Develop Philosophy and Social Sciences with Chinese Features

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China II Updated: 2021-12-27

Develop Philosophy and Social Sciences with Chinese Features*

May 17, 2016

The distinctive feature and style of a country's philosophy and social sciences is the result of development at a certain stage, and therefore a symbol of its maturity, strength and self-confidence. In the field of philosophy and social sciences in the world of today, China ranks high in the number of researchers and theses, and in government input. However, our standing in the areas of academic ideas, thoughts, viewpoints, and standards, and our voice in international academia, are still incommensurate with our overall national strength and international status. To change this situation we must develop our philosophy and social sciences that are grounded in Chinese conditions, learn from other countries, show humanistic care, research into history, focus on the present, and look into the future. They should display salient Chinese features and style in such areas as guiding principles, range of disciplines, academic system and discourse system.

What should philosophy and social sciences with Chinese features be like? In my view they bear three hallmarks.

First, they encompass all resources and legacies and retain their Chinese identity.

The status of philosophy and social sciences is the result of a confluence of different learning, conceptions, theories and methods throughout history. Our philosophy and social sciences should therefore make the best of various resources, ancient and modern, Chinese and foreign – especially the following three:

(1) Marxist resources. These include axioms of Marxism, the achievements of adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and its cultural manifestations – the CPC theories, guidelines, principles, and policies; the path, theoretical systems and institutions of Chinese socialism; and thoughts and achievements in philosophy and social sciences concerning China's economy, politics, laws, culture, society, eco-environment, diplomacy, national defense and the CPC development. These constitute the primary substance of philosophy and social sciences with Chinese features. They are also the fastest-growing areas in Chinese philosophy and social sciences.

(2) The best of traditional Chinese culture, a valuable resource for the development of philosophy and social sciences with Chinese features.

(3) The philosophy and social sciences of other countries, including all the wholesome results of studies worldwide, which provide the required nourishment for philosophy and social sciences with Chinese features.

We should make the past serve the present, and the foreign serve China, rallying all resources available to make ceaseless innovations to our knowledge, theories and methods. We should learn from other countries and look into the future without forgoing our own history and heritage. Internally we should conduct thorough research on key issues bearing on the national economy and standards of living; externally we should actively explore major issues concerning the future of humanity. We must make a precise assessment of the development trends of Chinese socialism, inheriting and carrying forward the best of traditional Chinese culture.

The splendid Chinese culture that spans thousands of years offers fertile soil for the growth of philosophy and social sciences with Chinese features. As I have said on other occasions, backed by a territory of 9.6 million square kilometers, rich cultural "nutrients" amassed over the long course of strenuous endeavors, and the formidable strength of a united people of 1.3 billion, China can follow its own path with great determination, with boundless horizons ahead and a peerless civilization behind it. We Chinese people – each and every one of us – should be confident of this.

Our confidence in our path, in our theories and in our system all boil down to our confidence in our culture – the essential, underlying and enduring strength of a nation. It has been proved in both this and previous times that a people who renounce or betray their history and culture can in no way achieve development, and what is worse, may face tragic consequences.

The rich cultural traditions and the system of thought with indigenous features embody the knowledge, wisdom, and rational thinking Chinese people have garnered over millennia. They give us an unparalleled strength.

The Chinese civilization carries on the spiritual, ethical lineage of the Chinese nation and its people. It must be passed down from generation to generation, keep abreast of the times through innovation, and get rid of the stale and bring forth the fresh. We should make greater efforts to find and expound the best elements of traditional Chinese culture, acclimating core cultural genes of the Chinese people to contemporary culture and modern society, and promoting those cultural elements whose lasting appeal defies time and borders and which are still relevant today.

We should push forward the innovative transformation and creative evolution of China's civilization to boost its vitality, so that it can provide proper guidance to humanity together with other splendid civilizations. We should put forward concepts, proposals and programs about major issues facing China and the rest of the world that give expression to the Chinese stance, Chinese wisdom and Chinese values. In addition to Chinese delicacies as shown in the well-received documentary A Bite of China, we should also introduce to the rest of the world China's academia, theories, and philosophy and social sciences, projecting the image of a China in progress, an open China, and a China making a constant contribution to human civilization.

While highlighting the national identity of our philosophy and social sciences, we do not mean to reject the research results of other countries. Instead we should make comparative and critical analysis before absorbing and extending them, so that Chinese philosophy and social sciences can better respond to the current demands of national and international development. Anything unique to one nation is of great significance to the rest of the world. Only after solving national problems will we be in a better position to solve international problems. And by reviewing domestic practices we will develop a greater ability to offer suggestions and solutions for global issues. This is the law of evolution from particularity to universality.

Chinese philosophy and social sciences should be based on national conditions, and meanwhile open themselves to the rest of the world, drawing from the good theories, ideas and intellectual achievements of all humanity. But we cannot enshrine any of these theories, ideas or intellectual achievements as the one and only criterion, or attempt to transform the world with a single mode. Otherwise we will slip into the mire of mechanism. Certain theories, ideas and intellectual achievements denote the course of development of certain countries and peoples, and make sense in the context of a particular region, culture or history. It is ludicrous to force them on all countries and peoples, or use them to pass judgment on people's lives and reduce them to one format. We must analyze and assess foreign theories, concepts, assertions and methods, taking in what suits us and discarding what does not. Philosophy and social science researchers must adopt a critical attitude, the most valued quality of Marxism.

Philosophy and social sciences have a broad sphere, covering varied disciplines, each of which has its own learning system and research method. We should study all learning systems and research methods and learn from the good ones rather than rejecting them indiscriminately without conducting any analysis. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels drew extensively on the creations of those who preceded them in the course of establishing their own theoretic systems. We too should make good use of the worthy learning systems and effective methods of modern science, including such models as deduction and quantitative analysis. But in doing so we must be mindful of our roots and maintain good judgment.

Capital by Marx, On Imperialism by Vladimir Lenin and the series investigative reports on rural China by Mao Zedong all contain a large volume of statistics and information collected through field studies. We must stand by the Chinese worldview and Chinese methodology when solving domestic problems and proposing to address issues concerning all humanity. Blindly worshiping foreign thoughts and methods without due analysis will deprive us of originality, as will drawing the same conclusions as foreign researchers by employing their methods. To achieve original results, Chinese researchers must ground themselves in the reality of China, cleave to the practical, historical, dialectic and developmental perspectives, and discover, test and advance truth through practice.

Second, philosophy and social sciences with Chinese features must display originality and zeitgeist.

Mindlessly imitating others cannot lead us to philosophy and social sciences adapted to our own conditions, or solutions for our own problems. Mao Zedong remarked back in 1944: "Our attitude is that of critical acceptance of our own historical heritage and of foreign thought. We are against blind acceptance as well as blind rejection of any ideas. We Chinese must think with our own brains and must decide for ourselves what can grow on our own soil."1

We must put forward subjective, original theories and views on the basis of studying Chinese conditions, and construct disciplinary, academic and discourse systems with our own features. This is the only way for Chinese philosophy and social sciences to develop independent properties and strengths.

The life of a theory lies in innovation, which is the perpetual theme of the development of philosophy and social sciences and requisite of social, practical and historical progress. As human society continues to evolve, new circumstances and new problems arise. Some of them can be tackled with existing experience and approaches, others cannot. Without the creation and application of new thoughts, concepts and methods through timely study, theories will be impotent in the face of reality, and philosophy and social sciences will be lame and flaccid. Innovation in philosophy and social sciences can come in many forms. It could mean discovering a rule, founding a school of thought, illustrating a truth, or finding a solution to a specific problem.

Where theoretical thinking starts decides what results will be achieved, and all theoretical innovations start with specific problems. The course of theoretical innovation is, in a sense, the course of identifying, winnowing, researching and eventually solving problems. Karl Marx wrote insightfully: "… the question, not the answer, constitutes the main difficulty. … the questions … are the voices of the time …; they the supremely practical utterance proclaiming the state of its soul."2

I have read many classics of philosophy and social sciences. Among them are Politeia by Plato3, Politics by Aristotle4, Utopia by Thomas More5, City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella6, Two Treatises of Government by John Locke7, The Spirit of Laws by Montesquieu8, The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau9, Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton10, James Madison, and John Jay, Elements of the Philosophy of Right by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel11, On War by Clausewitz12, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith13, An Essay on the Principle of Population by Malthus14, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by Keynes15, Theory of Economic Development by Joseph Schumpeter16, Economics by Paul Samuelson17, Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman18, and Economic Growth of Nations by Simon Kuznets19. My impression is that they are unexceptionally the product of their times and the result of pondering over and delving into prominent conflicts and problems of a given society at a given time.

Since the start of reform and opening up China has persevered in theoretical innovation, correctly answering such critical questions as "what is socialism", "how to build socialism", "what kind of party should the CPC be", "how to build the CPC", and "what kind of development should we pursue and how we can achieve it". We have continuously put forward new theories in light of new practices, which provide us with scientific guidance in formulating policies and advancing our work.

The conceptions and theories of originality and zeitgeist that China has produced in the past years include those on modernizing its governance system and capacity for governance; developing the socialist market economy, socialist democratic politics and socialist consultative democracy; constructing a socialist legal system with Chinese features; promoting an advanced socialist culture; nurturing and implementing the core socialist values; building a harmonious socialist society, a healthy eco-environment, and a new and open economic system; implementing an overall national security strategy; forging a community of shared future for mankind; advancing the initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road; upholding the greater good and pursuing shared interests; strengthening the Party's governance capacity; following the Chinese path to build stronger armed forces; and meeting the Party's goals for the army in the current era. China's philosophy and social science sector has made a significant contribution to these conceptions and theories, and achieved incomparable competitive edge in the process.

The sweeping social changes that China is undergoing are not simply the extension of China's historical and cultural experiences, the repetition of socialist practices by other countries, or the duplication of modernization endeavors elsewhere. Nor can they be readily slotted into the template devised by earlier writers of Marxist classics. There is thus no textbook of predetermined solutions to which we can turn.

Chinese philosophy and social sciences should focus on the country's current undertakings, and delve into China's experience of reform and development to forage for new materials, identify new problems, create new ideas, and found new theories. At the same time it should make greater efforts to systematically review the practical experience China has garnered in its reform, opening up and building socialist modernization, to analyze and study such major issues as those concerning socialist market economy, democratic politics, advanced culture, harmonious society, the eco-environment, and the CPC's governance capacity, and to canvass and expound new concepts, new ideas and new strategies about governance raised by the CPC Central Committee. In doing so it is expected to produce new theories based on scientific rationale and new practices of regular methods. These are the focus and priority of building Chinese philosophy and social sciences. Any approach that ignores changing circumstances or mechanically imitates others will lead us up a blind alley.

Third, philosophy and social sciences with Chinese features must be systematic and professional.

It should cover history, economy, politics, culture, society, eco-environment, the military, and Party development, and span traditional subjects, emerging subjects, leading-edge subjects, interdisciplinary subjects, and less popular subjects as well. These are expected to evolve into an all-encompassing system of learning by continuously improving and innovating the primary disciplinary system, academic system and discourse system.

To date Chinese philosophy and social sciences have established their primary disciplinary system, but some pressing issues still exist. For instance, certain subjects have nothing much to do with social development; the primary disciplinary system is incomplete; and emerging and interdisciplinary subjects are still weak. What we should do next is therefore to build on our strengths, extend our fields of study, address our weaknesses, and generally improve the primary disciplinary system. For this goal we should first strengthen Marxist subjects. Second, we should further improve pillar subjects, including philosophy, history, economics, political science, science of law, sociology, ethnology, journalism, demography, study of religions, and psychology, establishing a primary disciplinary system with Chinese features and international significance. Third, we should pay great attention to important subjects in which we are strong. Fourth, we should give priority to emerging and interdisciplinary subjects of great practical significance, which offer potential for breakthroughs in Chinese philosophy and social sciences as a whole. Fifth, we should not neglect more marginal subjects that are of high cultural value or bear on Chinese heritage. These subjects may seem distant from the everyday life of today, but they are none the less relevant. As the Chinese saying goes: A country maintains its army for thousands of days for use in a single day's battle. When in need, they can be readily used. Some subjects bear on the continuity of China's cultural heritage, such as the study of oracle bone inscriptions and other ancient scripts. We should treat these subjects seriously, and make sure that there are people working on them, and carrying them on from one generation to another.

In summary, we should endeavor to foster a philosophy and social science sector where the basic subjects are sound and complete, where we have a clear competitive edge in key subjects, where emerging and interdisciplinary subjects evolve creatively, where less popular subjects are given due academic attention from generation to generation, where basic research and applied research complement each other, and where academic research and application of research results are mutually reinforcing.

The disciplinary system is inseparable from the textbook system, and in terms of level of development they are interdependent. Studies show that almost all Chinese universities offer philosophy and social science programs at the undergraduate level, and students majoring in liberal arts account for a significant share of the total enrollment. These students are the reserve forces for Chinese philosophy and social sciences. They however cannot fulfill the mission if they fail to form the right worldview and methodology or to lay down a solid intellectual foundation in their school years.

Higher education programs of philosophy and social sciences bear responsibility to foster people of high caliber. They should reach out to all students, helping them foster a sound worldview and outlook on life and values, a noble mind, a strong moral character, and scientific thinking, so that they can grow healthy in mind, body and personality. Good textbooks are essential to the cultivation of future philosophy and social science professionals. China has made remarkable headway in this regard in the course of studying and advancing Marxist theories. But our textbook system as a whole is still weak. More has to be done to enable it to render stronger support to the development of Chinese socialism, move to the forefront of global academia, and establish a complete range of categories.

To this end, mechanisms and institutional innovations should be introduced into the compilation, distribution and application of textbooks, bringing into play the initiative of all parties concerned, including academics, schools and publishers.

A stronger discourse system is also needed for Chinese philosophy and social sciences to play their due role. We should have more say than anyone else when construing Chinese practices and constructing Chinese theories. The truth is, however, that our voice is still weak on the international stage when it comes to philosophy and social sciences, due to our inability to make potent arguments and reach broader audiences. To remedy this shortcoming, we must hone our skills in formulating iconic concepts and creating new concepts, domains and expressions that can be readily understood and accepted by the international community, thereby inclining international academics into relevant research and discussions. Efforts in this regard must start with establishing systematic theories and concepts in every discipline. We must also encourage research institutions of philosophy and social sciences to join and found international academic organizations, support the establishment of Chinese research centers abroad, and encourage research by foreign associations and foundations on Chinese issues. Furthermore, we will promote exchanges between Chinese think tanks and their foreign peers and encourage China studies in other countries.

China's philosophy and social science sector should expand its international influence by focusing on issues of global concern, and initiating and leading relevant research projects. It should also put more effort into incubating excellent foreign-language academic websites and journals, and help to introduce the accomplishments of Chinese researchers to the rest of the world, supporting their participation in international seminars and publication of their research papers.

Fostering philosophy and social sciences with Chinese features is a systematic project and an arduous task that requires good top-level design and coordinated efforts by all parties concerned. We should launch innovation programs and establish innovation platforms, and promote innovation in all domains of philosophy and social sciences. We should intensify and expand the research, promulgation and education of Marxist theories by giving full play to research and development programs in Marxist theory, to centers of research into Chinese socialist theories, to academies of Marxism, and to newspapers, periodicals, websites and other platforms for ideological and theoretical work. Furthermore, internet and big data should be employed to upgrade IT infrastructure and applications in the philosophy and social science sector, in such fields as books, dossiers, websites and databases.

Construction of the national center for literature on philosophy and social sciences should be accelerated, and an efficient and accessible digital platform for philosophy and social science studies should be created, allowing for sharing of resources. The systems for the distribution, grant and management of research funding should be innovated so as to ensure better use of funds. This includes increasing input, making efficient use of funds by teaming up fiscal appropriation with specific allocation, generic funding with competitive funding, and government grants with public donations. Meanwhile, an authoritative and transparent evaluation system and a promotion system should be installed to effectively identify and disseminate good research results.

* Part of the speech at the Seminar on Philosophy and Social Sciences.


1  Mao Zedong: "Interview with Journalist Gunther Stein", Collected Works of Mao Zedong, Vol. III, Chin. ed., People's Publishing House, Beijing, 1996, p. 192.

2  Karl Marx, "The Question of Centralization in Itself and with Regard to the Supplement to No. 137 of the Rheinische Zeitung, Tuesday, May 17, 1842", Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Collected Works, Vol. 1, Eng. ed., Lawrence & Wishart Electric Book, 2010, p. 182. 

3  Plato (427-347 BC) was a philosopher of ancient Greece. 

4  Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a philosopher and scientist of ancient Greece. 

5  Thomas More (1478-1535) was a British statesman and humanist. 

6  Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) was an Italian philosopher, poet and litterateur. 

7  John Locke (1632-1704) was a British philosopher. 

8  Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a French enlightenment thinker and lawyer. 

9  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a French enlightenment thinker, philosopher, educator and man of letters. 

10 Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757-1804) was a political activist in the early period of the United States. 

11 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a German philosopher. 

12 Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a German military theorist. 

13 Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a British philosopher. 

14 Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) was a British economist. 

15 Keynes (1883-1946) was a British economist. 

16 Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) was an Austrian-born American economist. 

17 Paul Samuelson (1915-2009) was an American economist. 

18 Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was an American economist. 

19 Simon Kuznets (1901-1985) was a Russo-American economist.

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