The China Model: Bruce Aylward, head of WHO-China joint mission

Here are a series of sections from news conferences and interviews by Bruce Aylward, who is head of the World Health Organisation – China joint mission. They concern the COVID-19 outbreak. There are some overlaps between them, but the first deals with the immense collective response by the whole Chinese population, where the social good is paramount:

The second and third urge the rest of the world to follow China’s example and experience, of what is called the ‘China Model’:

There is also an interview on the China Daily website, where Aylward explains how the differentiated approach in China works. In each area, the response is tailored to what is needed. Not only has this experience been learned through the poverty alleviation project, but it also provides a model for how to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks elsewhere. It is worth noting that even Canada is following the China Model. It is unfortunate that in Australia the regime had thrown up its hands and said it is unable to do anything, which is really admitting that the health system in Australia – after years of cutbacks – is now in a pretty bad condition.

The final interview has Aylward finish by saying, ‘If I had COVID-19, I would want to be treated in China’. I cannot agree more.


The China Model: World Health Organisation Report

A distinct feature of what they call the ‘China Model’ is that it is not forced upon others. The Chinese simply seek to do the best possible in any situation, after which they assess their capabilities and undertake measures to improve even more. If other countries wish to follow the China Model, they may do so, although Chinese expertise always advises those countries to do so in light of their own situation and characteristics. As most countries in the world have turned their backs on the neo-liberal ‘Washington Consensus’, more and more are looking closely at the China Model and seeking to implement its features. This is particulalry the case in Africa and Central Asia, but also in Latin America.

An excellent recent example is China’s response to the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The World Health Organisation has certainly paid attention to the Chinese model in this case, consistently stressing the unprecented level of response and expertise. Indeed, the WHO is promoting the Chinese response as a new model for other countries where the epidemic has taken hold, as well as for future epidemics.

Let us pay attention to a recent WHO report on measures taken. The report observes:

In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history.

The report identifies 10 measures that it recommends other countries should follow:

1. Monitoring and reporting

COVID-19 was included in the statutory reporting of infectious diseases, and plans were formulated to strengthen diagnosis, monitoring and reporting.

2. Strengthening ports of entry and quarantine

The customs authorities launched an emergency plan for public health emergencies at ports across the country, and restarted the health declaration card system for entry and exit into cities, as well as strict monitoring of the temperature of entry and exit passengers.

3. Treatment

For severe or critical patients, the principle of “Four Concentrations” was implemented: i.e. concentrating patients, medical experts, resources and treatment into special centres.

All cities and districts transformed relevant hospitals, increased the number of designated hospitals, dispatched medical staff and set up expert groups for consultation so as to minimise mortality of severe patients.

Medical resources from all over China have been mobilised to support the medical treatment of patients in Wuhan.

4. Epidemiological investigation and close contact management

Strong epidemiological investigations are being carried out for cases, clusters and contacts to identify sources of infection and implement targeted control measures, such as contact tracing.

5. Social distancing

At the national level, the State Council extended the Spring Festival holiday in 2020, all parts of the country actively canceled or suspended activities like sporting events, cinema and theatre, and schools and colleges in all parts of the country postponed re-opening after the holiday.

Enterprises and institutions have staggered their return to work.

Transportation departments set up thousands of health and quarantine stations in national service areas, and in entrances and exits for passengers at stations.

Hubei province adopted the most stringent traffic control measures, such as suspension of urban public transport, including subway, ferry and long-distance passenger transport.

Every citizen has to wear a mask in public.

6. Funding and material support

Payment of health insurance for patients with the disease was taken over by the state, as well as work to improve accessibility and affordability of medical materials, provide personal protection materials and ensure basic necessities for affected people.

7. Emergency material support

The government restored production and expanded production capacity, organized key enterprises that have already started to exceed current production capacity, supported local enterprises in expanding imports and used cross-border e-commerce platforms and enterprises to help import medical materials and improve the ability to guarantee supplies.

8. International and interregional cooperation and information sharing

From 3 January, information on COVID-19 cases has been reported to the WHO daily.

Full genome sequences of the new virus were shared with the WHO and the international community immediately after the pathogen was identified on 7 January.

On 10 January, an expert group involving Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan technical experts and a World Health Organisation team was invited to visit Wuhan.

A set of nucleic acid primers and probes for PCR detection for COVID-19 was released on 21 January.

9. Daily updates

The National Health Commission announces the epidemic situation every day and holds daily press conferences to respond to emerging issues.

The government also frequently invites experts to share scientific knowledge on COVID-19 and address public concerns.

10. Social mobilisation and community engagement

Social organisations (community centres and public health centres) have been mobilised to support prevention and response activities.

The community is fully participating in the management of self-isolation and enhancement of public compliance.

Community volunteers are organised to support self-isolation and help isolated residents at home to solve practical life difficulties.

Measures were taken to limit the movement of the population through home-based support.


Maria van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program observed: ‘everyone in China knows their role in the COVID-19 outbreak …they know how to protect themselves and their families, as well as what they need to do collectively to bring the epidemic under control’.

And on Chinese assistance, in light of their experience and expertise, with other countries, van Kerkhove observed: ‘This is an excellent example of peer-to-peer sharing what has been done, what can be done in other countries, and having direct interaction with another country … That direct interaction is what we want to see more and more happen. So having China share its experience with other countries is nothing short of excellence’.

Not bad praise for China’s socialist model.

Liberating Thought, Part 4: Liberating the Forces of Production (jiefang shengchanli)

This is the fourth and final part of a draft concerning the philosophical basis of Deng Xiaoping Theory. In the previous three parts, I dealt with liberating thought as the correct theoretical line, democratic centralism and seeking truth from facts (I have now revised those posts). This fourth section deals with another significant feature of Deng Xiaoping’s approach: liberating the forces of production. This entails yet another contradiction that must be understood in light of Mao Zedong’s contradiction analysis.

In elaborating on the final contradiction – between planned and market economies – let me begin with the following quotation:

Not liberating thought is out of the question, even to the extent of including the question of what socialism is also requires the liberation of thought. If the economy remains stagnant for a long period of time, it cannot be called socialism. If the people’s living standards remain at a very low level for a long period of time, it cannot be called socialism (Deng 1980c, 312).1

I have begun with this quotation, since it raises more sharply the connection between liberating thought and liberating the forces of production, and thus the whole process of the Reform and Opening-Up (Cai and Pan 2008, 191). One of Deng’s signal contributions was to emphasise a feature of Marxism – liberating the forces of production – that was too often lost in the initial moves after a successful proletarian revolution. Given the prior realities of bourgeois and landlord ownership of the means of production, the primary task for a Communist Party in power had been to expropriate such owners and claim the means of production for workers (both rural and urban). This measure was necessary also to deal with the inevitable counter-revolution, and it initially enabled in all countries that began the process of constructing socialism an economic surge. However, the focus became too fixed in the realm of the relations of production, on ownership of productive forces. This imbalance inevitably led to new contradictions between the forces and relations of production, with stagnating economic initiative and improvement (Deng 1982, 16; 1985, 148).

So Deng’s emphasis was resolutely on the other – often neglected – side, on the forces of production. Socialism is all about the liberation of the forces of production: ‘The development of the productive forces … is the most fundamental [zui genben] revolution from the viewpoint of historical development’ (Deng 1980c, 311; 1980d, 310). There is no point to ‘poor socialism’; socialism means nothing if it does not liberate the forces of production, stimulate the economy and the improve the living standards of all people. Later, on his famous ‘Southern Tour’ of 1992, Deng defined socialism in terms of what are now called the ‘three benefits’: ‘whether it is conducive to the development of the productive forces of a socialist society, to the enhancement of the comprehensive national strength of a socialist country, and to the improvement of people’s living standards’ (Deng 1992, 372).2

Obviously, this emphasis requires a distinct liberation of thought, a freeing of the mind from past dogmatisms so as to bring about a redefinition of socialism. Or, rather, it requires a recovery of a feature that is too frequently forgotten in the Marxist tradition. It remains to see to how this re-emphasis entails a contradiction. It does so at two levels. The first is between the forces and relations of production. In response to efforts in the early stages of socialist construction in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to suggest that the contradiction had been overcome and that socialism was all about the relations of production and ownership, which could determine economic development, Stalin (1952) argued that the contradictions between forces and relations of production continue under socialism. Should one dimension outpace the other, economic policy required an adjustment in favour of laggard. In China too, the problem had been an over-emphasis on the relations of production, which may initially through a fully planned economy enabled an economic boost, but it had by the 1970s begun to stifle economic improvement. Hence the resolute emphasis on liberating the forces of production and on the ‘three benefits’.

This liberation was achieved through what in China is called a ‘socialist market economy’, which will be discussed in detail in a subsequent chapter. The point I seek to make here is that planned and market economies – as components or institutional forms (tizhi) of an overall socialist system (zhidu) – do not cancel each other out in a Chinese context. It is not a case of either-or, as is the tendency in the Western tradition, but both-and: ‘things that contradict each other also complement one another’. Thus, at the time of writing this material we find the emergence of arguments that the Chinese approach is enabling a dialectical sublation (yangqi, the Chinese translation of Aufhebung) or transcendence (chaoyue) of old-fashioned socialist planning and the capitalist market economy (Zhang 2009, 139; Zhou and Wang 2019, 41). In other words, planning has by no means disappeared with the socialist market economy, but has achieved a whole new level of complexity and flexibility (Heilman and Melton 2013).

With this observation in mind, we may understand the emphasis on planning in the final section of Deng’s speech on liberating thought (which has been the focus of this study). Deng introduces this material with the observation: ‘In order to look forward, we must study the new situation and tackle the new problems in good time; otherwise, there can be no smooth progress’. He goes on: ‘In three fields especially, the new situation and new problems demand attention: methods of management, structure of management and economic policy’ (Deng 1978b, 149; 1978a, 159). In what follows this quotation, we find an emphasis on overcoming bureaucratism in management methods, on strengthening the work responsibility system by not relying (and here he quotes Lenin) on collegiate excuses but on rewards and penalties, and on a deliberate policy of uneven development, in which some regions would experience the benefits of liberating productive forces so as to provide role models for others. The third item has its obvious dangers, with resultant discrepancies between richer and poorer regions and the rising polarities that were a distinct problem in the 1990s and 200s. The policies by Xi Jinping and the resolute poverty alleviation campaign in which ‘no-one will be left behind’ may be seen as a necessary correction.

Of most interest in this final discussion is the fact that Deng – the champion of the socialist market economy – focuses resolutely on management and thereby on planning. How is this possible? Do not planned and market economies negate one another? In the Western Marxist tradition this may be the assumption, although in assuming such Western Marxists share the view of the godfather of neo-liberalism, Count Ludwig von Mises (1932, 142): ‘the alternative is still either Socialism or a market economy’. But not in Chinese Marxism, and certainly not in the theory and practice of Deng Xiaoping, or indeed in the further developments that followed in his wake.

To recap: not only are planned and market economies institutional forms (tizhi) or components with an overall socialist system (zhidu), but even more both are planning devices, which may engage dialectically with one another so that they are thoroughly transformed.


Cai Xiaodong, and Pan Shaolong. 2008. “Jiefang sixiang de ‘xianyan shu’ – zhongdu Deng Xiaoping ‘jiefang sixiang, shishiqiushi, tuanjie yizhi xiangqian kan’ jianghua de ganwu”. Anhui sheng zhexue xuehui huiyi lunwen ji 2008 (12): 188–93.

Deng Xiaoping. 1978a. “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future (13 December, 1978)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:150–63. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1978b. “Jiefang sixiang, shishi qiushi, tuanjieyizhi xiangqian kan (1978.12.13)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:140–53. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1980a. “Adhere to the Party Line and Improve Methods of Work (29 February, 1980)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:273–82. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1980b. “Jianchi dang de luxian, gaijin gongzuo fangfa (1980.02.29)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:274–83. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1980c. “Shehuizhuyi shouxian yao fazhan shengchanli (1980.04-05)”. I Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:311–14. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1995.

———. 1980d. “To Build Socialism We Must First Develop the Productive Forces (April-May 1980)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, 310–13. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1982. “Qianshinian wei houshinian zuohao zhunbei (1982.10.14)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 3:16–18. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1985. “Shehuizhuyi he shichang jingji bu cunzai genben maodun (1985.10.23)”. Im Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 3:148–51. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1992. “Zai Wuchang, Shenzhen, Zhuhai he Shanghai deng de de tanhua yaodian (1992.01.18 – 02.21)”. I Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 3:370–83. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

Heilman, Sebastian, and Oliver Melton. 2013. “The Reinvention of Development Planning in China, 1993–2012”. Modern China 39 (6): 580–628.

Mises, Ludwig von. 1932. Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis. Edited by J. Kahane. London: Jonathan Cape, 1936.

Stalin, I.V. 1952. “Ėkonomicheskie problemy sotsializma v SSSR”. In Sochineniia, Vol. 16:154–223. Moscow: Izdatelʹstvo “Pisatelʹ”, 1997.

Zhang Xuekui. 2009. “Shichang jingji yu shehuizhuyi xiang jiehe de sange mingti jiqi zhexue jichu – 30 ninan gaige kaifang de jingji zhexue sikao”. Shehui kexue yanjiu 2009 (3): 134–40.

Zhou Zhishan, and Wang Xing. 2019. “Chanyang xin shidai zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi zhengzhijingjixue de zhexue jichu”. Zhejiang shifan daxue xuebao (shehui kexue ban) 44 (2): 36–43.


1 My translation. See also: ‘Liberating thought should be accompanied by really solving problems … We don’t yet have many comrades who carefully study fresh situations and solve fresh problems and who really use their minds to think out ways of accelerating our advance, the development of the productive forces and the rise in national income or of improving the work of the leading bodies’ (Deng 1980b, 279–80; 1980a, 278). Note also that once thought is liberated, ‘only then can we … fruitfully reform those aspects of the relations of production and of the superstructure that do not correspond with the rapid development of our productive forces, and chart the specific course and formulate the specific policies, methods and measures needed to achieve the four modernizations under our actual conditions’ (Deng 1978b, 140–41; 1978a, 151).

2 My translation.

The superiority of China’s socialist system (World Health Organisation)

By now the superiority of China’s socialist system is apparent to most countries in the world, as well as to the World Health Organisation. As the WHO expert, Bruce Aylward, observes, China’s scientifically based, differentiated and highly coordinated response to the coronavirus outbreak has actually changed the course of the epidemic. We are now at the point where infections are dropping in China, recoveries (also using TCM) are almost 12 times the death rate, and life is beginning to return to normal. And guess what: the majority of countries in the world may already have been impressed with China’s socialist model, but they are even more so now.

I do not usually copy articles from newspapers these days, but this one is worth noting, from Xinhua News.

GENEVA, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) — China has changed the course of the COVID-19 outbreak, Bruce Aylward, an epidemiologist who led an advance team from the World Health Organization (WHO), said here on Tuesday, noting a rapidly escalating outbreak in China has plateaued and come down faster than previously expected.

It’s a unanimous assessment of the 25-member team which has conducted a nine-day field study trip to China’s Beijing, Guangdong, Sichuan and Hubei, stressed Aylward.

Recalling details of the study trip in China, Aylward said he was impressed by China’s pragmatic, systemic and innovative approach to control the COVID-19 outbreak.

China has taken “differentiated approach” for different situations of sporadic cases, clusters of cases, or community transmission, which makes a massive scale of epidemic control work without exhausting its response, said Aylward.

Moreover, the WHO expert praised Chinese phenomenal collective action, stressing “it’s never easy to get the kind of passion, commitment, interest and individual sense of duty that help stop the virus.”

“Every person you talked to (in China) has a sense that they’re mobilized like in a war against the virus and they are organized,” said Aylward, who was particularly impressed by thousands of health care workers volunteering to go into Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Aylward pointed out China has also repurposed machinery of government, for example by forming a central leading group on the epidemic, dispatching a central guiding team, which ensures the prevention and control of the virus.

Besides, Aylward highlighted that China’s pragmatic approach is “technology-powered and science-driven”.

“They are using big data, artificial intelligence (AI) in places,” Aylward said, adding that China has managed massive amounts of data in finding each COVID-19 cases and tracing contacts, as well as been able to make consultation of regular health services done online, by which the capacity of hospitals could be intensively used for COVID-19 cases.

Aylward was aware that China has issued six versions of national treatment guidelines for COVID-19, representing fast scientific evolvement in understanding of the new virus.

“It’s a science-driven agile response as well at a phenomenal scale,” He said.

A Chinese assessment of ‘democratic socialism’

While the eyes of some are watching the curious rise of Bernie Sanders as the potential United States Democratic Party’s candidate for the presidential elections later this year, it is worth stepping back for a moment and asking what ‘democratic socialism’ (as proclaimed by the aforesaid septuagenarian) actually is.

I copy below an assessment from China, published already in 2009:

In recent years, and especially on the eve of the 17th CPC National Congress, the trend of democratic socialist thought has been on the rise. To help people understand the essence of democratic socialism, a group of Marxist scholars and experts, including Xu Chongwen, Zhou Xincheng, Zhang Quanling and Zheng Keyang, published articles on this issue. They agreed that democratic socialism is a reformist trend of capitalism that favors diversity in its guiding ideology, denies the leading position of Marxism, calls for privatisation in the economic system, and negates the dominant position of public ownership. With regard to the political system, democratic socialism advocates a multi-party system and parliamentary democracy, and negates the leadership of the communist party and proletarian dictatorship. As its ultimate goal, democratic socialism favours capitalist reformism, denies the historical impermanence of capitalism and the historical inevitability that human society will eventually evolve into socialism and communism. The scholars’ papers emphasised the fact that socialism with Chinese characteristics combines China’s national conditions with the times and a new form of scientific socialism. Any misinterpretation of the socialist road with Chinese characteristics as a democratic socialist road is groundless and fundamentally wrong.

The source – Marxist Studies in China (2009) – is one of the increasing number of journals publishing Chinese Marxist research in English. The quotation comes from pages 97-98.

Liberating Thought, Part 3: Seeking Truth From Facts

This is the third part of a draft concerning the philosophical basis of Deng Xiaoping Theory. In the previous two parts I dealt with liberating thought as the correct theoretical line and with democratic centralism. The topic here is a crucial feature of Deng theory, seeking truth from facts, which also has an element that must be understood in light of contradiction analysis.

(Deng Xiaoping on his famous ‘Southern Tour’ of 1992)

Comrade Mao Zedong wrote the four-word motto ‘Seek truth from facts’ for the Central Party School in Yan’an, and these words are the quintessence of his philosophical thinking (Deng 1977a, 67; 1977c, 80; see also 1977e, 45; 1977b, 58).

The third contradiction brings us to truth from facts. It is a typical four-character phrase that deploys three homonymic characters. Shís (实事)1 refers to what is an actual happening, a fact, but the word also includes the senses of action and what is practical. Qiúshì (求是) joins the character for ‘seek [qiú]’ with another shì (), now with the meaning of what is and thus what is true. Thus, one must seek truth from actual conditions, what is actually taking place, from – as a breakthrough article in Guangming Daily (Hu 1978) put it – social practice.2

Although the centrality of the slogan is usually attributed to Deng Xiaoping, it actually goes back to Mao Zedong, who first wrote it on a wall in Yan’an during the immensely creative period in the second half of the 1930s. In his published texts, Mao refers to this principle not infrequently, although the focus tended to be on ‘a “seeking-truth-from-facts” work style’ (Deng 1962b, 299; 1962a, 296). Again and again, we find an emphasis on the style of commendable party work by cadres: hard work and plain living, upright and honest in word and deed, able to co-operate with others and resist undesirable practices, acting boldly and resolutely in an experienced and professional manner, and seeking truth from facts through keeping in close contact with the masses. This is, as Deng points out, the ‘Party spirit’ (Deng 1977f, 75; 1977d, 88),3 so much so that it continues today to embody what it means to be a comrade, a member of the Communist Party.4

However, in the late 1970s there was a distinct shift, when truth from facts was raised from being a feature of a cadre’s work-style to a central principle of not only the Reform and Opening-Up, but also the Chinese spirit (jingshen). The moment that marks the shift was a speech at an all-army conference on political work, on 2 June, 1978 (six months before the important speech on liberating thought). Here, Deng (1978h, 113–18; 1978e, 124–29) elaborates precisely on what is meant by truth from facts, and he does so by digging deep into Mao Zedong’s earlier material.5 In a slightly later speech, Deng goes further and provides specific historical examples of how Mao applied truth from facts, whether changing tactics to encircle the cities from the countryside (following Lenin’s principle of the weakest link), or shifting from a struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism, to focusing in peaceful coexistence and working with other countries to ensure peace, or the shift in focus from class struggle as the key to liberating the forces of production (Deng 1978b; 1978c). A major reason for engaging so extensively with Mao’s writings and his actual practice was a struggle over the legacy of Mao Zedong Thought. Would it be letter or spirit? Would it be the ‘two whatevers [liangge fanshi]’, as in ‘‘we will resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave’.6 For Deng and others this was a betrayal of Mao Zedong’s thought, for he was always resolutely opposed to ‘book worship’, including his own work. Instead, argued Deng, the key is seeking truth from facts, for Marxism is not a dogma, as Engels already observed, but a guide to action.

There are a number of layers to Deng’s argument, the first of which is the scientific: socialism is also a scientific endeavour. It is nothing less than scientific socialism, as Engels first formulated it (Engels 1880b; 1880a; 1891). Thorough investigation of the data, formulation of a theoretical framework in response, and then further investigation. Nothing remarkable here, one might think: does not all modern science operate in the same way? The answer is yes and no, for everything turns – and this is the second layer – on the theoretical framework one uses to interpret the scientific data, and indeed on how the framework is transformed in the process. For Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Deng, the framework is of course Marxism. By now it should be obvious that the charge of unreconstructed empiricism, occasionally directed at Mao Zedong at least, is unfounded (Bulkeley 1977; Womack 1982, 32, 77; see the reply by Knight 1990, 24–30). As for the third layer: the method entails a constant dialectical interaction between facts and truth, between data and theory, between practice and philosophy. The ‘integration [xiang jiehe] of theory with practice’ entails that the theories developed in order to solve problems should be ‘tested by being applied in social practice’, even to the extent that instructions from higher units – up to the Central Committee – should be integrated with ‘actual conditions’ (Deng 1978h, 116–18; 1978e, 127–28). In sum, this is a process of ‘proceeding from reality and of integrating theory with practice in order to sum up past experience, analyse the new historical conditions, raise new problems, set new tasks and lay down new guidelines’ (Deng 1978h, 118; 1978e, 128–29).

A further level entails inveighing – as did Mao – against the constant danger of ‘book worship [benbenzhuyi]’ (Mao 1930a; 1930b), which in another parlance may be called ‘Marxology’. The image of those who are fond of trotting out selected texts from Marx, Engels, or even Mao himself instead of actually engaging in some serious investigation of the situation in question may seem like a caricature, but let us pause for a moment and ask: how often does a ‘Western’ Marxist like to cite Marx’s euphoric description of the Paris commune and use it to judge the supposed ‘failure’ of Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese or North Korean socialism? Not only is this habit selective and ignorant of Engels’s important contribution (in which the commune is equated with the hard edge of the proletarian dictatorship), and not only is it made by those with no concrete experience in the hard work of constructing socialism, but it so often falls into the utopian and well-nigh messianic tenor of ‘Western’ Marxism (Losurdo 2017). For those who would peremptorily dismiss China’s effort at constructing socialism, Deng’s invocation to seek truth from facts has a distinct pertinence. Or, as Mao put it in 1930: ‘no investigation, no right to speak’ (Mao 1930a, 109).

The final level of Deng’s extended treatment is embodied best in Mao’s observation: ‘Our party has a tradition of seeking truth from facts, which is to combine the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with China’s reality’ (Mao 1961, 237; see also 1940, 662–63; 1955, 498; 1960). In other words, truth from facts is a basic tenet of socialism with Chinese characteristics. I will have more to say on this question in the conclusion, save to point out here that this central point – around which much speculation has arisen – is simple and easy to understand: Marxism embodies a universal method and truth, but it is meaningless unless one takes the specific conditions, the particular, history, culture and social conditions into account (Deng 1978h, 113; 1978e, 125). These ‘characteristics’ apply to any concrete practice of Marxism. But now we find Deng’s arresting conclusion: this is not merely an ‘application’ of Marxism; instead truth from facts is ‘the basis [jichu] of the proletarian world outlook [wuchan jieji shijieguan] as well as the theoretical basis [sixiang jichu] of Marxism’ (Deng 1978d, 143; 1978a, 153).7 It the point of departure (chufadian), the most fundamental point (genbendian) of Mao Zedong Thought and thus of Marxism.

In earlier posts, I suggested that Deng’s arguments should be seen in light of contradiction theory (as espoused by Mao Zedong). But how does truth from facts relates to the matter of contradictions. Let me put it this way, connecting it with liberating thoughts: if seeking truth from facts means to integrate theory with reality, then liberating thought entails ensuring that thought conforms with reality. Some may ask: how can integrating theory with reality mean the liberation of thought? It sounds like another way of restraining thought: instead of being tied to dogmatism and book worship, it is now bound to reality, to facts. Not only is such an objection framed by an idealist and individualist approach, but it also misses the crucial point: thought needs to be liberated from dogmatism and for creative engagements with factual reality.

By now it should be obvious that the separation of liberating thought and truth from facts into two parts is actually somewhat artificial, for Deng is always keen stress their intimate interconnection. He may have said that liberating thought is ‘primary [shouxian]’, but he also connects it closely with seeking truth from facts. For example, Deng says: ‘Only if we liberate thought, seek truth from facts, proceed from reality [shiji] in everything and integrate [lianxi] theory with reality [shiji]…’. Three of the four phrases concern what is actually happening, reality and practice (shiji can mean both). This intimate connection is expressed even more clearly in another text:

Liberating thought means making our thinking conform [xiangfuhe] to reality – making the subjective [zhuguan] conform to the objective [keguan] – and that means seeking truth from facts. Henceforth, if in all our work we want to seek truth from facts, we must continue to liberate thought (Deng 1980a, 364; 1980b, 359).

The real problem, then, is to be locked into old ways, old dogmatisms developed under different circumstances. One might study carefully – always a useful undertaking – the texts of Marx and Engels, or indeed Lenin, Stalin and Mao, but the risk is that one takes them as iron-clad prescriptions for all situations. Deng’s point here is that such an approach is actually a betrayal of Marxism, for the key is the method itself rather than the specific results arising from the method in specific situations. Marx and Engels sought to analyse the situation in Europe of the second half of the nineteenth century, while Lenin and Stalin did so in Russia (and then the Soviet Union) in the first half of the twentieth century. Mao’s extensive writings responded to and analysed the situation in China in the early to mid-twentieth century. On the way, all of them developed not only solutions to specific problems, but also a robust method that may be described as a historical and dialectical materialist approach of seeking truth from facts.


Bulkeley, Rip. 1977. “On ‘On Practice’”. Radical Philsophy 18: 3–9.

Deng, Xiaoping. 1950a. “Guanyu xinan shaoshu minzu wenti (1950.07.21)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 1:161–71. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1950b. “On the Question of Minority Nationalities in the Southwest (21 July, 1950)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 1:167–76. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1956a. “Guanyu xiugai dang de zhangcheng de baogao (1956.09.16)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 1:212–56. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1956b. “Report on the Revision of the Constitution of the Communist Party of China (16 September, 1956)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 1:217–55. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1961a. “Encourage Thorough and Meticulous Work (23 October, 1961)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 1:282–87. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1961b. “It is Important to Accomplish Our Day-to-Day Work (27 December, 1961)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 1:290–93. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1961c. “Tichang shenru xizhi de gongzuo (1961.10.23)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 1:285–90. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1961d. “Zhongyao de shi zuo hao jingchang gongzuo (1961.12.27)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 1:293–96. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1962a. “Speech Delivered at an Enlarged Working Conference of the Party Central Committee (6 February, 1962)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 1:294–311. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1962b. “Zai kuoda de zhongyang gongzuo huiyi shang de jianghua (1962.02.06)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 1:297–317. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1977a. “Jiaoyu zhanxian de boluan fanzheng wenti (1977.09.19)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:66–71. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1977b. “Mao Zedong Thought Must Be Correctly Understood as an Integral Whole (21 July, 1977)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:55–60. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1977c. “Setting Things Right in Education (19 September, 1977)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:79–84. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1977d. “Speech at a Plenary Meeting of the Military Commission of the Central Committee of the CPC (28 December, 1977)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:85–97. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1977e. “Wanzheng de zhunque de lijie Mao Zedong sixiang (1977.07.21)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:42–47. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1977f. “Zai zhongyang junwei quanti huiyi shang de jianghua (1977.12.28)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:72–84. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1978a. “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future (13 December, 1978)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:150–63. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1978b. “Gaoju Maozedong sixiang qizhi, jianchi shishiqiushi de yuanze (1978.09.16)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:126–28. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1978c. “Hold High the Banner of Mao Zedong Thought and Adhere to the Principle of Seeking Truth from Facts (16 September, 1978)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:137–39. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1978d. “Jiefang sixiang, shishi qiushi, tuanjieyizhi xiangqian kan (1978.12.13)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:140–53. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1978e. “Speech at the All-Army Conference on Political Work (2 June, 1978)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:124–36. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1978f. “Speech at the National Conference on Education (22 April, 1978)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:114–21. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1978g. “Zai quanguo jiaoyu gongzuo huiyi shang de jianghua (1978.04.22)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:103–10. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1978h. “Zai quanjun zhengzhi gongzuo huiyi de jianghua (1978.06.02)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:113–25. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1979a. “Sixiang luxian zhengzhi luxian de shixian yao kao zuzhi luxian lai baozheng (1979.07.29)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:190–93. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1979b. “The Organizational Line Guarantees the Implementation of the Ideological and Political Lines (29 July, 1979)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:197–200. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1980a. “Guanche tiaozheng fangzhen, baozheng anding tuanjie (1980.12.25)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:354–74. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1980b. “Implement the Policy of Readjustment, Ensure Stability and Unity (25 December, 1980)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:350–68. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1980c. “Muqian de xingshi he renwu (1980.01.16)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, 2:239–73. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1980d. “The Present Situation and the Tasks Before Us (16 January, 1980)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:241–72. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

Engels, Friedrich. 1880a. “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 24:281–325. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1989.

———. 1880b. “Socialisme utopique et socialisme scientifique”. In Marx Engels Gesamtaugabe, Vol. I.27:541–82. Berlin: Dietz, 1985.

———. 1891. “Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissenschaft”. In Marx Engels Gesamtaugabe, Vol. I.27:583–627. Berlin: Dietz, 1985.

Hu, Fuming. 1978. “Shijian shi jianyan zhenli de weiyi biaozhun”. Guangming ribao 11 May: 1.

Knight, Nick. 1990. Mao Zedong on Dialectical Materialism: Writings on Philosophy, 1937. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe.

Losurdo, Domenico. 2017. Il marxismo occidentale: Come nacque, come morì, come può rinascere. Rome: Editori Laterza.

Mao, Zedong. 1929a. “Draft Resolution of the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party in the Fourth Red Army (December 1929, at the Gutian Congress in Western Fujian Province)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 3:195–230. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1995.

———. 1929b. “Zhongguo gongchandang hongjun disi jun dijiuci daibiao dahui jueyi’an (1929.12)”. In Mao Zedong wenji, Vol. 1:78–117. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1930a. “Fandui benbenzhuyi (1930.05)”. I Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 1:373–86. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1930b. “Oppose Bookism (May 1930)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 3:419–26. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1995.

———. 1936a. “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War (December, 1936)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 5:465–538. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1999.

———. 1936b. “Zhongguo geming zhanzheng de zhanlüe wenti (1936.12)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 1:170–244. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1937a. “Maodun lun (1937.08)”. In Maozedong xuanji, Vol. 1:299–340. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1937b. “On Contradiction (August, 1937)”. In Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 1:311–47. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1965.

———. 1937c. “On Practice (July, 1937)”. In Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 1:295–309. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1965.

———. 1937d. “Shijian lun (1937.07)”. In Maozedong xuanji, Vol. 1:282–98. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1952.

———. 1940. “Xin minzhuzhuyi lun (1940.01.15)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 2:662–711. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1941a. “Gaizao women de xuexi (1941.05.19)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 3:795–803. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1941b. “Nongcun diaocha de xuyan he ba (1941.03, 04)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 3:789–94. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1941c. “Postscript to Rural Surveys (19 April, 1941)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 7:719–21. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2005.

———. 1941d. “Preface to Rural Surveys (17 March, 1941)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 7:708–10. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2005.

———. 1941e. “Reform Our Study (19 May, 1941)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 7:747–54. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2005.

———. 1942a. “Jingji wenti yu caizheng wenti (1942.12)”. In Mao Zedong wennji, Vol. 2:458–68. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1993.

———. 1942b. “Rectify Our Study Style, Party Style, and Writing Style (Speech Delivered at the Opening Ceremony of the Party School, 1 February, 1942)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 8:17–33. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2015.

———. 1942c. “Zhengdun dang de zuofeng (1942.02.01)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 3:811–29. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

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———. 1953a. “Fandui dangnei de zichanjingji sixiang (1953.08.12)”. I Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 5:90–97. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1977.

———. 1953b. “Oppose the Bourgeois Ideology in the Party (12 August, 1953)”. In The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, Vol. 1:363–75. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1986.

———. 1955. “Zai zibenzhuyi gongshangye shehuizhuyi gaizao wenti zuotanhui shang de jianghua (1955.10.29)”. In Mao Zedong wenji, Vol. 6:493–503. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

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———. 1958b. “Sixty Points on Working Methods: A Draft Resolution from the Office of the Centre of the CPC (2 February, 1958)”. In Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 8:20–34. Secunderabad: Kranti, 2004.

———. 1960. “Zhudongquan laizi shishiqiushi (1960.06.16)”. In Maozedong wenji, Vol. 8:197–99. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1961. “Daxing diaocha yanjiu zhifeng (1961.01.13)”. In Maozedong wenji, Vol. 8:233–38. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

Womack, Brantly. 1982. The Foundations of Mao Zedong’s Political Thought. Honolulu: University of Hawaii.


1 I have added tone markers to indicate how the characters sound.

2 The article was originally published anonymously (‘a special commentator’) and went through many revisions in order to ensure maximum impact. Later revealed to have been written by Hu Fuming, it was framed as a direct challenge to the ‘two whatevers’. Deng refers to the article on a number of occasions as having ‘settled the question’ (Deng 1978d, 152; 1978a, 152–53; 1979a, 190–91; 1979b, 197–98; 1980c, 244; 1980d, 245–46).

3 As Mao puts it already in 1950, it is ‘in accordance with the spirit [jinghshen] of seeking truth from facts’ (Mao 1950, 57; see also 1942a, 458).

4 This emphasis appears throughout Deng Xiaoping’s texts (Deng 1950a, 170; 1950b, 173; 1956a, 247; 1956b, 248; 1961c, 287–88; 1961a, 284–85; 1961d, 293–95; 1961b, 291–92; 1962b, 298, 302, 304, 315; 1962a, 295, 298, 300, 310; 1978g, 106; 1978f, 117; 1978h, 124; 1978e, 134–35).

5 The texts cited and discussed are, from 1929 to 1958: ‘Draft Resolution of the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party in the Fourth Red Army’; ‘Oppose Bookism’; ‘Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War’; ‘On Practice’; ‘On Contradiction’; ‘Preface and Postscript to Rural Surveys’; ‘Reform Our Study’; ‘Rectify Our Rectify Our Study Style, Party Style, and Writing Style’ (this became ‘Rectify the Party’s Style of Work’); ‘Oppose Party Formalism’ (which became ‘Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing’); ‘Combat Bourgeois Ideas in the Party’; ‘ Strengthen Party Unity and Carry Forward Party Traditions’; ‘Sixty Articles on Working Methods (Draft)’ (Mao 1929b; 1929a; 1930a; 1930b; 1936b; 1936a; 1937d; 1937c; 1937a; 1937b; 1941b; 1941d; 1941c; 1941a; 1941e; 1942c; 1942b; 1953a; 1953b; 1956b; 1956a; 1958a; 1958b).

6 The ‘two whatevers’ were proposed in an editorial that was entitled ‘Study the Documents Well and Grasp the Key Link’. It appeared simultaneously on 7 February, 1977, in three newspapers: Renmin Ribao, Hongqi and Jiefangjun Bao. It may be found at

7 Already in 1956 Deng observed: ‘To proceed from reality and seek truth from facts is our fundamental stand as materialists’ (Deng 1956a, 243; 1956b, 244).

Sinistra Publishing takes on Engels and the Foundations of Socialist Governance

This year is of course the 200th anniversary of the birth of Friedrich Engels (on 28 November). It is also the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of Australia, of which I happen to be a member.

So I am extremely pleased to announce that Sinistra Publishing will publish my book, Friedrich Engels and the Foundations of Socialist Governance. Who is Sinistra Publishing? It is a small publishing house in Australia that ‘aims to bring original, refreshing socialist perspectives from across the globe to an English-speaking audience’. It shot to fame in the not-so-distant past by obtaining the rights to translate and publish Domenico Losurdo’s great book, Stalin: The History and Critique of a Black Legend (see my earlier review of book here).

But given that this year is an anniversary in honour of Engels, the book will also appear in Chinese with Renmin University Press in China, as well as in the form of four abridged articles in the Turkish journal İştirakî (Socialism). Hopefully, there will be Portuguese versions of these articles as well, to be published in Brazil.

All of this is quite humbling, since as a rather solitary scholar I often find few avenues to speak and to make my research known. Thankyou to all of these comrades.