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February 9, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright February 9, 2009 Lauri Paltemaa. Used by permission.


In December, the Chinese Communist Party celebrated the 30 years anniversary of reforming and opening up policy that became possible in the now almost legendary 3rd plenum of the 11th Central Committee where Deng Xiaoping defeated his “Whateverist” (read Maoist) rivals in the Party leadership. This coming March, however, we will celebrate another thirty-year anniversary of one of the key policies in reforms. It was then, on March 30, 1979, that Deng Xiaoping announced that the Party would continue to uphold the “four cardinal principles” of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought, proletarian dictatorship, party leadership, and socialism. This laid the foundation for the authoritarian Chinese development model, which now faces probably one of its most severe challenges. The model itself was copied form China’s near neighbours, which had been able to pull off their own “economic miracles” through a combination of authoritarian governments and economic reform policies. The Chinese addition to this was to show that a Communist country could also accomplish an “economic miracle” – although by losing almost all features traditionally associated with communism in the process.

Deng’s March 1979 speech on the cardinal principles therefore marked an important decision of how the reforms would unfold. This becomes more visible when we remember that, theoretically at least, Deng had a choice when he gave his speech. He, and his reformist followers in the Party had engineered a political thaw that made possible the emergence of the Democracy Wall Movement, which in turn helped Deng score his victory. The Movement, although never coherent or united over most issues, offered an alternative vision to economic modernization. Its activists all supported the economic reforms and the four modernizations, but they offered an alternative way of getting there by establishing socialist democracy as an integral, and indeed necessary part of the modernization of Chinese society. In his March speech Deng basically rejected this road and chose the authoritarian way.