CPC as a “developmental party” that leads China's modernization
By Yongnian Zheng

CPC as a “developmental party” that leads China's modernization

Dec. 01, 2023  |     |  0 comments

Since the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) proposed the concept of the "Chinese path to modernization" last October, study on modernization has become a hot topic in today's Chinese academic community. I believe that discussing modernization from the perspective of political parties has not only policy implications but also academic significance.

In China, the CPC has always been a prominent field of study. However, the Western understanding of the CPC today is in a state of decline. Some Western scholars believe that the CPC is already an "outdated" organization and may even disappear soon. This perception has led to a lack of in-depth research on the CPC overseas compared to research on Chinese social organizations.

Political parties themselves are products of and are deeply influenced by modernization. If we place a political party in the process of modernization, we can see the importance of such an organization. Since the concept of "modernization" emerged, it has been treated as a value worth pursuing. However, modernization is both an ideology and a material force based on technological progress.

Western political parties are products of national modernization. However, today, most Western parties and other organizations in society are in a state of "survival of the fittest" competition. Once they lose competitiveness, parties will lose the foundation of their existence.

After World War II, developing countries gained political independence through decolonization, but this did not guarantee the establishment of stable political orders. Despite their newfound independence, many countries continued to grapple with the lingering effects of colonialism. They attempted to adopt Western concepts such as constitutionalism, the rule of law and multi-party politics.

Superficially, it appeared that these nations possessed all the necessary components of Western political systems. Nevertheless, in reality, these institutions were never fully implemented or effectively executed. Consequently, numerous developing countries failed to establish a stable political order, and this predicament persists in many nations today.

In terms of the relationship between political parties and modernization on a global scale, China's experience is very rare and valuable. However, this valuable experience has never been summarized because many people have never studied the CPC outside of their own ideological biases. Today, the US defines its relationship with China as a relationship of "democracy vs. authoritarianism," but it is not that simple.

In China, the concept of "political party" also comes from the West. Although the concept is imported, the essence of "political party" is indigenous, as it is determined by culture. Throughout Chinese history, the state has always existed as a top-level structure that transcends various socio-economic factors. The concept of "sovereignty" in modern Western countries and the concept of "Marxist-Leninist states" in the Soviet Union contributed to the rebirth and transformation of this structure. Through this transformation, China has developed a new political order in terms of structure, but the essence of this order still has cultural characteristics.

Unlike the West, political parties in China are not just one type of social institution but a top-level structure that transcends all social institutions. In terms of function and responsibility, political parties in China are not only about governance but also about development. In academia, China is referred to as a "developmental state," but at its core, there exists a "developmental party." Just like Western political parties, the CPC has been exploring its governing foundation. For many years, Western scholars have been discussing the governing foundation of the CPC and have proposed various theories, such as "performance theory," "adaptation theory," and "cultural inheritance and transformation theory."

In practice, the CPC has been consolidating its governing foundation. The concept of "whole-process people's democracy" proposed in recent years is one example of this practice. However, the CPC is not just about survival like Western political parties; it guides and leads the development of all other fields while consolidating its governing foundation. The CPC is not an "adaptive party" but a leading party.

In fact, since the reform and opening-up, China is among only a few countries that have simultaneously achieved sustainability in three key areas: sustainable economic development, social stability and leadership. Although Western countries have also achieved sustainable economic development, they have faced significant problems with social order and governance crises due to the rise of populism.

From a comparative perspective, the relationship between the CPC and modernization has not only policy significance but also academic significance. To be more specific, the concept of the "Chinese path to modernization" implies the following.

First, when we talk about the "Chinese path to modernization," we also acknowledge the existence of the "European path to modernization," the "American path to modernization." We emphasize the diversity of modernization, as different civilizations have different understandings, contents, and ways of pursuing modernization.

Second, we emphasize that the "Chinese path to modernization" means that a country can only succeed in modernization when it aligns with its own civilization, culture and national conditions; otherwise, failure is inevitable. We hope that all countries can find a modernization model that suits their civilization, culture and national conditions.

Third, we emphasize that the "Chinese path to modernization" means that we will not impose our own modernization model on other countries, unlike some Western countries.

Fourth, in the pursuit of modernization, we advocate "dialogue among civilizations," mutual learning, and joint promotion of global modernization.