Modernization has been the key theme of developing countries since the last century. While no consensus was reached for its exact meaning, various modernization theories were proposed in development studies after the 1960s. It was widely believed, in particular in the Western world, that there is one ideal “model” of modernization, characterized by the dominance of private enterprises, free trade and electoral democracy.
In China, then-leader Deng Xiaoping championed and revitalized the concept of “Four Modernizations” (in terms of agriculture, industry, defense, and science and technology) as the solution to hastening the country’s development in the early 1980s. The “Four Modernizations” drive, coupled with the reform and opening-up policy, has created the unprecedented economic miracles of the world’s most populous country over the past four decades.
China’s GDP has grown 30 times in the past four decades, and its per capita GDP has reached more than $12,000. At this important historical juncture, the concept of the Chinese path to modernization put forward by General Secretary Xi Jinping at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China carries significant weight and has rightly attracted worldwide attention. He stressed that the central task of the CPC from now on is to advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through Chinese-style modernization.
What makes the Chinese-style modernization unique? In essence, Chinese-style modernization is a socialist modernization led by the CPC. It differs from others in the sense that it has both the common characteristics of modernization of all countries and Chinese characteristics based on its own national conditions. Specifically, the Chinese-style modernization has the following defining features: it involves a huge population; it pursues peaceful development; it aims for the advancement of both material and spiritual civilizations; and it emphasizes ecological development that ensures harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature.
Chinese-style modernization has two distinct characteristics; namely, the realization of common prosperity for all, and the practice of whole-process people’s democracy. China is a socialist country, and these concepts should not be new to the socialists. Socialism, in essence, seeks the fair distribution of wealth and political power. The achievement of common prosperity and the practice of whole-process people’s democracy are obviously the realization of that goal, at least for China.
Chinese modernization based on common prosperity will overcome the problem of social polarization that is so common in Western-style modernization models. It also tries to avoid the unfortunate “destiny” that wealth is concentrated in a handful of people.
The aspiration for common prosperity demonstrates China’s self-confidence in its own path of development and its firm commitment to the enhancement of the overall well-being of humanity. Notably, China has won the biggest battle against poverty in human history by lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and successfully building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, which is a big step toward its goal of socialist modernization.
The central government has made rural revitalization an important policy in recent years, and plans to support targeted areas to develop characteristic industries and launch a rural reconstruction process. This important measure is very timely and can consolidate the achievements of poverty alleviation, helping rural areas embark on a sustainable development path.
Whole-process people’s democracy
In the past decade, the social divergence caused by ideology, race, religion and party affiliations has never been so serious around the world. At this point, when the legitimacy of electoral democracy is increasingly questioned in various countries in the world, the whole-process people’s democracy promoted by President Xi not only reflects the superiority of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, but also presents an alternative path for socioeconomic development to the world at a time when the Western-style models are increasingly clouded by money politics, plutocracy and vetocracy.
China’s whole-process people’s democracy integrates electoral democracy, deliberative democracy, democratic administration and democratic supervision. It combines process-oriented democracy with results-oriented democracy, procedural democracy with substantive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people’s democracy with the will of the State.
Democracy takes in many forms, and its merits and demerits can only be judged by its own people. Democracy is a common value shared by all humanity. Similar to other values, different countries would define and conceive differently, or have a different focus on the same idea because of the varying historical, cultural and religious backgrounds. Western countries have kept democracy in the confines of electoral democracy, and are obsessed with the question of whether or not there are direct elections or “one person, one vote”. Democracy is simply defined as the election of the executive and legislature at various levels. Yet elections can breed money politics and corruption. In the US, the 2020 presidential and congressional elections cost $14 billion, or two times that of 2016 and three times that of 2008. The cost of the presidential election alone reached $6.6 billion.
As a type of electoral system, “one person, one vote” is not a problem in itself. When the people of a country have shared beliefs and basic democratic qualities, “one person, one vote” or “majority rules” may be a way to resolve disputes. However, there have been unprecedented rifts caused by ideological, racial, and religious conflicts among political parties in the last decade. From the struggle between the “red shirt” and “yellow shirt” camps in Thailand to the riots on the US’ Capitol Hill triggered by disputes over the presidential election results in 2020, it is evident that “one person, one vote” elections intensify rather than alleviate conflicts in a society that is already fragmented.
Amid a turbulent international environment, Chinese people are determined to take bold strides on their own path of modernization, one that is people-centered under socialism with Chinese characteristics, one that insists on the never-ending process of reform and opening-up, and one that stresses the “can-do” spirit of the Chinese people.
The author is founder and chairman of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum.