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CPC’s pursuit and exploration of common prosperity

JIANG YONGMU and DOU XIAOLEI | 2021-07-15 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Farmers harvest Golden Silk Chrysanthemum in Huangshan City, Anhui Province. Photo: CNS 

The realization of common prosperity is the essential requirement of China’s socialist system. As China has achieved its first centenary goal as planned, it is advancing toward the second centenary goal. Under this historical background, making solid efforts to push common prosperity forward is a significant embodiment of contemporary Chinese Communists’ original aspiration, and their mission in the new era.  

Century-old journey 
Since its founding, the CPC has been committed to seeking happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation, constantly promoting common prosperity through a faithful adherence to the lofty Marxist social ideal. Chinese Communists, represented by Comrade Mao Zedong, led people to launch the Agrarian Revolution, which established the socialist institutional foundation for the pursuit of common prosperity. Collective development is the basis for China’s industrialization and modernization of national defense, realizing the adherence to common prosperity espoused by Marx and Engels. Since the reform and opening up, superior socialist systems have been developed by “inheritance and innovation.” 
First, came the recognition that the egalitarianism needed reform by gradually developing a variety of distribution modes, which provided development momentum for the pursuit of common prosperity. Second, after the reform and opening up, a macro-development direction was provided based on social productive forces, composite national strength, and people’s living standards. Third is Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s strategic thinking regarding “two overall situations.” This preliminary outline for China’s coordinated regional development met the new requirement of common prosperity in the new period of reform and opening up.
Since the Fourth Plenary Session of the 13th CPC Central Committee, understandings of “what is socialism,” “how to construct socialism,” and “what kind of common prosperity to pursue,” have been deepened through the important thought of “Three Represents.” Meanwhile, as global socialism develops in twists and turns, China has reaffirmed a basic economic system for the primary stage of socialism, and put forward a policy which gives “priority to efficiency with due consideration to fairness,” which broke new ground in the reform and opening up. Following the 16th CPC National Congress in 2002, Chinese Communists responded to development issues with the Scientific Outlook on Development, expanding the scope of common prosperity through the notion of “comprehensive, coordinated, and sustainable” development, and succeeded in developing the path toward common prosperity with Chinese characteristics at the turn of the century. 
Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core has demonstrated the kind of socialism with Chinese characteristics to uphold and develop in the new era. In order to complete building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the CPC, with its solemn commitment to leave no one behind, initiated an exploration and practice of the pursuit of common prosperity. By 2020, 98.99 million poor rural residents living under the poverty line were lifted out of poverty, thus solving the problem of absolute poverty that plagued China for thousands of years. In the period when the two centenary goals converged, the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee for the first time clearly called for “solid efforts to push forward common prosperity,” which met the people’s needs for a better life and also represented an important step on the new journey to fully build a modern socialist country.
Blueprint for common prosperity 
The CPC has always focused on a systematic approach to common prosperity, and has made a targeted overall design, which considers the actual conditions of different development periods. 
The Agrarian Revolution laid the basic political foundation for common prosperity. Land was the most important means of production for the vast majority of Chinese peasants, and the ownership of land by peasants was a prerequisite for common prosperity. Early in the CPC’s founding, confronted with widespread poverty among peasants, Mao Zedong was deeply aware of the urgent need to solve land problems for peasants after his inspection of the Peasant Movement in Hunan in 1927. Since then, through different periods as the CPC developed in the Jinggang Mountains (1927–1930), Yan’an (1935–1948), and Xibaipo (1948–1949), “overthrowing the local despots and distributing land” became a vital means for all peasants to realize common prosperity.
The development of a collective economy established ownership of the means of production. After the founding of the PRC in 1949, the CPC Central Committee put forward “one industrialization, three transformations” as a general line for the transitional period. Until the completion of the three major transformations in 1956, China preliminarily established a socialist system, and fundamentally transformed its national economic structure. The new system noted the co-existence of a variety of economies, and transformed them into a collective ownership economy, combining public ownership, a planned economy, and distribution according to labor. With this transformation, the public ownership economy accounted for more than 90% of the total economy. This transformation laid a solid institutional foundation for an initial exploration of common prosperity.
The Party has clarified the relationship between “earlier prosperity” and “later prosperity” and built a solid foundation of “earlier prosperity.” Since the reform and opening up, the CPC has established a development order oriented toward common prosperity, with regard to regions and people’s principal status, and made a general assumption that “those who first reach prosperity shall help those who fall behind.” In light of the fact that China’s social productive forces development levels were not yet high enough, the country encouraged and promoted zones with “earlier prosperity,” allowing some advantageous regions and main bodies to take the lead in developing productive forces, laying a foundation for earlier prosperity, and then helping those who had fallen behind, in accordance with the law of development in socialism’s primary stage.
The Party has grasped the trend of shared and common prosperity, with an emphasis on helping those left behind. Supported by the “earlier prosperity” policy, the east of China became the main driving force for national economic growth. Their overall economic growth rate was higher than central and western China, indicating that “earlier prosperity” had effectively accumulated a foundation. The next focus became helping those who fell behind. 
Following the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee made poverty alleviation a priority when comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. Poverty alleviation cooperation between eastern and western China and well-targeted support have achieved remarkable results. As early as the end of 2018, eastern regions took the lead in lifting people out of poverty, and further strengthened the growth of underdeveloped regions. In 2020, western regions reported a GDP growth rate of 3.3%, which exceeded the eastern region’s growth rate of 2.9%, indicating the steady progress of interregional coordinated development.
Path forward
Going forward, we should first consolidate and expand achievements made in the fight against poverty, and stick to the bottom line of promoting common prosperity. Consolidating and expanding the achievements made in poverty alleviation is a basic prerequisite for common prosperity. By promoting effective links between poverty alleviation and rural vitalization, the Party ensures progress towards objectives for both projects. Next, by monitoring poverty-prone populations, well-targeted support and poverty management can be implemented. Third, policy support should be extended according to local conditions to ensure policy stability during transitional periods. Fourth, poverty alleviation systems need to be improved to ensure that the government, the market and society continue to exert joint efforts. Fifth, it is important that Party committees and governments at all levels shoulder their responsibilities. It is also necessary to improve the accountability system with clear differentiation of responsibilities, the mechanism for assessment and supervision of poverty alleviation’s effectiveness, and poverty access and exit mechanism.
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC has paid more attention to high-quality development, with a focus on the shared development and common prosperity of the entire population. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee put forward the concept of shared development for the first time, which permeates all fields, all economic and social processes, and lays a solid ideological foundation for common prosperity. This requires sharing progress with the entire population in all respects, co-development, co-sharing, and incremental sharing, and clarifies the focus for promoting common prosperity, in terms of the subject, content, momentum, and stage.  
Adhering to the basic socialist economic system provides an institutional guarantee for common prosperity. In this system, public ownership serves as the main body of the economy, but allows for the development of all types of ownership. It is vital to explore multiple pathways to realize public ownership, spurring the development vitality of the state-owned economy, the mixed ownership economy, the private sector, foreign investment enterprises, and so on. China’s distribution system is centered on labor-based distribution while allowing other forms of distribution to coexist. Distribution relationships between urban and rural areas, and among regional groups must be reasonably coordinated. While centered on fair competition, all factors must participate equally in income distribution, to promote the ideal combination of an efficient market and an efficient government.
The social livelihood security system also needs improvement to build a safety net as we strive for common prosperity. A social security system, which covers the entire population, is an essential part of common prosperity. We should leverage the political advantages of the socialist system, strengthen general planning for a multi-tiered social security system, design a strategic roadmap for the Five-Sphere Integrated Plan, and grasp key issues in the development of a Four-Pronged Comprehensive Strategy. Meanwhile, social security’s law-based governance should be enhanced, strengthening legislation for social security, and bridging gaps in the legal system. It is vital to improve social security management and service systems, establish and complete the social security system, especially the comprehensive regulation system for elderly care. We must spare no effort in improving management and service provisions.
Jiang Yongmu is dean of the School of Economics at Sichuan University; Dou Xiaolei is from the School of Marxism at Sichuan University.
Edited by ZHAO YUAN