Uphold and Improve the Chinese Socialist System and Modernize State Governance

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China III Updated: 2021-12-29

Uphold and Improve the Chinese Socialist System and Modernize State Governance* 

October 31, 2019 

The plenary session has listened to the Political Bureau's work report, analyzed the current situation and tasks, and deliberated and adopted the "Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Upholding and Improving the Socialist System with Chinese Characteristics and Modernizing the State System and Capacity for Governance". All items on the agenda have been completed.

Upholding and improving the socialist system with Chinese characteristics and modernizing the state governance system and capacity is a major issue that impacts on the full development of the undertakings of our Party and state, the long-term stability of the country, and the happiness and wellbeing of the people. The CPC Central Committee decided to focus on these issues at this plenary session from a political, national and strategic perspective, and based on the prevailing situation in China and a vision for the future. The decision passed at the plenary session provides a comprehensive answer to these questions concerning state and governance systems: What should we uphold and consolidate? What should we improve and promote? The report adopted at the plenary session is a Marxist guiding document and a political proclamation. All Party members must align themselves with the decision of the plenary session in both thought and deed, and make its full implementation a key political commitment.

Now, on behalf of the Political Bureau, I will make a few points on how we should understand and implement the decision of the plenary session.

I. Have Full Confidence in the Chinese Socialist System 

Our ancestors said, "A state system must be established when founding a country."1 A well-founded system is the biggest strength a country has, and competition in terms of systems is the most essential rivalry between countries. A country cannot remain stable without a sound system. The fundamental reason that the Chinese nation has stood up, become better off and grown in strength over the seven decades since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 is that the CPC has led the people in establishing and improving the Chinese socialist system, in forming and developing systems for Party leadership, the economy, politics, culture, society, eco-civilization, the military, and foreign affairs, and in enhancing state governance.

The state and governance systems that a country adopts are determined by its history and culture, the nature of its society, and the stage of economic development it has reached. The Chinese socialist system and state governance system did not fall out of the sky, but emerged from Chinese soil through a long process of revolution, economic development, and reform. They are the results of a combination of the tenets of Marxism with China's conditions and the outcome of a range of innovations in theory, practice and system. They crystalize the wisdom of the Party and the people and are in alignment with its history, theory and practice.

First, China's socialist system and state governance system have a profound historical background. Over several thousand years of history, the Chinese nation has created a splendid civilization, and developed a wealth of ideas on state systems and governance, including:

• the ideal of great harmony believing that "When the Great Way rules, the land under Heaven belongs to the people"; 

• the same tradition across the country so that all areas follow similar customs and all people are of the same family;

• the idea of prioritizing ethics over sanctions in governance and guiding people with virtue; 

• the people-centered philosophy holding that the people have primacy over the ruler and the aim of governance is to ensure and improve the people's wellbeing; 

• the idea of equality among all people in terms of social status and wealth, and taking the wealth of the rich to help the poor; 

• the idea of justice and impartiality of the law; 

• moral standards advocating filial piety, fraternity, loyalty to the country, good faith, propriety, justice, integrity, and conscience; 

• standards for the appointment of officials based on virtue and competence; 

• the reformist spirit as exemplified by such adages as: "Although Zhou is an ancient state, its destiny hinges on reform"2

• the principle of good neighborliness and harmony in relations with all other countries; and 

• the belief in the primacy of peace and opposition to bellicosity.

These ideas constitute a major part of traditional Chinese culture and the ethos of the Chinese nation. Since the introduction of Marxism to China, scientific socialism has become widely accepted by the Chinese people. It has gone on to take root in this country and delivered impressive results. This is clearly not accidental. It is consistent with the culture and values that our people have taken up and passed on for several thousand years. Karl Marx made a shrewd observation on the slogans of ancient Chinese peasant uprisings that had some socialist content. He said, "Now Chinese socialism may admittedly be the same in relation to European socialism as Chinese philosophy in relation to Hegelian philosophy."3

Over a long period of history China led the world in development. It forged a complete set of state and governance systems covering the court, administration of prefectures and counties, land, taxation, civil service examination, supervision and the military, many of which were absorbed by neighboring nations. With the advent of modern times, China was reduced to a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society due to the decadence and impotence of the feudal government and the invasion and occupation of imperialist powers. The autocratic monarchical system that had ruled China for several millennia was confronted by a grave crisis. Facing increasing political and national challenges, countless progressives struggled in search of ways to create a better future for the nation. They pioneered new state and governance systems, and experimented with various solutions such as constitutional monarchy, parliamentary systems, multiparty politics, and presidential government. But all these efforts ended in failure.

Only after the founding of the CPC in 1921 did China find the path to national independence and prosperity and the people's liberation and happiness. During the New Democratic Revolution (1919-1949), our Party rallied and led the people in establishing the people's government in the revolutionary base areas, and exploring new democratic economic, political and cultural systems, which generated valuable experience for founding a country where the people are the masters. After assuming state power, our Party led the people in enacting the Common Program4 in 1949 and the Constitution in 1954, by which the systems and structures of our state and government were established. On this basis, the Party led the people in conducting socialist transformation, establishing socialism as our basic system, and completing the broadest and most profound social change in China's history. It created the fundamental political conditions and national systems for achieving all the progress in China today. Since the launch of reform and opening up in 1978, the Party has led the people in developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and improving China's state governance, so that contemporary China is full of new vigor.

In summary, guided by Marxism, the Chinese socialist system and state governance system have developed from the real conditions and culture of China, and they enjoy the full support of the people. They represent the most fundamental achievement of the Party and the people through lengthy struggle and strenuous effort. We must treasure them, uphold them with determination, and keep them up to date.

Second, the Chinese socialist system and state governance system have great strengths in many respects. The plenary session has summarized these strengths in a systematic way, with the goal of bringing them to the fore and increasing public confidence in our systems. We should keep up our efforts to maintain and grow these strengths in a bid to enhance our socialist system and modernize our state governance system and capability in the new era.

The merits of a system should be assessed from a political and an overall perspective. In his speech titled "On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership", Deng Xiaoping said, "In the drive for socialist modernization, our objectives are: economically, to catch up with the developed capitalist countries; and politically, to create a higher level of democracy with more substance than that of capitalist countries. We also aim to produce more and better-trained professionals than they do.... The merits of our Party and state institutions should be judged on the basis of whether or not they help us advance towards our objectives."5 At the conference marking the 60th anniversary of the National People's Congress in 2014, I said, "The best way to evaluate whether a country's political system is democratic and efficient is to observe whether the succession of its leaders is orderly and in line with the law, whether all people can manage state affairs and social, economic and cultural affairs in conformity with legal provisions, whether the public can express their requirements without hindrance, whether all sectors can efficiently participate in the country's political affairs, whether national decisions can be made in a rational, democratic way, whether people of high-caliber in all fields can be part of the team of the national leadership and administrative systems through fair competition, whether the ruling party can serve as a leader in state affairs in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and whether the exercise of power can be kept under effective restraint and supervision."

One of the factors crucial to the strengths of our state and governance systems is that our Party, over many years, has combined Marxism with China's actual conditions, and integrated its efforts to open up the right path, develop sound theories and establish effective systems. The CPC has guided the development of the state and governance systems with dynamic Marxism adapted to the Chinese context. The Party works to improve its understanding of the inner rules behind its governance, the development of socialism, and the evolution of human society. The results of our success in practice are institutionalized in a timely manner. All these efforts enable our state and governance systems to embody the basic principles of scientific socialism and manifest distinct features of our nation and our times.

The essential attribute of our state and governance systems is that they always represent the fundamental interests of the people, safeguard the people's status as masters of the country, reflect the people's common will, and protect the people's legitimate rights and interests. This is precisely why the operation of the systems in our country is so effective and dynamic. They are always directed to realize, protect and develop the fundamental interests of the greatest possible majority of the people, guarantee and improve their wellbeing, and share the fruits of reform among all our people in a fair way. This means they can deter conflicts among political parties, guard against the partiality of interest groups, and prevent a small "elite" from manipulating politics. In this sense, they are more advanced than any other system.

We are always open to useful governance experience from other countries, digesting its essence and employing it for our own use on the basis of our own systems. For example, we learned a lot from the valuable experience of the Soviet Union during the initial period of the PRC in building socialism. Since the launch of reform and opening up, we have opened wider to the outside world and combined our socialist system with a market economy, allowing the market to play the decisive role in resource allocation and the government to better fulfill its functions. This has significantly helped unleash and develop the productive forces, and boost vitality throughout society.

What distinguishes scientific socialism from utopian socialism is that the former, which is not a set of fixed dogmas, sees socialism as a constantly-improving process. After the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping pointed out, "Our Party and people established a socialist system after long years of bloody struggle. After all, although our socialist system is still imperfect and has suffered disruption, it is much better than the capitalist system based on the law of the jungle and the principle of 'getting ahead' at the expense of others. Our system will improve more and more with the passage of time. By absorbing the progressive elements of other countries, it will become the best in the world. Capitalism can never achieve this."6

Reform and opening up over the past 40 years has greatly improved our socialist system and state governance system by remedying the shortcomings of our systems and mechanisms. After the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, we extended our comprehensive reform. This fully demonstrates the capacity for self-improvement of our state and governance systems. It is foreseeable that as we drive reform to deeper levels, these systems will show greater vitality and give us a cutting edge in international competition.

Third, the Chinese socialist system and state governance system have generated substantial results. "Approach tells more than words, and conduct reveals more than approach."7 Practice is the best touchstone of the efficacy of our systems. Over the seven decades since the founding of the PRC, our Party has led the people in creating two miracles.

The first is rapid economic growth. In only a few decades we have achieved a degree of industrialization that took developed countries several centuries. China is now the world's second largest economy. Our overall national strength, capacity in science and technology, national defense capabilities, cultural influence, and international status have increased remarkably, and our people's lives have greatly improved. The Chinese nation now stands tall and steadfast in the East.

The second is lasting social stability. Our country has maintained social harmony and stability for a long period of time, and the people live happy and stable lives. China is recognized as one of the countries whose people enjoy a strong sense of security.

It is fair to say that no other state and governance system in human history could have achieved these two miracles in such a short time. 

We must uphold and consolidate our tried and tested systems, and improve and develop them, so as to transform their strengths into efficient state governance.

I have often said that only the wearer of the shoes knows if they fit or not. The Chinese people know best whether the Chinese socialist system suits the country or not. We must be definite and determined on this critical political issue, and must never lose our bearings or become confused. All Party members, especially leading officials, must take a clear political stance on this issue, and maintain confidence in the Chinese socialist path, theory, system and culture at all times and in all circumstances. We must be as tenacious as bamboo, as described by Zheng Xie: "In the face of all blows, not bending low, it still stands fast. Whether from east, west, south or north the wind doth blast."8

II. Fully Implement the Decision of the Plenary Session 

The plenary session has defined a comprehensive plan and set clear requirements for upholding and improving the Chinese socialist system and modernizing the state governance system and capacity. We must make sound plans for both short-term and long-term goals, and ensure well-organized and coordinated implementation of all the tasks set out at the plenary session. To this end, we need to focus on three points. The first is about upholding and consolidating; the second is about improving and developing; and the third is about implementing and following up.

First, we must resolutely uphold and consolidate socialism with Chinese characteristics. It is well-knit and complete, and supported by fundamental, basic and important systems, with the system for CPC leadership in the dominant position. CPC leadership is the fundamental element of our country's leadership system. Since the 18th CPC National Congress we have stated that the defining feature of Chinese socialism is CPC leadership, that the greatest strength of the Chinese socialist system is CPC leadership, and that the CPC is the highest force for political leadership. This plenary session also emphasizes: "We must ensure the Party exercises overall leadership over all areas of endeavor in every part of the country, and resolutely safeguard the Central Committee's authority. We must improve the leadership system in which the Party exercises overall leadership and coordinates the efforts of all, and implement the Party's leadership in all aspects of state governance." This is the most valuable experience the Party has drawn from leading the people in revolution, economic development, and reform. We must uphold Party leadership in developing our systems, push forward all our undertakings, and improve our work in all areas. We must conscientiously implement the fundamental requirement that the Party exercises overall leadership and coordinates the efforts of all.

This plenary session has summed up the experience we have gained through practice, and redefined some concepts on the basis of our fundamental, basic and important systems. For instance, it has confirmed that the basic socialist economic system contains the following elements: 

• public ownership playing the dominant role while developing together with other forms of ownership, 

• multiple modes of distribution with "to each according to their work" as the principal form, and 

• a socialist market economy.

The plenary session has also highlighted the fundamental system which ensures that Marxism guides all our ideological work. It has further expounded on a set of systems: 

• the rule of law under Chinese socialism, 

• the administrative system under Chinese socialism, 

• the system for promoting the advanced socialist culture, 

• the system ensuring the wellbeing of urban and rural residents, 

• social governance based on collaboration and broad participation with the goal of benefiting all, 

• the system for promoting eco-civilization,

• the CPC's absolute leadership over the people's armed forces, 

• the framework of "one country, two systems", and 

• CPC and state supervision.

The fundamental, basic and important systems of Chinese socialism are the institutional frameworks for various undertakings of the Party and the state. We must strictly follow these systems when drawing up development plans, promoting the rule of law, formulating policies and measures, and making concrete plans for our tasks. They must be followed to the letter. We always say that leading officials, especially those of high rank, must have a keen political sense, clear political insight, and strong political capacity. One of the key requirements is to unswervingly uphold these systems, and conduct conscious self-examination against them when we contemplate problems, make decisions and ensure implementation. When encountering problems concerning our fundamental goal, we must take these systems as the guidelines in solving such problems. We must take an unequivocal stance on the cardinal issues of principle. In judging whether Party committees and Party leadership groups at all levels have played their role in leadership and supervision in their respective areas, the key lies in whether they have faithfully followed and implemented these systems. If they are put in place with precision, we will not make any fatal or political mistake.

Second, we must improve and develop the Chinese socialist system and state governance system to keep up with the changing times. An ancient Chinese scholar observed, "Plants with strong roots grow well, and efforts with the right focus ensure success."9 As Chinese socialism has entered a new era, our country now finds itself at a new development stage. The principal challenge facing Chinese society is the gap between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's growing expectation for a better life. This sets many new tasks and requirements for state governance. This, naturally, requires us to further improve and develop our socialist system and state governance system.

Making our state system more mature and better-defined constitutes a dynamic process. Modernizing state governance capacity is also a dynamic process. We cannot get there in one step, neither can we falter in our efforts. The goals we set in this regard must also be updated appropriately to suit the changing circumstances. We should never idealize our goals or rush for quick results; nor should we become complacent and satisfied with the old ways.

In his article "Proposals on Governance", Su Shi of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) said, "Only by solving the hardest problems can one achieve the loftiest goals." Most of the targets and tasks set out at this plenary session are designed to fill in blanks and remedy weaknesses in our state and governance systems. They are oriented to solve problems. In practice, we must place the emphasis on upholding and improving the fundamental, basic and important systems that underpin Chinese socialism, and devote all our efforts to consolidating our foundations, leveraging our strengths, and addressing our weaknesses, so as to establish a well-developed, procedure-based and effective framework of systems.

To implement the decision of this plenary session, we must combine them with the existing reform tasks, and establish an effective mechanism that ensures all tasks are carried out. We need to review the status of previous reform tasks, consolidate what we have achieved and carry on with the tasks yet to be completed. At the same time, we need to integrate the new tasks into our existing agenda and ensure tangible results.

Party committees and Party leadership groups at all levels, under the unified leadership of the Central Committee, should improve our systems and governance capacity in the local context, study and implement the systems that are urgently needed for improving state governance as specified by the Central Committee, and the systems that are essential for satisfying the people's expectation for a better life. We need to encourage bold innovation and experimentation at the grassroots level, and act quickly to document and analyze governance concepts, approaches and measures that prove to be effective at the grassroots, thereby creating a constant flow of improvements to the systems. Being proactive in this regard, all local authorities, departments and entities must also follow the overall plan of the Central Committee and abide by laws and regulations. It is forbidden to breach rules, reject the overall plan, or rush to action. The key is to fulfill the tasks and goals set out at this plenary session.

Third, we must strictly follow and implement our systems. The vitality of a system lies in its implementation. Some people today still lack reverence for our systems. They do not act in accordance with them and even bend them to their will. Some make every effort to exploit loopholes and circumvent them. Some fear or are reluctant to obey them, and try by every means to evade the restrictions and supervision they impose. Therefore, we need to strengthen enforcement and supervision to put our systems into better practice.

Party committees and governments at all levels and their leading officials must have a stronger awareness of our systems, lead by example in safeguarding their authority and execution, and ensure the implementation of major decisions and plans of the Party and the state in line with our systems. Different areas are not allowed to work on their own without synergy, to apply different standards, or to enforce systems to different degrees. We should give full play to the role of our systems in guiding direction, regulating conduct, increasing efficiency, maintaining social stability, and preventing and diffusing risks. We need to establish a full-coverage mechanism to enforce and supervise them – from regional governance, governance in different sectors and industries, and community-level governance to governance of a work unit. Selective or compromised enforcement is forbidden. Those who fail to implement the decisions and prohibitions by the Central Committee, or feign compliance, should be investigated and punished, so that the authority of our systems is effective at all times and in all places. In order to strengthen the caliber of officials in the new era, we should focus on improving their governance capacity, and enhancing their ability to advance undertakings, fulfill duties, exercise power and work strictly within the framework of our systems.

Party organizations at all levels, especially public communication departments, should conduct communication with the public on the Chinese socialist system. They should guide all Party members and all of society to understand the defining features and strengths of Chinese socialism, and understand that we must cherish our state and governance systems, as they have been created through hard efforts and have withstood the test of time. To improve and develop them, we must proceed from our national conditions. We must take into consideration both our traditions and the path, experience and principles the Party and the people have created. We should not blindly copy the systems of other countries. We must build deep-rooted confidence in our own among our youth through public education. We must create new and better ways of communication with our people and the international community, to make our discourse on China's state and governance systems more persuasive and appealing.

Party committees and Party leadership groups at all levels must carry out the plans of the Central Committee, and communicate the decision of the plenary session to the public in a well-organized manner. We need to take targeted approaches for different audience groups, so as to ensure that the plenary session has a real impact on the people. We will strengthen our supervision of the implementation of these decisions. Relevant departments of the Party should provide timely updates to the Central Committee on the progress of the respective tasks in local areas and sectors. It is necessary to summarize their best practices in executing the decisions. The Central Commission for Further Reform is responsible for coordinating the execution of the reform tasks decided at the plenary session.

Dear colleagues, to uphold and improve the Chinese socialist system and modernize the state governance system and capacity has long-term strategic significance. It also represents a practical issue for today. Holding a strong sense of political duty and historic responsibility, and maintaining firm confidence and resolve, we must apply an innovative spirit to accomplishing the tasks put forward at the plenary session, and guarantee the realization of the Two Centenary Goals and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.

* Part of the speech at the second full assembly of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee.


1 Book of Lord Shang (Shang Jun Shu). This book is a representative work by Shang Yang and his followers. It is also an important basis for research into the legal philosophy of the Shang Yang school. 

2 Book of Songs. This quote highlights the importance of reform. In the late Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) the vassal state of Zhou, led by Ji Chang, became powerful by undertaking a number of reforms. Ultimately the vassal state, led by Ji's son, overthrew the Shang and founded the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). – Tr

3 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: "Review [January-February 1850]", Karl Marx & Frederick Engels: Collected Works, Vol. 10, Eng. ed., Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1979, p. 267. 

4 The Common Program, adopted in 1949 at the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference which exercised the functions and powers of the later National People's Congress, served as the provisional Constitution. – Tr

5 Deng Xiaoping: "On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership", Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. II, Eng. ed., Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1995, pp. 321-322. 

6 Ibid., p. 335. 

7 Fu Xuan: Fu Zi. Fu Xuan (217-278) was a writer, philosopher and politician who lived during the Three Kingdoms Period and the Western Jin Dynasty. 

8 Zheng Xie: "Bamboos amid Rocks" (Zhu Shi). Zheng Xie (1693-1765), also known as Zheng Banqiao, was a painter and writer of the Qing Dynasty. 

9 Liu Xiang: Garden of Stories (Shuo Yuan). Liu Xiang (77-6 BC) was a writer and bibliographer of the Western Han Dynasty.

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