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'New Contradiction' keeps pace with times

China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-22 07:03

Everyone who followed the report of General Secretary Xi Jinping at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China got the message loud and clear: A new era has begun.

Central to Xi's declaration that socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era was his statement that "the principal contradiction" facing Chinese society, a maxim that has stood for 36 years, has changed. It is a shift that "affects the whole landscape".

The principal contradiction is a term most Chinese have grown up with since grade school. But only a small number of foreigners, those who are experts in Sinicized Marxism, will know this seemingly obscure piece of political jargon.

Marxists interpret the world through dialectical materialism; contradictions-or "dynamic opposing forces"-are omnipresent in society and drive social change. The principal contradiction is what defines a society. By identifying and solving it, society develops peacefully. Left unsolved, it can lead to chaos and, eventually, as Marx predicted, to revolution.

Since coming to power in 1949, the CPC has identified the principal contradiction and, as the times changed and contradictions changed, crafted policies in response.

Soon after 1949, it was "the people versus imperialism, feudalism and the remnants of Kuomintang forces", which evolved into "proletariat versus bourgeoisie", a mentality that led to pro-longed social turmoil across the country.

In 1981, the Party changed its assessment of the principal contradiction to "the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people versus backward social production", a historic policy shift at the heart of reform and opening-up. Market economic reforms, seen at the time as a magic bullet to transform production, were unleashed on an unprecedented scale.

The rest is a history we all know well. The Chinese economy grew into the second-largest in the world, expanding by about 10 percent a year for more than three decades. China became the world's factory floor.

The list of goods made in China today grows ever longer, and its products more sophisticated. From fingernail-sized computer chips to jet aircraft and high-speed trains, the world's factory is now the world's laboratory and marketplace. "What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing need for a better life," Xi said.

But with wealth comes new desires: an education at Oxford or Cambridge, a vacation in California, a villa in Sydney.

This demand for a better life overseas is derived from an inability to satisfy these desires at home.

There are long waiting lists in the best hospitals. Tourist sites are crowded, and services there have hardly advanced at the same pace as expectations.

Despite huge improvements, smog remains an obvious problem. A store inside the Jingxi Hotel in downtown Beijing, where many Party delegates are staying during the congress, sells face masks, including a type with an electric filter priced at 398 yuan ($60). "For your health, please wear a mask on smoggy days," a sign reads.

"The needs to be met for the people to live better lives are increasingly broad. Not only have their material and cultural needs grown, but their demands for democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice, security, and a better environment are also increasing," Xi said.

Serving the majority is what distinguishes socialism from capitalism, which only protects the interests of a select few, Karl Marx said some 150 years ago. Common prosperity is the hallmark of socialism.

Development between Chinese regions varies sharply. In mountainous Guizhou province, whose delegates were joined on Thursday by Xi in a panel discussion, household incomes remain very low. The average income was 15,121 yuan last year, less than one-third of that in Shanghai.

The gap in personal wealth between the haves and the have-nots is of no less concern.

The country's three richest men are each worth more than $30 billion, according to the latest Hurun rankings. Meanwhile, millions of people struggle to get by on less than $1 a day.

Xi does not mince his words. China, he said, will remain in the primary stage of socialism for a long time. China's international status as a developing country has not changed.

His two-stage development strategy spans 30 years, with the objective to make China a "great modern socialist country" by the mid-21st century.

Only a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, beautiful China will be ready to cross the threshold into the next stage of socialism.


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