Valuable Experience from 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up

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

Valuable Experience from 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up* 

December 18, 2018 

To keep up with the times, our best recourse is to comply with the trends of history, and to seek and proactively respond to change. As an ancient Chinese scholar said, "Practice improves understanding and a deeper understanding guides further practice."1 The valuable experience we have gained from 40 years of reform and opening up is the intellectual wealth of the CPC and the Chinese people. The experience provides significant guidance for upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era. That is why we must value it, uphold it, and continue to enrich and develop it through further practice.

First, we must ensure Party leadership over each and every aspect of our work, and continue to strengthen and develop that leadership. Forty years of reform and opening up have taught us that Party leadership is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the greatest strength of China's socialist system.

The Party exercises overall leadership across all areas of endeavor in every part of the country. Relying on this, we have been able to achieve a historic transformation, usher in a new era of reform and opening up, and embark on a new journey towards the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. We have been able to address major risks and challenges and overcome repeated hardships and setbacks. We have been able to cope with changes, quell political turbulence, battle against such threats as floods, SARS, and earthquakes, and deal with various crises. Finally, we have been able to adhere to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics rather than following the old path of a rigid closed-door policy, or an erroneous path by abandoning socialism. To uphold Party leadership, we must keep improving it and adapting to the demands of practice, the current era and the people. Upholding Party leadership is an essential principle that defines the future of the Party and the Chinese nation, and all Party members and the Chinese people must keep alignment with the Central Committee in their way of thinking, in political principles, and in actions without wavering.

On the path ahead, we must enhance our sense of the Four Consciousnesses, the Four-sphere Confidence, and the Two Upholds. Party leadership should be exercised and manifested in all areas, including reform, development, stability, domestic affairs, foreign policy and national defense, and in governance of the Party, the country and the armed forces. Every step in reform and opening up is difficult, and we will certainly face risks and challenges of all kinds, even raging waves and storms. Our Party must exercise overall leadership and coordinate work in all areas. Its governance must be scientific, democratic and law-based. We must improve the way the Party exercises leadership and governance, improve the Party's ability to lead and govern, and strengthen the Party's ability and resolve to chart our course, craft overall plans, design policy and promote reform. All these efforts must be directed to ensuring that reform and opening up is on the right course.

Second, we must pursue people-centered development and fulfill their desire for a better life. Forty years of reform and opening up have taught us that it is Chinese Communists' original aspiration and founding mission to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenate the Chinese nation. It is also why we started reform and opening up.

Our Party comes from the people, has its roots among the people, and works for the benefit of the people. Serving the people whole-heartedly is the fundamental purpose of the Party. Therefore, meeting the fundamental interests of all our people is the starting point and ultimate goal of all our work. Our policy-making should be based on what the people support, approve of and are content with. We should comply with the people's aspirations, respect the people's opinions, be attentive to public sentiment, and be dedicated to improving people's wellbeing. We need to formulate and implement the right theories, guidelines, principles and policies to lead the people forward, and at the same time draw impetus from people's creativity and demands for development. We must ensure the people share the benefits of reform and opening up, and be motivated to engage in further reform and opening up and socialist modernization.

On the path ahead, we must always have as our goal the people's desire for a better life. We must fulfill the Party's fundamental purpose of serving the people wholeheartedly, put into practice the mass line, and ensure the people's principal status. We must respect the expectations the people have expressed, the experience they have created, the rights and interests they enjoy, and the role they have played, so as to fully release their immense creativity. We need to improve our democratic systems, expand democratic channels, diversify forms of democracy, and enhance legal guarantees for democracy, so as to ensure the people enjoy democratic rights that are extensive and full, real and concrete, and effective and applicable in accordance with the law. We should address people's needs, concerns and expectations, ensure that they share the achievements of economic, political, cultural, social and eco-environmental development, give them a stronger sense of having direct and substantial benefits, happiness and security, and continue to promote well-rounded human development and common prosperity for everyone.

Third, we must maintain the guiding role of Marxism and encourage theoretical development based on practice. Forty years of experience has taught us that innovation is the lifeline of reform and opening up.

Development has no final destination; free minds know no bounds. Frederick Engels said, "the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange."2 We need to combine theory and practice, answer the questions posed by the times and the people, and dispel the mist clouding our practices and judgment, in an effort to adapt Marxism to China's conditions, keep it up-to-date, enhance its popular appeal, and break new ground.

On the path ahead we must free our minds while seeking truth from facts, and be guided by Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and the Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. Developing Marxism in the 21st century and China today is a mandatory responsibility of contemporary Chinese Communists. To achieve this, we need to be more conscious about resolving problems, keeping up with the times, and developing a strategic mindset. We need a keen historical insight and a broad global vision to identify the nature of things and the intrinsic connections between them. We need to follow closely the creative activities of all peoples, learn from the outstanding achievements of all civilizations, and respond to the new and significant challenges constantly posed by our times and our practice. In this way, we will increase the appeal of Marxism in the contemporary Chinese context.

Fourth, we must adhere to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and continue to develop Chinese socialism. Forty years of reform and opening up have taught us that the direction in which we advance decides our future; the path we have chosen decides our destiny.

To ensure our future rests in our own hands, we must be firmly committed to our ideal and path. Over the past 40 years of reform and opening up, our Party has focused its theory and practice on upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics. China is a vast country with over 5,000 years of history and a huge population. There is no manual to which we can refer in promoting reform and development, neither do we have any need for condescending instructors to lecture our people. Lu Xun3 said, "What is a road? It comes of trampling places where no road was before, of opening up wasteland where only brambles grew."4 The path of socialism with Chinese characteristics will allow China to catch up with the times in great strides and play a leading role.

On the path ahead, we must act under the guidance of the Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and the guiding principles of the Party's 19th National Congress held in 2017. We must have full confidence in our path, theory, system and culture, and keep reform and opening up in the right direction. What to reform and how to reform must be assessed against the overall goal of improving and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and modernizing our system and capacity for governance. We must reform what should be reformed and can be reformed; we must not reform what should not be reformed and cannot be reformed. We must remain committed to the Party's basic line, fulfilling the central task of economic development while upholding the Four Cardinal Principles and furthering reform and opening up, in the great practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This is a long-term principle which we shall never abandon.

Fifth, we must improve and develop the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and continuously build on our institutional strengths. Forty years of reform and opening up have taught us that systems are of fundamental significance to the overall, stable and long-term development of the Party and the country.

Improving and developing the Chinese socialist system is key to China's progress. It provides a strong guarantee for unlocking and developing productivity, for releasing and enhancing social vitality, for maintaining the vigor of the Party and the country, for overall social stability, for the people to live and work in contentment, and for national security. It facilitates the establishment of dynamic systems and mechanisms that allow all elements such as labor, knowledge, technology, management and capital to fully function, and to bring forth all surging sources of social wealth.

On the path ahead we must, without hesitation, consolidate and develop the public sector, and at the same time, encourage, support and guide the development of the non-public sector. We must give full play to the decisive role of the market in resource allocation, give better play to the role of government, and invigorate all market entities.

We must ensure that the Party's leadership, the people's position as masters of the country, and law-based governance form an indivisible whole. We must uphold and improve the system of people's congresses, the system of CPC-led multiparty cooperation and political consultation, the system of regional ethnic autonomy, and the system of grassroots self-governance. We must advance law-based governance, consolidate and develop the broadest possible patriotic united front, develop socialist consultative democracy, and provide institutional guarantees to ensure that the people are the masters of the country.

We need to strengthen cultural systems. We must uphold socialism, rally public support, foster a new generation with sound values and ethics, develop Chinese culture, and build a positive image of China. We need to foster and observe the core socialist values, promote the creative evolution of fine traditional culture, keep alive our revolutionary culture, and develop advanced culture, so that the Chinese culture will be shaped into one that shines in the current era and in the world.

We need to reinforce our systems of social governance. We should continue to promote social equity and justice, and maintain social order and security.

We need to reinforce eco-environmental protection, and put in place the strictest possible systems.

We must eliminate all institutional obstacles and vested interests impeding our country's development, speed up the establishment of systems and mechanisms that are comprehensive, procedure-based and effective, and make the socialist system more mature and better-defined.

Sixth, we must pursue development as a top priority and increase our overall national strength. Forty years of reform and opening up have taught us that the essential requirement and fundamental task of socialism is to unleash and develop productive forces and increase the overall strength of our socialist country.

Economic development is the absolute principle, and what we pursue is sound and high-quality development. We must focus on the central goal of economic development and promote sustained and sound social and economic development. This is our best recourse if we are to increase China's economic power, technological base, defense capabilities, and overall strength, and to lay a solid material foundation for upholding and developing Chinese socialism and rejuvenating the Chinese nation.

On the path ahead, we must resolve the principal challenge facing our society – the gap between unbalanced and inadequate development and the growing expectation of the people for a better life. We must pursue with resolve the concept of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development. We must implement the Five-sphere Integrated Plan and the Four-pronged Comprehensive Strategy to promote high-quality development. We must see to it that new industrialization, IT application, urbanization, and agricultural modernization go forward hand in hand. We must quicken our pace in developing a modernized economy, and strive to achieve better quality, more efficient, fairer, and more sustainable development.

We should pursue supply-side structural reform as our main task, transform the growth model, improve the economic structure, and foster new drivers of growth. We should expand domestic demand and implement the coordinated regional development strategy and the rural revitalization strategy. We must take tough steps to forestall and defuse major risks, carry out targeted poverty eradication, and prevent and control pollution.

We should pursue the philosophy that innovation is the primary impetus and talent is the resource of first importance. We should implement the innovation-driven development strategy, improve the national innovation system, and speed up innovation in key and core technologies, to create new engines for social and economic development.

We should strengthen our commitment to eco-civilization. Lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets. Acting on this understanding, we should develop eco-friendly growth models and ways of life, so that our country will be more beautiful and our people will enjoy a more pleasant environment.

Seventh, we must open the country wider to the outside world and join other countries in building a global community of shared future. Forty years of reform and opening up have taught us that openness brings progress, while isolation leads to backwardness.

China cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world; and the world needs China for global prosperity. We need to give overall consideration to domestic development and the international situation, adhere to the fundamental national policy of opening up, and adopt a proactive opening-up policy. In this way we will establish a multidimensional, multitiered and wide-ranging framework for opening up which creates a favorable international environment for China to enjoy a broad space for development.

On the path ahead, we must champion the cause of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit, uphold the fundamental foreign policy goals of preserving world peace and promoting common development, and forge a new approach to international relations featuring mutual respect, equity and justice, and win-win cooperation. We respect the right of the peoples of all countries to choose their own development path. We endeavor to uphold international equity and justice, stand for democracy in international relations, and oppose acts that impose one's will on others or interfere in the internal affairs of others. The strong must not be allowed to bully the weak.

China will continue to play its part as a major and responsible country. It will support the development of the vast number of developing countries, take an active part in reforming and developing the global governance system, and join the global endeavor to build an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity.

We support multilateral trade regimes that are open, transparent, inclusive and nondiscriminatory – regimes that liberalize and facilitate trade and investment, and make economic globalization more open, inclusive and balanced so that its benefits are shared by all.

We will focus on promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, and work with other countries to build a new platform for international cooperation and create new drivers for common development. China will never pursue development at the expense of others' interests, nor will China ever give up its own legitimate rights and interests.

China pursues a national defense policy that is in nature defensive. China does not pose a threat to any other country. No matter what stage of development it reaches, China will never seek hegemony.

Eighth, we must exercise full and rigorous governance over the Party, and improve its ability to innovate, power to unite, and energy to fight. Forty years of reform and opening up have taught us that it takes a good blacksmith to forge good tools.

China's success hinges on our Party, so we must ensure that the Party exercises effective self-supervision and practices strict self-governance in every respect. In leading social reform, such as reform and opening up and socialist modernization, the Party must have the courage to reform itself and rid itself of any virus that erodes its health. In order to forever maintain its close ties with the people, the Party must keep cleansing, improving and reforming itself, and strengthen its ability to lead politically, to guide through theory, to organize the people, and to rally public support.

On the path ahead, we must act in accordance with the general requirements for strengthening the Party for the new era, and with reinforcing the Party's political foundations as the overarching principle, continue to enhance the Party's solidarity, creativity and capacity for governance, to make it stronger and more capable. We need to scrutinize ourselves according to the requirements of the times, remind ourselves to guard against potential dangers, elevate ourselves in the spirit of reform and innovation, improve ourselves by addressing risks and challenges, cleanse ourselves by resolving striking problems within the Party, and keep improving our ability in governing the Party.

We should select officials on the basis of both integrity and ability, with priority given to integrity, and on the basis of merit. We need to train a large number of high-caliber officials and professionals who are loyal to the Party, have moral integrity, and demonstrate a keen sense of responsibility.

We must have the resolve and tenacity to persevere in the never-ending fight against corruption, intensifying our efforts to address both the symptoms and root causes in order to clean out all corrupt officials. We must ensure that officials are honest, government is clean, and political affairs are handled with integrity, striving to build a corruption-free political environment for further reform and opening up.

Ninth, we must uphold dialectical and historical materialism to balance reform, development and stability. Forty years of reform and opening up have taught us that China as a large country cannot afford any fatal mistake on issues of fundamental importance.

To ensure sustained and steady progress of reform and opening up, we need to uphold Party leadership while respecting the people's creativity; we need to explore experiences, like crossing a river by feeling for stones, while enhancing top-level design; we need to adopt a problem-solving approach while sticking to our goal; we need to launch pilot programs while advancing reform on all fronts; we need to encourage bold experiment while being realistic and pragmatic.

On the path ahead, we should adopt a strategic perspective, develop creative thinking and a dialectical approach; we should think in terms of the rule of law, and prepare for the worst-case scenarios. We need to enhance macro thinking and top-level design, remain problem-oriented, and focus on prominent problems facing our country. We need to carry out in-depth research, and encourage experiments in grassroots reform. We need to make decision-making on reform consistent with decision-making on legislation, and make the former more rational.

In the spirit of "leaving a mark in the iron tools we clutch and footprints in the stones we tread", we should resolve problems with force and tenacity as a hammer drives a nail, and ensure that all major reform measures are implemented to the letter. We should have the courage to break new ground and try out new experiments, and at the same time, make active yet prudent efforts to advance reform swiftly and steadily. In so doing, we will strike a balance between promoting reform, pursuing development, and maintaining stability. We must advance reform and opening up in the right direction, on the right course, and with consistent force, so as to steadily promote reform and opening up in the new era.

* Part of the speech at the conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up.


1 Zhang Shi: Understanding The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu Jie). Zhang Shi (1133-1180) was a neo-Confucian philosopher and educator of the Southern Song Dynasty. 

2 Frederick Engels: "Anti-Dühring", Karl Marx & Frederick Engels: Collected Works, Vol. 25, Eng. ed., Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1979, p. 254. 

3 Lu Xun (1881-1936) was a man of letters, thinker and revolutionary, and one of the founders of modern Chinese literature. 

4 Lu Xun: "Random Thoughts (66) – The Road of Life", Lu Xun: Selected Works, Vol. 2, Eng. ed., Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1980, p. 54.

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