as being conservative, rigid, dogmatic, and anti-reform. Most scholars think that, in a country as large as China, reform must stick to the right direction and take a progressive approach.

E. On the Details of Reform

People have many different viewpoints on different areas of reform, such as political system reform (including judicial system reform), economic system reform, income distribution system reform, and cultural system reform (including education system reform).

On political system reform, overall, academia has developed a common consensus on the necessity and urgency of advancing political system reform in China. However, they can’t agree on how to evaluate the current political system reform, the next breakthrough point, and the goal of political reform. A majority of people acknowledge the superiority of our country’s political system and the achievements in our political reform. Some think we must conduct political system reform; otherwise the deeper level problems will not be resolved and the result of economic system reform will not be sustainable. Some don’t think political reform means to follow the Western “separation of powers and the multi-party” system, but we should not do nothing either. They use the excuse of “Chinese characteristics.” Some think that political system reform presents great risk and must be done in small steps. Very few people deny the achievements of our political reform and have a clear goal in advocating a (Western-styled) political system reform. Some think our political system is an authoritarian regime with little democracy; some claim our political reform has made no progress but instead has moved backwards; and some reject Socialism with Chinese characteristics and promote the Western constitutional system. Some think that China must take the path of constitutionalism and democracy; some reject the current intra-Party system and promote direct elections; some place the rule of law in opposition to the Party’s leadership and reject the Party’s leadership over the judicial system.

On income distribution reform, scholars clearly have different opinions on the cause of the disparity in income and on whether to focus reform on primary income distribution or secondary income distribution. [2] One thought is that the government’s over-involvement in the market caused the unfair income distribution. It should therefore be resolved by reforming the political system and the administrative system. Another thought is that current reform should focus on primary income distribution including reform of the tax system, the salary system, the distribution of farmers’ income, the distribution of key resources (such as coal, gas, and steel), and the monopoly industries. Some advocate market reform and reject the government’s involvement. Some scholars counter that, due to each person having different production resources, they will receive different incomes; also, the market mechanism does not guarantee that everyone will have an equal opportunity.

Overall, different groups of people focus on reform differently. The general public talks more about unsatisfactory issues such as corruption, the unequal distribution of income, the disparity in income, and the decline in moral standards. Scholars focus on system reform, including political system reform, economic system reform, and cultural system reform.

II. Issues that Need Attention

A. On What Is the Right Direction for Reform

There have always been struggles over both the direction and the nature of the reform. For example, some people directly or indirectly advocate a free market economy based on private ownership. Their main tactic is to emphasize the market economy (without much mention of the Socialist direction) and to downplay the difference in the production relationship (between Capitalism and Socialism). They do not want to create a new system that combines the market economy with Socialism and public ownership. They stress the common characteristics of the market economy and blur the differences between Socialism and Capitalism and the difference between public ownership and private ownership. For a while, “the improvements to the Socialist system” and adherence to the “Four Cardinal Principles” [3] were not mentioned much. This situation is worrisome.

Regarding the direction of reform, different members of academia hold diametrically opposing views. One thought is that some areas of reform went in the wrong direction and deviated from the Socialist path. Another thought is that the Western values of freedom, democracy, and human rights are “universal values” and that China must follow the Western model to reform and must take the Western path.

Some scholars have pointed out that reform means the improvement and development of the Socialist system. Each reform must follow Socialism with Chinese characteristics. No matter what to reform or how to reform, we must make sure that Socialism with Chinese characteristics is indeed Socialism and not some other doctrine. The basic principles of scientific Socialism cannot be thrown away. Otherwise, we are no longer a Socialist country. Looking back at the Party’s history, whenever reform reached a critical point or there was a transition period from the old generation of leaders to the new, there would be all kinds of noise. Of course we should pay attention to the mistakes made during reform, but we must also trust that the Central Party Committee has the ability to control the situation.

B. On the Statement, “It Is a Dead End If We Don’t Reform or Open up”

Some of today’s scholars have pointed out that certain media like to quote from Deng Xiaoping’s speech during his southern tour [4]. Actually, this quote is not precise or comprehensive enough.

These scholars said that reform can have different natures and directions. Gorbachev once insisted on “reform,” but where did he take Russia? That path undermined and disintegrated the Soviet Union in the name of “reform.” Deng Xiaoping also pointed out that some people claim that they support reform and opening up, but what they really want to do is to make China more Capitalistic and change the nature of our society. Therefore, we can’t simply say, “It is a dead end if we don’t reform or open up.” Precisely speaking, it is a dead end if we don’t insist on using Socialism as the basis of our reform; and it is also a dead end to insist on reform that embraces Capitalism.

These scholars also pointed out that Deng Xiaoping’s “dead end” comment during his southern tour in 1992 included a critical pre-condition. The entire quotation was: “We need to adhere to the direction, principles, and policies of the Party’s 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Congress. The key is to adhere to ‘one central task and two basic points.’ [5] If China does not practice Socialism, does not carry on with ‘reform and opening’ and economic development, and does not improve the people’s standard of living, then no matter what direction we choose, it will be a dead end. That basic direction will remain for 100 years and can’t be changed. Only by adhering to this direction will people trust you and support you. The people will take down whoever wants to change the direction, principles, and policies of the Party’s 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Congress.” (Editor’s note: Given the background of Deng Xiaoping’s southern tour, when he mentioned the “direction, principles, and policies of the Party’s 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Congress,” Deng was more focused on reform. Deng’s comment “it will be a dead end” was referring more to the mistake of not reforming at all. However, the article here quoted his words on the “direction, principles, and policies of the Party’s 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Congress” to emphasize the Socialist path and the CCP’s leadership.)

Scholars stressed that we can’t just quote parts of Deng Xiaoping’s speech. Instead, we should comprehensively adhere to the spirit of his speech. When talking about reform and opening up, we can never overlook or play down the Party’s basic direction and we can never forget to talk about, nor should we play down or distort Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

C. On Guiding the Views on Reform

Some scholars think that the top leaders’ views on reform and those of certain others are not the same. Also different things appeal to different groups, classes, and interest groups. This makes the debate on reform very complicated.

Some scholars pointed out that we face more challenges now than we did at the beginning of the reform and opening up. Today’s international and internal situations are more complicated. Different social classes have different positions on whether to reform and how to reform. Since the new group of leaders took power, they have often sent out signals about reform. Therefore it is important to unify our thoughts and guide the different views on reform.

D. On Confidence in Reform

Some scholars think that the opinions the public has expressed became very complicated after the Party’s 18th Congress. On the one hand people are eager for more reform. On the other hand some cadres and people do not have enough confidence in further reform. Reform is facing a danger zone where to continue will affect interest groups and some government entities.

E. On the Relationship between Reform, Development, and Stability

Some scholars stress that social stability is an important pre-condition for reform, but the problems in China’s economic and social development also rely on further reform for their resolution. Some think that only continuous reform can resolve group incidents [6], a key factor that impacts social stability. Also, deepening reform will affect the interests of the current groups in power. The conflicts and fights within those groups will also cause instability.

Some scholars think that, in order to handle the relationship between reform, development, and stability correctly, we should make improving people’s living standards our number one task. Many problems in today’s society, such as social inequality, the income gap, and corruption are the direct cause of group incidents.

Some people think that the reforms in the last 30 years have been great achievements. We should not continue to stress the speeding up of reform. Instead, we should adjust the intensity, steps, actions, and rhythms of reform.

F. On the “Top-Level Design” for Reform

Some scholars stress that the nature of our nation determines the system in China, including economics, politics, culture, and ecology. We cannot deviate from the basic principles of the relationship between our economic base and the superstructure when talking about “top-level design.” We should pay special attention to scholars and experts from Western countries who are participating in our reform’s “top-level design.” Why have these countries that have banned high-tech sales to China become so eager to “help” and “direct” our top-level design?

Many scholars stress that only when we are aware of the historical inevitability of the primary stage of Socialism and the Socialist market economy and when we follow the Socialist economic structure can we do the “top-level design” well. Only when we fully understand China’s own unique situation can we do the “top-level design” well. We need to be careful about our “top-level design.”

III. Some Suggestions

A. Carefully Study the Important Speeches that Top Leaders Have Made on Deepening Reform.

B. Focus on Promoting the Huge Achievements That Our Reform and Opening up Has Brought About.

We must put great effort into promoting the huge success of our nation’s reform and opening up. We must stress that reform and opening up is the necessary path in adhering to and developing Socialism with Chinese characteristics. This will enable people to fully understand that reform must adhere to the direction of developing Socialism with Chinese characteristics. We must be firm on the direction and value system of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

C. Objectively Understand the Current Problem and Challenges.

Scholars think that deepening reform will improve and develop the Socialist system and further unleash Socialism’s superiority. We don’t want to deny that many problems and challenges have occurred during reform. However, we need to stress to our people that Socialism did not cause these problems; some old concepts, fixed interests, and the conflicts between the old system and the new system caused them. Some problems are unavoidable. This will strengthen our determination and our confidence in further reform.

D. Further Clarifying Reform’s Direction and Focus in the Upcoming Period.

Scholars think that, after 30 years of reform and opening up, we have gained a lot of experience and have a good understanding of the outside world. Other countries’ experiences offer us rich lessons. We must also realize that there are still many unknown areas for us to explore.

At the same time, we can rationally plan for our reform and focus on the key areas and key links in the development of China’s economic society. In the next period, we should gradually publish the timetable for reform. This can improve the level of people’s confidence in reform.

E. Firmly Establish the View That Reform Must Rely Heavily on People.

F. Create an Environment That Favors Deepening Reform.

Scholars suggest that we must repeatedly stress our Party’s basic views on reform, such as that reform does not end; that reform must follow the definition of our nation’s nature, political nature, basic political system, and basic economic system in the Constitution; that reform is the improvement and development of the Socialist system; that the goal of reform is to adhere better to Socialism with Chinese characteristics; that the reform supports scientific development; that the ultimate goal of reform is to achieve common prosperity on the basis of improved economic productivity while the common prosperity is the fundamental principle of Socialism with Chinese characteristics; and that reform is for the people.

With regard to the media, we should strive to clarify the real meaning of popular terms, such as “the reform’s danger zone,” “the tougher battle,” and “the bone that is hard to chew,” to prevent some people from misdirecting the reform. (Editor’s note: These terms have been used to refer to political system reform. The author is suggesting not to use those strong words because they give people the impression that China wants to take on the challenge of reforming China politically.)

[1] Qiushi Online, “Path Determines the Fate of Reform,” January 23, 2013.
[2] Primary Income Distribution: Control the inequality in income at the time when people receive their income. Some approaches include lowering the salary and compensation to high-income people such as those working for the government or State-Owned Enterprises that have monopoly positions in their industries, or increasing the income to low-income people such as farmers. The government can also impose higher taxes and withholding on high-income people to reduce their take-home pay.
Secondary Income Distribution: Using redistribution as means of balancing the inequality in primary income. Approaches include taxes on income or on wealth and providing social benefits to people with low income.
[3] The Four Cardinal Principles (四项基本原则): Deng Xiaoping introduced the term in 1979; it set the direction for reform in China:
1. The principle of upholding the Socialist path
2. The principle of upholding the people’s democratic dictatorship
3. The principle of upholding the leadership of the CCP
4. The principle of upholding Mao Tse–Tung thought.
[4] After the June 4th suppression of democracy movement in China in 1989, Deng Xiaoping made Jiang Zemin the head of the CCP. Jiang moved in the direction of stopping the reform and opening up in China. To reassert his economic agenda, in the spring of 1992, Deng made his famous southern tour of China, visiting Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai and spending the Chinese New Year in Shanghai. Deng used his travels as a method of reasserting his economic policy. During the tour, Deng made the statement that, “It is a dead end if we don’t reform or open up.” Jiang Zemin initially ignored Deng’s speeches. It wasn’t until the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) echoed Deng and stated it would “escort the reform” that Jiang changed his position to resume reform.
[5] One central task and two basic points: This was the CCP’s guiding policy in the late 1980s. The government’s central task was economic development. In the meantime, the government needed to uphold two basic points, which were the four cardinal principles and the policy of reform and opening up.
[6] The number of group incidents in China has grown steadily from 8.700 in 1993, to an estimated 180,000 in 2010.