Align Our Thinking with the Guidelines of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China I Updated: 2021-12-06

Align Our Thinking with the Guidelines of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee*

November 12, 2013 

We have to unify the thinking and will of the whole Party first in order to unify the thinking and will of the people of all China's ethnic groups so that everyone works together to advance our reform. 

Here, I need to make a few points on how we should implement the guidelines of the plenary session, with the focus on the guiding principles, overall plans, objectives and tasks it has set forth. 

First, we must take improving and developing the socialist system with Chinese characteristics and modernizing our national governance system and capacity as the general goal of continuing the reform comprehensively. Deng Xiaoping said in 1992 that it would probably take another 30 years for us to develop a more mature and well-defined system in every field. Based on his strategic thought, the plenary session proposed modernizing our national governance system and capacity. This is something that must be done to improve and develop the socialist system and to achieve socialist modernization. We decided to focus on the question of continuing the reform comprehensively at the plenary session – not the reform of one or several fields, but of all areas. We made this decision out of the overall consideration of improving our national governance system and capacity.

The national governance system and capacity of a country epitomize not only its many systems but also how well it can enforce them. Our national governance system is a system of institutions within which the country is governed with the leadership of the Party. It comprises economic, political, cultural, social and ecological as well as Party-building systems and mechanisms, laws and regulations. This is a complete set of closely connected and coordinated systems of the state. Our national governance capacity is the ability to use these systems to manage social affairs, including reform, development and stability, domestic and foreign affairs, national defense, and the running of the Party, state and military. Our national governance system and capacity complement each other and form an organic whole. An effective governance system will lead to greater governance capacity, while greater governance capacity can make the governance system more effective. 

Actually, how to govern a socialist society, a completely new society, has not been clearly addressed by world socialism so far. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had no practical experience in the comprehensive governance of a socialist country, as their theories about a future society were mostly predictive. Vladimir Lenin, who passed away a few years after the October Revolution (1917) in Russia, was thus unable to explore this question in depth. The Soviet Union tackled this question and gained some experience, but it made serious mistakes and failed to resolve the problem. Our Party has worked on the same question steadily ever since it came to national power, and, in spite of serious setbacks, has accumulated rich experience and achieved great success in improving our governance system and enhancing our governance capacity. The success has been particularly resounding since we adopted the policy of reform and opening up. Enjoying political stability, economic growth, social harmony and ethnic unity, today's China poses a striking contrast to many regions and countries that suffer constant chaos. This shows that our national governance system and capacity are on the whole quite sound and suited to our national conditions and development needs. 

At the same time, we should also realize that, compared with China's needs for social and economic development and our people's expectations, and compared with today's increasingly intense international competition, and the need to ensure prolonged stability at home, we still have many shortcomings to overcome in improving our national governance system and capacity. To realize genuine social harmony and stability, and lasting peace and security, we must rely on our effective institutions, our high capacity in governance and our high-caliber personnel. To give free rein to the advantages of Chinese socialism, we must promote the modernization of our national governance system and capacity in all fields. 

To modernize our national governance system and capacity we should adapt properly to the changing times, and reform outdated systems, mechanisms, laws and regulations, while building new ones to make our institutions in all respects more appropriate and complete and the governance of Party, state and social affairs more institutionalized, standardized and procedure-based. We should pay more attention to building our governance capacity, enhancing our awareness of the need to act in accordance with institutions and the law, and our skills in running the country with institutions and the law, transforming our institutional advantages into greater governance effectiveness, and enhancing the Party's capacity to govern in an effective and democratic way, and in accordance with the law. 

Second, we must further free our mind, further release and develop the productive forces, and further stimulate and strengthen the vigor of society. The "three furthers" put forward at the plenary session are both objectives and conditions of our reform. Freeing our mind is a prerequisite or the ultimate switch for releasing and developing the productive forces, and strengthening the vigor of our society. Without freeing our mind, our Party would not have been able to make the historic decision to shift the focus of the work of the Party and the country to economic development and launch reform and opening up shortly after the ten-year turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, ushering in a new era in China's development. Without freeing our mind, our Party would not have been able to promote theoretical and practical innovation, remove risks and challenges effectively to advance reform and opening up steadily, and remain at the forefront of the times. Releasing and developing the productive forces, and stimulating and strengthening the vigor of our society are an inevitable outcome as well as an important basis for freeing the mind. 

To complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, achieve socialist modernization and the great renewal of the Chinese nation, the most essential and urgent task is to further release and develop the productive forces. The purpose of freeing our minds, and stimulating and strengthening the vigor of society is to better release and develop the productive forces. Deng Xiaoping said, "Revolution means the emancipation of the productive forces, and so does reform. After the basic socialist system has been established it will be necessary to fundamentally change the economic structure that has hampered the development of the productive forces and to establish a vigorous socialist economic structure that will promote their development."1 By continuing reform, we will unleash the vitality of work, knowledge, technology, management, capital and other factors to open an abundance of social wealth. In addition, we must keep vitality and order in proper balance, as society needs vitality to progress, but such vitality should be accompanied by order. Neither a pool of stagnant water nor a surging undercurrent is what we want. 

We stress the need to have confidence in our path, in our theories and in our system. In other words, we need to have strong will power and faith. At the same time, we also need a strong material power that bolsters such will power and faith. This requires constant reforms and innovations to ensure that Chinese socialism is more efficient than capitalism in releasing and developing the productive forces, stimulating and strengthening the vigor of society and promoting a well-rounded development of the person, and the arousing of greater enthusiasm, initiative and creativity among the people, create more favorable conditions for social development, and show a better edge in competition, thus fully displaying its advantages. 

Third, we must keep our focus on economic reforms, and give full play to their catalytic role. The plenary session presented a road map for furthering reform comprehensively, with "six centering-ons,"2 stressing the need to focus on economic reforms and their leading role. The basic fact that China is still in the primary stage of socialism and will long remain so has not changed; nor has the principal problem in our society, namely, inadequacy in meeting the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people, because of backward social production; and nor has China's international position as the world's largest developing country. All this dictates that economic development will remain the focus of the work of the whole Party. 

Currently, most structural and institutional barriers hindering China's proper development are found in the economy. Our economic reforms have not been completed, nor has the potential of such reforms been fully released. To keep economic development as our central task we must continue to focus on economic reforms without the slightest hesitation.

The economic base determines the superstructure. Economic reforms have a significant and pervasive bearing on the reform of other fields. And the tempo of progress in major economic reforms determines that of a host of other reforms, playing a critical part in the overall situation. In the "Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," Karl Marx observed that "In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely, relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness."3 As we continue to reform comprehensively, we should keep our focus on economic reforms, and strive to make breakthroughs in the reform of key fields, so that such breakthroughs will drive and stimulate reforms in other areas, and ensure that these reforms can work together and progress in concert. We should not take a fragmented and uncoordinated approach in this regard. 

Fourth, we must uphold the direction of reform towards a socialist market economy. Identifying our reform as aiming to establish a socialist market economy is a significant theoretical and practical innovation our Party made in the course of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. This resolved a major problem that other socialist countries had long failed to resolve. 

Over the past two decades or so we have advanced economic and other reforms centering on the goal of establishing a socialist market economy, and realized a great historic transition from a highly centralized planned economy to a robust socialist market economy, from seclusion and semi-seclusion to all-dimensional opening up, and from a life of subsistence to one of initial prosperity. The historic leap forward by which China's economy rose to the second place in the world has greatly increased the enthusiasm of the Chinese people, greatly boosted the development of China's productive forces, and added great vigor to the Party and the country. 

At the same time, we should also be aware that although our socialist market economy has taken shape initially, it is not complete as a system, and it is not yet mature. In particular, a balance between the role of the government and that of the market in effectively and unrestrictedly allocating resources is yet to be established. So we have to make strenuous efforts to fulfill the strategic task of quickly improving our socialist market economy set by the 18th Party Congress. 

The key to establishing a sound socialist market economy lies in striking a proper balance between the role of the government and that of the market, so that the market can play a decisive role in allocating resources and the government can play its own role more effectively. This represents another major step forward in our Party's theoretical and practical exploration. 

Establishing a sound socialist market economy is not only the basic need for the economic reforms, but also the core requirement for comprehensively continuing our reform. Letting the market play a decisive role in allocating resources will mainly require economic reforms, but it will also inevitably affect politics, culture, society, ecological progress and Party building. Institutional reforms of all areas should be promoted in concert with establishing a sound socialist market economy, while ensuring that their related links better meet the demands of a growing socialist market economy. 

Fifth, we must make the promotion of social fairness and justice and the improvement of wellbeing both the starting point and ultimate goal. Since the beginning of reform and opening up, China has made remarkable achievements in economic and social development, which provide a solid material foundation and favorable conditions for social fairness and justice. Nevertheless, given the current level of development, injustice and inequality are still quite common in our society. As China develops further and the people's living standards improve, public awareness of equality and democracy, and of rights and interests has been steadily enhanced, and hence people's resentment at injustice becomes more pronounced. 

After comprehensively reviewing and analyzing China's current social and economic development, the CPC Central Committee has concluded that this problem, if not resolved in good time, will reduce public confidence in our reform and opening up, and undermine social harmony and stability. As the 18th Party Congress pointed out, fairness and justice are inherent requirements of socialism with Chinese characteristics. We must, relying on the concerted efforts of all the Chinese people and based on economic and social development, step up efforts to develop institutions that are vital to ensuring social fairness and justice; establish in due course a system for ensuring fairness in society featuring, among other things, equal rights, equal opportunities and fair rules for all; and foster a fair social environment and ensure the people's equal right to participation in governance and to development. 

This plenary session stressed that to comprehensively continue reform we must make the promotion of social fairness and justice, and improvement of the people's lives both the starting point and ultimate goal. This is a necessary requirement of the fundamental purpose of our Party, which is to serve the people wholeheartedly. Comprehensively furthering the reform must be the guarantee of building a more equitable and just social environment, addressing breaches of equity and justice, and bringing more of the benefits of development to all the people in a fairer fashion. If we cannot deliver tangible benefits to the people, and create a fairer social environment, and, worse still, if we cause more inequality, then our reform will lose its meaning and cannot be sustained. 

Realizing social fairness and justice requires multiple factors, a higher level of social and economic development being the most crucial one. Understanding of and desires for social fairness and justice may differ when there are differences in development levels and historical periods, and people's outlook and social background. When we speak of social fairness and justice, we mean to proceed from the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, and view and address this problem from the larger picture of social development, social harmony and the people as a whole. The violations of social fairness and justice in the country are mainly fundamental problems in the course of development, which can be resolved by institutional, legal and policy arrangements in tandem with continued development. We must take economic development as the central task, promote sustained and sound growth, and "make the cake bigger," thereby laying a more solid material foundation for greater social fairness and justice. 

This does not mean that we should wait to address the problem of social fairness and justice until the economy is developed. The nature of the problems may differ from period to period, bearing the features of society – developed or not so developed – in which they are found. Even when the "cake" has indeed become bigger, we must cut it fairly. The Chinese people have always had a perception that "inequality rather than want is the cause of trouble."4 Based on continued development, we should do a better job of promoting fairness and justice, trying our best while being mindful of our limitations so that we can keep making progress in ensuring people's access to education, remunerable employment, health care, old-age care and housing. 

No matter what development level a society is at, institutions are always an indispensable guarantee of social fairness and justice. We should strive to overcome injustice and inequality caused by man-made factors through innovative institutional arrangements, and ensure our people's rights to equal participation and development. We should take social fairness and justice and the living standards of the people as a mirror to examine our systems, mechanisms, policies and regulations in all respects, and introduce reforms accordingly by focusing on areas where the problems of injustice and inequality are most prevalent. As for problems caused by unsound institutional arrangements, timely measures should be taken to reflect better the principle of fairness and justice in our socialist society and better realize, maintain and develop the fundamental interests of our people. 

Sixth, we must rely on the people to promote reform. The people are the creators of history and the source of our strength. The fundamental reason why our reform and opening up has won the people's wholehearted support and vigorous participation all along lies in the fact that from the very beginning we let the cause strike deep roots among the people. The Decision of this plenary session reviewed the valuable experiences of our reform and opening up, one of which high-lighted the importance of putting people first, respecting their principal position in the country, giving free rein to their creativity, and promoting reform with the close support of the people. In the absence of the people's support and participation, no reform can possibly succeed. No matter what difficulties and challenges we may encounter, we will prevail as long as we have the people's support and participation. We must implement the Party's mass line and rally closely with the people, sharing weal and woe with them, and working vigorously by their side. 

To push forward any key reform we must have the major issues concerning the reform examined and addressed from the people's standpoint, while formulating guidelines and measures based on the people's interests. Wang Fu of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) said, "The roc soars lithely not merely because of the lightness of one of its feathers; the steed runs fast not merely because of the strength of one of its legs."5 If China wants to fly high and run fast, it must rely on the strength of its 1.3 billion people. 

When we encounter complicated problems hard to weigh and balance in the course of comprehensively promoting reform, we should think of the actual conditions of the people. What are they expecting? How can their interests be safeguarded? Are they satisfied with our reform? To make our decisions on reform more appropriate, the most important thing is to listen extensively to the opinions and proposals of the people, promptly review their fresh experience, fully mobilize their enthusiasm, initiative and creativity, bring their wisdom and strength to the cause of reform, and work with them to move the cause forward. 


Part of the speech at the second full assembly of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee. 


1  Deng Xiaoping: "Excerpts from Talks Given in Wuchang, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shanghai," Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. III, Eng. ed., Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1994, p. 358. 

2  The "six centering-ons" is a road map for continuing the reform comprehensively contained in the "Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Some Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Continuing the Reform" adopted at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC: We must continue economic system reform by centering on the decisive role of the market in allocating resources; we must continue political system reform by centering on the unity of upholding the leadership of the Party, the people being the masters of the country, and governing the country according to rule of law; we must continue cultural system reform by centering on building the core socialist value system and developing a strong socialist culture in China; we must continue social structural reform by centering on safeguarding and improving the people's wellbeing and promoting social fairness and justice; we must continue ecological environment management reform by centering on building a beautiful China; we must continue the reform of the Party-building system by centering on enhancing the Party's capacity to govern in a scientific and democratic way and in accordance with the law. 

3  Karl Marx: "Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Collected Works, Vol. 29, Eng. ed., Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1987, p. 263.

4 The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu) is one of the Confucian classics. Written by the disciples of Confucius, it records the words and deeds of Confucius, and also comprises dialogues between Confucius and his disciples. The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu), The Great Learning (Da Xue), The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong) and The Mencius (Meng Zi) are collectively known as the "Four Classics of Confucianism." 

5  Wang Fu: Comments of a Recluse (Qian Fu Lun). Wang Fu (c. 85-c. 163) was a philosopher and political commentator in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).

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