Photo: Interesting lineup. Stalin dropped, Chou En-Lai and Deng added

How Does Deng Xiaoping Create a New Historical Period?

By Li Hongfeng

Literature of Chinese Communist Party, Issue 4, 2014


Abstract: As the chief architect of China’s reform and opening up and socialist modernization drive, Deng Xiaoping created a new historical period of reform and opening up. During the historical process of advancing reform and opening up, Mr. Deng thoroughly demonstrated a strategist’s strategic thinking, judgment, design and decision. He created a new historical period, starting reaffirming and reinstating the Party’s ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts. After deeply studying the profound changes of domestic and foreign situations, Mr. Deng gave two important strategic judgments: China being and to be in the preliminary phase of socialism; and peace and development being two great issues of the contemporary world. On the basis of such two judgments, he made a series of far-reaching strategic decisions centering on his belief in socialist and communist causes. Mr. Deng suggested leadership should have principles, systematicness, foresight and creativity, which reflected Deng’s understanding of regularity in leadership and essential characteristics of his leading style.

In Deng’s life, he fell three times and rose up again. After Mr. Deng was reinstated at the third time, his career ushered in full swing and he created a new historical period of China’s reform and opening up. Looking back on the great historical process of Deng Xiaoping boosting reform and opening up and learning about his strategist’s wisdom in strategic thinking, judgment, design and decision can be beneficial to deepening reform comprehensively and carrying forward reform and opening up and socialist modernization drive.

I. Strategic starting point of defining ideological guidelines

The “cultural revolution” resulted in a ten-year-old turmoil and brought about severe calamities, incurring great costs to our Party, country and nation. The “left” wrongdoings can’t be continued and it is a must to correct those mistakes.

Deng Xiaoping undertook duties in a dangerous situation. As soon as taking office, Mr. Deng manifested a great strategist’s foresight. Facing the complex situation of many things waiting to be done, Deng Xiaoping grasped the most important link – starting from establishing the ideological guideline.

For Deng’s creation of a new historical period, it is a strategic starting point to reaffirm and reinstate the Party’s ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts.

Seeking truth from facts is our Party’s ideological guideline in both correctly understanding and changing the objective world. The China’s revolutionary process has fully proved: only on the basis of the guideline of seeking truth from facts, our Party could create the China’s revolutionary path of encircling the cities from the rural areas; our Party could find the three valuable approaches of the armed struggle, united front and party building; our Party could correctly resolve a series of basic problems on the nature, objective, driving force, goal and transformation of Chinese revolution; our Party could establish the correct political, military and organizing guidelines; our Party could build up a Marxist working-class vanguard in a semicolonial and semifeudal society with a large rural population and a small working-class population; our Party could successfully Sinicizing Marxism and create and develop Mao Zedong Though; our Party could surmount numerous hardships, overcome mistakes and frustrations in the progress, correctly sum up experience and lessons, unite all Party’s members and the whole Chinese nation and continuously accomplish new achievements. As the Party and Chinese people were armed with the ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts, the Chinese revolution embarked on the path to successes.

After become the ruling party, our Party had various mistakes and errors, especially the all-round wrongdoing of the “cultural revolution,” which was caused by various complex reasons but basically, resulted from the diversion from the ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts.

After smashing Gang of Four in 1976, the whole Party and nation were inspired. However, the wrong proposition of “two whatevers” remained restricting people’s thinking. The discussion on the criteria of truth succeeded in breaking the barriers of “two whatevers.” To support and promote the discussion on criteria of truth, Deng Xiaping made 26 remarks and speeches in less than two years in order to repeatedly expound on the essential reasons of seeking truth from facts.

Mr. Deng definitely pointed out: the “two whatevers” are wrong and don’t comply with both Marxism and Mao Zedong Thought. Marx, Engles, Lenin, Stalin or Mao Zedong proposed any “whatever.” It is not allowed to impair the whole Mao Zedong Thought with several or partial words and sentences. To follow Mao Zedong Thought shouldn’t focus on citations of Chairman Mao’s remarks but highlight the exertion of Mao’s essential thought.

Mr. Deng noted: we must employ the correct and complete Mao Zedong Thought to guide our Party, army and nation. It is necessary to make efforts to find the far-reaching and basic solutions for all problems facing us. Seeking truth from facts was proposed by Mao Zedong and it is in conformity with the principle of Marxism. If we understand it deeply, we will become hopeful. Undoubtedly, seeking truth from facts is the basic opinion, standpoint and approach of Mao Zedong Thought. It also is a summary of Marxist-Leninist philosophy, theory and methods. The most important element of inheritance and promotion of good traditions fostered by Mao Zedong lies in seeking truth from facts. It plays a core role in Mao Zedong Thought.

Deng Xiaoping reiterated: we must resume and promote the good traditions and work styles of mass line, seeking truth from facts, criticism and self-criticism, modesty and prudence, guarding against arrogance and rashness and hard work and plain living, and democratic centralism that were established by Mao Zedong for our Party. The urgent issues facing us are seeking truth from facts, combination of theory with practice and proceeding from reality in all work. Only based on proceeding from reality in all work, our causes may be hopeful. The combination of theory with practice refers to summarizing actual experience based on the actual situations. “Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth” is of Marxism, Mao Zedong often said. Mao always advocated opening mind and starting the machine. The world experiences changes every day and numerous new things and issues never stop surfacing so we can’t close our mind or don’t draw upon our mind or else we will be backward forever. We should conduct a revolution on seeking truth from facts and open our mind.

On the afternoon of December 13, 1978, Deng Xiaoping delivered an important speech of “Emancipating Our Mind, Seeking Truth from Facts and Uniting All People to Aim at the Future” at the closing ceremony of the working conference of the CPC Central Committee. Principally, it became the keynote speech of the ensuing Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee. In the important speech, Deng Xiaoping linked and combined seeking truth from facts with emancipation of mind, focusing on elucidating emancipation of mind. He said the emancipation was one of then important political issues. First of all, the most important part of emancipation of mind, seeking truth from facts and uniting all people to aim at the future lies in the emancipation of mind. If a party, a country or a nation falls in stagnant thinking or is obsessed with superstition, it is predestinated to not make progress, stop development and die finally.

Why did Deng Xiaoping emphasize the emancipation of mind? It is because the emancipation of mind became the political premise of seeking truth from facts under the then historical conditions. Without the political premise of emancipation of mind or without such a full and thorough political premise, it is impossible to considering seeking truth from facts. If not the emancipation of mind, it would be impossible to reverse the wrong directions and correct the mistakes of “cultural revolution;” to abolish the wrong proposition of “taking the class struggle as the guideline” and divert the Party’s focus on work strategically; to correctly conclude the historical experience, scientifically evaluate the historical status of Comrade Mao Zedong and Mao Zedong Thought and really hold high the great banner of Mao Zedong; to implement the new guidelines and policies of reform and opening up, open a new situation for the socialist modernization drive and create a new historical period of reform and opening up; to correctly appraise the in-depth changes of international situations and world theme and formulate a new international strategy properly.

The facts prove that by means of grasping the Party’s ideological guideline, Deng Xiaoping deeply understands the key point to reverse the wrong directions and carry out the comprehensive reform, the basis to gather the aspirations of the Party, army and people and the overall situations of managing the Party, country and army so as to make the Party play a lead role in development of country through properly handling issues on the ideological guideline. The correction of Party’s ideological guideline develops into a great move of emancipation of mind and becomes the guiding principle for the correction of all-round issues and the whole reform and opening up and modernization drive.

II. Strategic decision-making and creation of the new period, new cause and new path

Deng Xiaoping plays an irreplaceable and decisive role in the formulation and formation of lines, guidelines and policies since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee as well as during the formulation and formation of a series of important decisions on China’s reform and opening up. He once reiterated we have entered a new historical period of reform and opening up and modernization drive, we are doing brand new jobs and we are embarking on a socialist path with Chinese characteristics. Under Deng’s leadership and promotion, reform and opening up has become the theme of economic, political, cultural and social life of Chinese people, the brightest characteristic of new period, a far-reaching great revolution, and the strong driving force for the self improvement and development of socialism.

As a prudent great politician, Deng Xiaoping soberly observed and deeply studied profound changes of international situations and domestic trends in about 1980s and made two far-reaching strategic judgments.

With regard to the domestic situations, Deng made a great judgment that China is and will be in the preliminary phase of socialism in a long future. He said, “Socialism is the preliminary stage of communism principally but China is in the preliminary phase of socialism or the underdeveloped phase. We need make plans based on such an actual situation.” Afterwards, in remarks made by him in southern China, Deng further stated, “If starting from the founding of the People’s Republic of China, we could develop our country into a moderately developed country, we should feel proud.” The preliminary phase of socialism constitutes the greatest status quo of China and is the starting point and cornerstone of our Party’s all work.

As for the international situation, Deng Xiaoping made a great judgment that peace and development are two great issues of contemporary world. He said, “The real important issues of the contemporary world are peace and economic issue (or development). Peace is the issue facing the Eastern and Western worlds but development is the one facing the Southern and Northern worlds. To sum up, it refers to four words, East, West, South and North. The issues between the South and North lie in the core.” Subsequently, our Party summarized the “two great issues” into “two great themes,” based on which it proposed the theory of “important strategic period of chance.” All of the above constitutes the international environment and external condition of China carrying out reform and opening up and advancing the modernization drive. Thoroughly understanding and concretely grasping the “important strategic period of chance,” focusing on China’s interests, pursuing benefits and bypassing injuries, being prudent to cultivate ourselves and making some achievements play an important role in advancing the great socialist cause with Chinese characteristics and realizing the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of Chinese nation.

On the premise of such two great strategic judgments, Deng Xiaoping worked out a series of far-reaching strategic decisions, including strategic shift of the Party’s work focus and establishment of strategic goals of “three-step development strategy;” formulation of basic line of “one central task and two basic points;” proposition of a whole set of guidelines and policies in fields, such as internal affairs, diplomacy, national defense, party management, country management, army management, economy, politics, culture, society and party building; inclusion of decision-making of college entrance exam system restoration; promotion of household contract responsibility system; letting some people get rich first and then leading and helping other regions or people to gradually achieve the common prosperity; creation of special economic zones; establishment of basic state policy of opening up to the outside world; deciding implementation of the “863 Program;” inclusion of restoration of ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts; promotion of discussions on truth criteria; scientifically evaluating Comrade Mao Zedong and Mao Zedong Thought; redressing wrong cases; making cadre teams more revolutionary, younger, more knowledgeable and more specialized; suggestion of a series of policies of “grasping two links at the same time;” prioritizing institutional construction and democratic and legal construction of the Party; disarmament of one million soldiers; proposition of the guideline of “one country, two systems” to address issues of Hong Kong and Macao. Such a series of strategies and decisions have forcefully advanced reform and opening up.

It is especially worth pointing out that Deng Xiaoping constantly grasped three significant historical points during the process carrying forward reform and opening up in order to lead China’s reform and opening up and modernization drive.

The first significant historical point fell on around before or after the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee. Then, China encountered complex situations. Deng Xiaoping launched the strategic call for the whole Party of “emancipation of mind, seeking truth from facts and uniting all people to aim at the future” in time. The success of the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee restored and reestablished the Party’s ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts, realized the strategic shift of Party’s work focus from “taking the class struggle as the essentials” to “regarding the economic development as the central task,” and prescribed Deng Xiaoping as the core leader of the second-generation leadership of the CPC Central Committee. Some comrades thought the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee was not inferior to the Zunyi Meeting in significance, which is very reasonable. Although the two meetings happened in different historical periods, they had the same point to establish Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping’s leading role in the Party respectively so as to become the great inflection point of the Party to achieve new successes after undergoing serious frustrations.

The second significant historical point was the proper solution of political turmoil in Beijing in 1989. Deng Xiaoping decisively led the Party to mitigate the political turmoil. In the speech delivered by Deng when he met with military officers ranked above the level of army commander on June 9, 1989, Mr. Deng scientifically analyzed the situations, definitely and affirmatively proclaimed to the world the Party should adhere to the line, guideline and policy formulated at the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee, steadily insist on the strategic goals of “three-step development strategy and uphold the basic line of “one central task and two basic points” so as that he clearly answered some great questions what banner China would hold, what path China would follow and what direction China would select. As a result, the situation was stabilized, the decision on strategy of reform and opening up was consolidated and China’s image of reform and opening up was successfully set up.

The third significant historical point occurred in early 1992. When Deng Xiaoping inspecting southern China, he made a far-reaching important speech on adhering to the implementation of basic line of “one central task and two basic points,” firmly following the socialist path with Chinese characteristics, unswervingly grasping the opportunity to accelerate the reform and opening up and focusing on the economic development as well as other great issues concerning the fate of the Party and country. Such a speech summarizes the main points of Deng Xiaoping Theory, is also a new statement on seeking truth from facts, furthermore removes the disturbances from the “left” or the “right” and pushes China’s reform and opening up and modernization drive to a new development stage.

III. Strategic guideline, essential features of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership style

As a great strategist, Deng Xiaoping’s leadership comes from a foresighted perspective, is based on the actual situations, dare to take responsibilities, seems soft but is tough in principle and is also reliable for the whole Party, army and nation. The one that plays an essential role in his leadership is Deng’s belief in socialist and communist causes. The constant belief lays a foundation in the whole Deng Xiaoping’s practice and theory and also becomes the cornerstone of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership style.

When talking about the good traditions of the Party, Deng once said, “In the work style advocated by Mao Zedong, the mass line and seeking truth from facts are essential part.” In his brilliant life, Deng unswervingly upheld the two basic points.

On September 23, 1985, Deng Xiaoping stated in his speech at the CPC National Congress, “We are building socialism with Chinese characteristics now but facing different times and duties so much new knowledge need be learnt. Therefore, we are required to grasp the basic Marxist theory according to the new actual situations. Only based on those, we can raise the basic principle and methods to utilize the basic Marxist theory to effectively explore the skill for addressing new political, economic, social and cultural issues. As a result, we could not only promote our causes and Marxist theory but also prevent some comrades, especially some new incoming young and middle-aged leaders, from being confused in the increasingly complex struggles.” Hence, Deng suggested, “The CPC Central Committee should make the practicable decisions to give cadres of the Party at all levels, especially senior leaders and cadres, time to study in the busy work and understand the basic Marxist theory in order to strengthen the principle, systematicness, foresight and creativity of our work.”

Deng Xiaoping set forth the “four natures” of leadership, which reflected his understanding of the leadership, was his requirements on the Party and also represented his theoretical conclusion on his own leadership practice. The principle, systematicness, foresight and creativity epitomize the essential features of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership style.

Principle lies in the soul of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership style. In the leadership, the principle should be put the first. Without principle, the leadership will be in vain. Since Deng Xiaoping engaged in the communist movements in the early 1930s, he experienced numerous hardships and difficulties of the revolutionary cause. During his 70-plus-year revolutionary career, Deng constantly adhered to Marxism and Mao Zedong Thought, steadily stuck to the belief in socialism and communism and dedicated himself to the communist cause unswervingly. His standpoint was never rocked or changed. Mao Zedong once commented on him, “seeming to have good temper but having the iron will,” and “having a firm character behind a gentle appearance,” which was a high praise for his principle. Thanks to his firm principle, Deng courageously broke the shackle of “two whatevers,” dare to take responsibilities for redressing wrong cases and bravely restored the historical status of Comrade Mao Zedong and Mao Zedong Thought; spared no effort to promote the household contract responsibility system, create the special economic zones and carry out the market economy, opposed the bourgeois liberalization, mitigated the political turmoil in 1989 and broke the Western sanctions; unswervingly adhered to the basic line of “one central task and two basic points” and constantly resumed and carried forward the good traditions of the Party; conducted great practice in domestic governance of the Party, country and army and maneuvered among various political groupings in the complex international political struggle. From any views, Deng Xiaoping is undoubtedly a role model in adherence to the principle. Many foreign scholars stated Mr. Deng was an authority with organizational consciousness, never set up his own clique and featured managing the country, Party and army with the organizational discipline and system in Deng’s leadership style.

Systematicness is one of major characteristics of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership style. National governance, especially governance of a large party or country such as ours, is a magnificent and sophisticated systemic project in nature. Mr. Deng is not only a strategist but also a specialist in dialectic. In his leadership, he attached importance to observation from the all-round and strategic perspective on one hand, and on the other hand, was also adept in handling issues based on their interrelations and interactions, which became one of important characteristics of Deng’s thinking and decision-making. He was good at grasping the key point and importance and at the same time, also skilled in addressing issues from an overall perspective and promoting the comprehensive development. As a foreign scholar put it, “In the history of the humanity, it never happened before Deng Xiaoping succeeded Mao Zedong as the top leader of China to carry out such an important and comprehensive reform without the war, violent revolution or economic collapse.” “Deng Xiaoping, a great man in the transitional stage of China, led China to a new era from an old era and ushered it into modernization.” Deng Xiaoping attaches great importance to the theoretical guidance and integration between theory and practice. During the great historical process of advancing reform and opening up, Deng made excellent theoretical creation in order to meet the demands of new times. Based on Mao Zedong Thought, he set forth a series of new ideas, opinions and comments, creating and forming Deng Xiaoping Theory. Deng Xiaoping Theory is of the direct inheritance and development of Mao Zedong Thought and also lays a foundation for establishment of the whole theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The theory is based on the integration between theory and practice, between history and logic, and between inheritance and development.

Foresight is a distinct characteristic of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership style. All leaders need foresight. Without foresight, no one can be a competent leader. Deng Xiaoping is both a pragmatic doer and a foresighted thinker. He especially emphasizes leaders and cadres, particularly senior cadres, should have an open mind and foresight. When Deng studied issues, he often took into account the history, present and future and thus, his leadership is the integration of seeking truth and pragmatism with foresight. As a result, Deng always has foresight and deep thinking and can grasp the essence of matters. As an old saying goes, “If one don’t think about things from a long-distance view, he/she must fail in the near future; if one can’t consider things from an overall perspective, he/she must lose in the locality.” It is remarkably embodied in Deng Xiaoping’s leadership. For example, his outlook on socialist development, remarks on “two leaps” in rural areas, strategic goals on “three-step development strategy” of modernization drive of China, strategic guidelines on “three orientations” of education and strategic conception on establishment of new international political and economic orders all could stand up to the test of practice and are the scientific prediction with long-period guiding sense, fully epitomizing Deng’s excellent strategic vision.

Creativity constitutes the backbone of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership style, permeating through Deng’s all leadership. Deng Xiaoping adheres to independent thinking and never follows others’ views blindly. In 1938, he once stated all things are dialectic and keep changing. Mao Zedong very appreciated this remark and thought it is the essence of Marxism. Mao frequently quoted the remark in four or five years. Vigorous thinking is one of Deng’s personalities and also one of characteristics of his leadership. Henry Alfred Kissinger once told Deng Xiaoping, “I know many people are younger than you but don’t know anyone more vigorous than you in China.” A Russian scholar commented on Deng Xiaoping, “It is the essence of Marxism to treat the world and life with the realism so as for Deng, the source of knowledge is the changeable life. One of politician’s duties is to conscientiously think about the existing changes and formulate the lines in line with the changes.”

A series of Deng Xiaoping’s important decisions and ideas and viewpoints of Deng Xiaoping Theory are full of innovative spirit. At the age of more than 70, Deng guided the new practice, created a new cause and established a new theory, which is unusual in the history of humanity.

Principle, systematicness, foresight and creativity are not separable but integral; are not isolated but interlinked; are not empty but realistic. They embody the in-depth understanding and exploration of the ruling laws of the Communist Party of China, the laws of socialist development and the laws of development of human society. Practice indicates the development of human society experiences a process from low level to high level and from simplicity to complexity. Thus, more the society develops, more requirements occur on the quality of nation and society, and more demands emerge for the ruling capacity and leadership of the ruling party. Therefore, the issues on thinking methods will be more and more important, the issues on spiritual status become more and more important and the issues on world view and view of life grow more and more important. In conclusion, it will never be outdated to learn Deng Xiaoping’s ideological theory, thinking method and spiritual outlook, catch up with the progress of times, practice and scientific development, continuously make efforts to raise quality, vision and level, and strive to improve the world view and view of life, the mental state and the thinking method.

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