Deng Xiaoping: Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

Deng Xiaoping (1904–97) was the most powerful and influential of the leaders of the Communist Party of China from the early 1980s until his death. He had originally been a colleague of Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse Tung during the Long March, or revolutionary struggle. The Communist Party came to power in 1949, and Mao remained its Chairman until his death in 1976. In the 1960s and 1970s, Deng was banished to obscurity for having advocated a more liberal alternative to Mao’s Communism that allowed some market freedoms. After Mao’s death, supporters of Deng managed to help him gain power. Deng went on to lead a change of direction for the Chinese Communist Party, advocating ‘personal responsibility’ for villagers who could now sell their produce on the market, and supporting free markets, foreign investment and private ownership—none of which had been allowed during Mao’s Chairmanship. Here, he speaks of this new ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’:

What is the ideological line? To adhere to Marxism and to integrate it with Chinese realities—in other words, to seek truth from facts, as advocated by Comrade Mao Zedong, and to uphold his basic ideas. It is crucial for us to adhere to Marxism and socialism. For more than a century after the Opium War, China was subjected to aggression and humiliation. It is because the Chinese people embraced Marxism and kept to the road leading from new-democracy to socialism that their revolution was victorious …

At the founding of the People’s Republic, we inherited from old China a ruined economy with virtually no industry. There was a shortage of grain, inflation was acute and the economy was in chaos. But we solved the problems of feeding and employing the population, stabilized commodity prices and unified financial and economic work, and the economy rapidly recovered. On this foundation we started large-scale reconstruction. What did we rely on? We relied on Marxism and socialism. Some people ask why we chose socialism. We answer that we had to, because capitalism would get China nowhere. If we had taken the capitalist road, we could not have put an end to the chaos in the country or done away with poverty and backwardness. That is why we have repeatedly declared that we shall adhere to Marxism and keep to the socialist road. But by Marxism we mean Marxism that is integrated with Chinese conditions, and by socialism we mean a socialism that is tailored to Chinese conditions and has a specifically Chinese character.

What is socialism and what is Marxism? We were not quite clear about this in the past. Marxism attaches utmost importance to developing the productive forces. We have said that socialism is the primary stage of communism and that at the advanced stage the principle of from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs will be applied. This calls for highly developed productive forces and an overwhelming abundance of material wealth. Therefore, the fundamental task for the socialist stage is to develop the productive forces. The superiority of the socialist system is demonstrated, in the final analysis, by faster and greater development of those forces than under the capitalist system. As they develop, the people’s material and cultural life will constantly improve. One of our shortcomings after the founding of the People’s Republic was that we didn’t pay enough attention to developing the productive forces. Socialism means eliminating poverty. Pauperism is not socialism, still less communism …

The present world is open. One important reason for China’s backwardness after the industrial revolution in Western countries was its closed-door policy. After the founding of the People’s Republic we were blockaded by others, so the country remained virtually closed, which created difficulties for us. The experience of the past thirty or so years has demonstrated that a closed-door policy would hinder construction and inhibit development …

Proceeding from the realities in China, we must first of all solve the problem of the countryside. Eighty per cent of the population lives in rural areas, and China’s stability depends on the stability of those areas. No matter how successful our work is in the cities, it won’t mean much without a stable base in the countryside. We therefore began by invigorating the economy and adopting an open policy there, so as to bring the initiative of 80 per cent of the population into full play. We adopted this policy at the end of 1978, and after a few years it has produced the desired results …

We have opened 14 large and medium-sized coastal cities. We welcome foreign investment and advanced techniques. Management is also a technique. Will they undermine our socialism? Not likely, because the socialist sector is the mainstay of our economy. Our socialist economic base is so huge that it can absorb tens and hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of foreign funds without being shaken. Foreign investment will doubtless serve as a major supplement in the building of socialism in our country. And as things stand now, that supplement is indispensable. Naturally, some problems will arise in the wake of foreign investment. But its negative impact will be far less significant than the positive use we can make of it to accelerate our development. It may entail a slight risk, but not much.


Deng, Xiaoping. 1984. ‘Building Socialism with a Specifically Chinese Character.’ in The People’s Daily. Beijing.


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