A continuous process to emancipate the mind
Published: Dec 18, 2023 08:19 PM
A view of?Shenzhen Photo: VCG

A view of Shenzhen Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

This year marks the 45th anniversary since China introduced the policy of reform and opening-up. During this period, China has seen rapid development in multiple spheres, ranging from high-quality economic growth, to impressive technology development to robust people-to-people exchanges. To sum up the key to China's success while looking into the prospects of its development, we have selected opinion pieces from several scholars, explaining why reform and opening-up is the path China must take.

This is the second piece of the series.

China's reform and opening-up, which began 45 years ago on December 18, is undoubtedly one of the most influential global events in the past half century. Through self-reform and proactive opening-up, China has closely connected its own development with that of the world, fully integrating into the global community and shaping the world. It has substantially promoted the development of the global market and the course of world history. It has dramatically changed the face of China, a country with a long history and a challenging journey toward modernization, and profoundly transformed the global modernization landscape and the corresponding world order formed in modern times.

As a global event, the impact of reform and opening-up involves various aspects of material, institutional and ideological concepts, and the ideological revolution it has triggered is particularly worthy of reflection. 

First, China's reform and opening-up accelerated the end of the Cold War division and greatly weakened the influence of Cold War mentality. Domestically, by liberating minds and seeking truth from facts, the focus of the Party and the country was quickly and solidly shifted to economic development. Differences on reform were downplayed, reform space was expanded and consensus for action was consolidated. Internationally, China advocated a forward-looking and common development philosophy, actively stopped ideological confrontations and set aside disputes on some difficult issues, seeking maximum consensus for development. China's attitude, efforts and creative practices have shaped a favorable international environment for domestic development, created a positive interaction between openness and reform and greatly contributed to the weakening of confrontational thinking in the post-Cold War international community, providing an ideological foundation for the development of a multipolar world order.

Second, China's reform and opening-up has paved a successful development path for latecomer modernization countries and enriched the ideological spectrum of global development. China, as a large country with a rich history and complex system, has been able to adapt to the trends of the times and adjust to the changes in global resource flow and allocation. By effectively combining the forces of the government, market and society, China has achieved rapid development, sustained stability and successful transformation, demonstrating the diversity of the path to modernization and the importance of effectively integrating national conditions with the requirements of the times.

China's development has not only solved the problem of food and clothing shortages for its over 1 billion population, but also significantly improved the quality of life for the entire nation and injected strong momentum into global economic development. It has also provided valuable references for other developing countries in their pursuit of modernization.

Third, China's reform and opening-up has taken a path of self-innovation in its system, revealing that no modern system can exist forever. Systems must constantly renew themselves and emphasize mutual learning in order to maintain vitality, adapting to changes in the world and national conditions. Under the spotlight of globalization, the strengths and weaknesses of different countries' systems become more apparent when compared with one another. There is no perfect system, nor is there a system that can be universally applied. The profound revolution of China's reform and opening-up lies in its clear diagnosis of the shortcomings of its own system and mechanism, as well as its open-mindedness in absorbing and transforming the achievements of human civilization.

For the Chinese people, reform and opening-up has not only brought continuous improvement in material life and constant improvement in the institutional environment, but also sparked a profound revolution in ideas and concepts. In this revolution, China's excellent traditions have been reevaluated and creatively transformed in contemporary social practice. More importantly, through rich practical experiences in reform, development and governance, the Chinese people are forming their own understanding of several relationships, including the interaction between government, society and the market, the relationship between the state, society, family and individuals, the relationship between domestic, international, and global affairs, the relationship between individuals, groups, and the environment, and the relationship between society and technology. These relationships are the fundamental relationships of any modern society.

Chinese understanding is different from theoretical preconceptions formed in a closed and ossified status, or theoretical conclusions based on Western development experience that have been regarded as the criterion. It is the ideological understandings, rooted in China and with the world in mind, that make the reform and opening-up in China vibrant and imaginative. This is the distinctive quality of China nowadays, as well as the image that Chinese people are presenting on the world stage.

Reform and opening-up is still a work in progress, there is no completion. Ideological revolution should draw nutrition and motivation from the practice of continuous reform and development of governance, and continue to promote the self-renewal of ideological system and conceptual system. The emancipation of the mind is ongoing and will never end. In the overall and systematic reform, the reform and opening-up will be carried out to the end, and it is all the more necessary to keenly recognize the transformation of the conditions and environment, and to maintain the vitality and creativity of the big country at all times, so as to avoid being caught in systematic ossification.

We should stimulate the initiative of all Chinese people at home and promote the exchange of ideas and civilization in the international community through issue setting, action advocacy, empowerment and other means. In the face of anti-globalization, de-globalization and populism, as well as the challenges of solidified interests and weakened consensus, we should be more proactive in promoting the spirit of reform and opening-up, and pushing for a new round of ideological revolution.

We must always remain modest and prudent, and deal with problems with the breadth of mind and spirit of a great nation, and build a wider consensus through support and assistance. We must always be wary of a tendency to rest on our laurels, or becoming rigid in our approach. When encountering difficulties in reform, we much also avoid turning to the only method we are familiar with and the tools we have at hand, otherwise, the experience of reform will be transformed into burden and constraint.

The author is a professor of political science at Tsinghua University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn