What country leads the world in science and innovation?

You have probably guessed already: last year (2019) China lodged 1.54 million patent applications at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (see here). Staggeringly, this is about equal to the rest of the world put together.

By comparison, the United States dropped to 597,141, followed by Japan (313,567) and South Korea (209,992).

Simply put, China is now the world’s major scientific and innovation centre (see here).

This leap by China is in some respects a realisation of Deng Xiaoping’s dream: that the socialist system in China would one day prove to be superior to capitalist systems elsewhere.

Wish I was in China now: Leishenshan (Thunder-god Mountain) hospital completed in 12 days

Unfortunately, I am not in China as I write. I am in Australia, which is fast becoming a small-minded and fearful country once again. I remind myself constantly that the vast majority of countries in the world have expressed solidarity with China in light of the coronavirus outbreak, and that many of them have sent much-needed medical supplies. At the same time, China is – as acknowledged by the World Health Organisation, among others – setting a new global standard for dealing with an epidemic. The world is changing fast, almost as fast as the second (click here for the first) specialist hospital built in Wuhan. Called Leishenshan (Thunder-god Mountain) hospital, it was completed in 12 days and will cater for 1500 acute patients. The secret: China’s socialist system.

Here is a time-lapse video:


Liberating Thought, Part 2: On Democratic Centralism

This is the second part of a draft concerning the philosophical basis of Deng Xiaoping Theory. In the previous part I dealt with liberating thought as the correct theoretical line. I also pointed out that we need to deploy contradiction analysis (deriving from Mao Zedong) in order to make sense of Deng’s arguments – especially as they are found in the key text from 1978, ‘Liberate Thought, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future’.

The second contradiction concerns socialist democracy, which is embodied in the term ‘democratic centralism’, and even more sharply – in Mao’s reinterpretation of the dictatorship of the proletariat – in ‘democratic dictatorship’ (Mao 1949a; 1949b; 1950b, 28; 1950a, 114–15). The core of the theory is not difficult to grasp,1 especially in light of its longer history from the Soviet Union onwards (Li 2010; Li and Wang 2018), although Mao gives it a distinct formulation in terms of contradiction analysis:

Democracy and freedom are both relative, not absolute; both come into existence and develop in the course of history. Within the ranks of the people, democracy is relative to centralization and freedom is relative to discipline. All these are contradictory facets of a unity; they are contradictory and at the same time united. We should not place one-sided emphasis on one aspect while negating the other. Within the ranks of the people, freedom is indispensable, and so is discipline; democracy is indispensable, and so is centralization. Such a unity of democracy and centralization, or freedom and discipline, constitutes our system of democratic centralism (Mao 1957a, 209; 1957b, 314).

Our interest is in what Deng makes of democratic centralism in the context of the late 1970s. He makes a number points, each of which seems somewhat lapidary on the surface, but has significant implications: a) an over-emphasis on centralism requires a correction in the direction of greater democracy; b) in relation to economic democracy, greater decision making powers, and thus innovation, should be devolved to enterprises, provinces and counties; c) greater scope should be given for elections, management and supervision by workers, which would lead to greater responsibility; d) a comprehensive legal system should be developed that enshrines democratic realities and responsibilities.

To begin with, the correction towards greater democratic involvement may, on a cursory reading, suggest a ‘golden mean’ approach, in which one searches for a reasonable balance between two poles of democratic centralism. Not quite, For Deng actually points out that centralism is not strengthened but weakened without a healthy dose of democracy. Therefore, ‘we must exercise democracy to the full so as to enable proper centralism’ (Deng 1978b, 143). Obviously, we are in the territory of contradiction analysis, where the one strengthens the other by its full exercise. A little later, Deng would – invoking Mao Zedong – elaborate on the contradictory unity of democratic centralism: ‘We practise democratic centralism, which is the integration of centralism based on democracy with democracy under the guidance of centralism’. While this integral element of the socialist system focuses on the collective and the greater socialist good, it entails a unity of contradictions, a ‘unity of personal interests and collective interests, of the interests of the part and those of the whole, and of immediate and long-term interests’ (Deng 1979b, 175–76; 1979d, 183).

Further, the emphasis on economic democracy, on creative decision making at levels (see also Deng 1979a, 195, 197; 1979c, 202–3; 1980b, 280; 1980a, 278–79), should be seen in light of the interactions between the two components, or institutional forms, of market and planned economies in a socialist system. This point is dealt with more fully in my study of the socialist market economy (which Deng assiduously promoted), but here the key is that while a planned economy may give greater scope for centralised planning, a market economy has a greater tendency to foster decentralised initiative.

As for elections and responsibility, here we broach the fascinating development of de-politicised elections. By ‘de-politicised’ or ‘non-political’ elections – a concept that derives from Marx and Engels (Boer In press) – is meant the fact that elections are not the manifestation of class conflict in antagonistic political parties, but that elections are based on qualifications, expertise and merit for positions.

Finally, there is the matter of a legal framework, concerning which the deeper issue is captured in Deng’s observation that formerly ‘what leaders say is taken as the law and anyone who disagrees is called a law-breaker’. Thus, such a ‘law changes whenever a leader’s views change’ (Deng 1978b, 146; 1978a, 156). Here Deng is anticipating the whole development of a socialist rule of law (fazhi – 法治), which I have discussed elsewhere. The key opposite term is ‘rule of a human being’ (renzhi), which would come to be equated with ‘rule by law’ (fazhi – 法制). Clearly, Deng finds the latter unacceptable, at least in the late 1970s with some 30 years of the construction of socialism behind them. This rule by human beings, or rule by law, had once again come to the fore during the Cultural Revolution and caused untold havoc. Hence the urging for developing a comprehensive legal system.

The next post will focus on seeking truth from facts, which is the proletarian world outlook as well as the theoretical basis of Marxism. Put sharply: if seeking truth from facts means to integrate theory with reality, then liberating thought entails ensuring that thought conforms with reality.


Boer, Roland. In press. Friedrich Engels and the Foundations of Socialist Governance. Beijing: Renmin University Press.

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.

———. 1979a. “Guanyu jingji gongzuo de jidian yijian (1979.10.04)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:194–202. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1979b. “Jianchi sixiang jiben yuanze (1979.03.30)”. In Deng Xiaoping wenxuan, Vol. 2:158–84. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008.

———. 1979c. “Some Comments on Economic Work (4 October, 1979)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:201–8. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 1979d. “Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles (30 March, 1979)”. In Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2:168–91. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995.

———. 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.

Fewsmith, Joseph. 2012. “China Politics Twenty Years Later”. I Socialism Vanquished, Socialism Challenged: Eastern Europe and China, 1989-2009, edited by Nina Bandelj and Dorothy Solinger, 44–59. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Li Weidong. 2010. “Lun Liening minzhujizhongzhi sixiang zai Sulian de lishi yanbian jiqi xianshi”. Shehuizhuyi yanjiu 2010 (2): 31–34.

Li, Zhijun, and Wang Yizhe. 2018. “Zhongguo gongchandang minzhujizhongzhi sixiang de lishi yanjin”. Makesizhuyi yanjiu 2018 (6): 117-23 + 160.

Mao Zedong. 1949a. “Lun renmin minzhu zhuanzheng (1949.06.30)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, 4:1468–82. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe.

———. 1949b. “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship: In Commemoration of the Twenty-Eighth Anniversary of the Communist Party of China (30 June, 1949)”. In Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 4:411–24. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1961.

———. 1950a. “Closing Speech at the Second Session of the National Committee of the CPPCC (23 June, 1950)”. In The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, edited by John K. Leung and Michael Y. M. Kau, Vol. 1:111–15. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1986.

———. 1950b. “Zuo yige wanquan de geming pai (1950.06.23)”. In Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 5:25–29. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1977.

———. 1957a. “Guanyu zhengque chuli renmin neibu maodun de wenti”. In Maozedong wenji, Vol. 7:204–44. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1999.

———. 1957b. “On Correctly Handling Contradictions Among the People”. In The Writings of Mao Zedong 1949-1976, edited by John Leung and Michael Kau, 2:308–51. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1992.

Weller, Robert. 2012. “Responsive Authoritarianism and Blind-Eye Governance in China”. I Socialism Vanquished, Socialism Challenged: Eastern Europe and China, 1989-2009, edited by Nina Bandelj and Dorothy Solinger, 83–99. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


1. It is therefore quite puzzling why foreign observers often fail to understand democratic centralism and the nature of socialist democracy. They tend to deploy the authoritarian-democratic distinction, which is drawn from the Western liberal arsenal, but at a specific level they fail to understand how socialist democratic practices actually work. A good example is the development of local village elections, which they postulate arose in the 1990s in response to political pressure, but which has ‘failed’ to bring about the perceived need for bourgeois democracy (Fewsmith 2012, 52–55; Weller 2012). These superficial analyses (often based on newspaper articles) fail on a number of counts: organic democracy is the oldest form of democracy known to human societies and has been transformed – as Engels already foreshadowed – in light of socialist governance; it works within a larger structure of direct and indirect elections; and it is a clear embodiment of democratic centralism, and not a hierarchical ‘party controls the cadres [党管干部]’ or ‘responsive authoritarianism’.

Liberating Thought: The Basis of Deng Xiaoping Theory

The first chapter of my book, Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, begins with an explication of Deng Xiaoping Theory. It is rare indeed to find a foreigner actually engage in detail with Deng’s texts, let alone the swathe of Chinese scholarship surrounding his work. But this is my task.

In the next few posts, I provide excerpts from early drafts of the chapter. I will present the drafts – in sequence – of four constructive topics, which should be understood in light of contradiction analysis (derived from Mao). Why undertake this task? If you want to understand China today, you need to understand Deng Xiaoping and his theory.

My initial focus is a key text from 1978: ‘Liberate Thought,1 Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future’. In a China only beginning to come to terms with Cultural Revolution, the speech was like a clap of ‘spring thunder [chunlei]’ (Cai and Pan 2008, 188), waking people from their ideological torpor and promising the nourishing rains of spring. I am particularly interested in what may be called ‘liberation for socialism’.

The main points of this liberation may be summarised as follows: 1) liberating thought is the correct ideological line; 2) it requires a healthy exercise of socialist democracy, both political and economic; 3) it is the basis of the proletarian world outlook, now embodied in seeking truth from facts; 4) in providing the impetus to innovation, to generating new ideas and new ways, it entails a dialectical transformation of liberating the forces of production and economic planning.

Each of these points entails a contradiction, which should be approached from the perspective of contradiction analysis, as it was initially elaborated by Mao Zedong. At the intersections between the long tradition of Chinese thought and Marxist philosophy, Mao developed – initially in his 1937 Yan’an lectures (1937a; 1937b) – a multifaceted analysis that he later revised and published (1937c), along with a crucial follow-up piece on correctly handling contradictions among the people (1957). For our purposes, the following features of Mao’s analysis are pertinent: each contradiction contains an opposition that is also complementary; while contradictions under a capitalist system are antagonistic and lead eventually to revolution, under socialism contradictions should be non-antagonistic; any situation has multiple contradictions and their relations to one another constantly change in light of changing circumstances, so one always needs to assess the situation carefully and scientifically so as to be able to manage these contradictions. Let us see how Deng deals with the contradictions embodied in each of the points summarised above.

In this light, let us begin with the first contradiction: liberating thought is all about the correct ‘line of thought [sixiang luxian]’, or – as the official English translation puts it – the correct ideological line. To quote Deng: the ‘debate about the criterion for testing truth is really a debate about the theoretical line [sixiang luxian], about politics, about the future and the destiny of our Party and nation’ (Deng 1978b, 143; 1978a, 153). Obviously, we are far from any Western liberal free-for-all, a thought-for-thought’s sake that is supposedly free from any ideological interference, except liberalism itself. Instead, for Deng liberating thought is at one and the same time the correct theoretical line, particularly if we keep in mind that the line in question is the living tradition of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. Even more, it is only on this basis that it becomes possible to develop the tradition further.

We may understand this approach in terms of three related aspects: a) the very definition of the tradition is to liberate thought, for it is a living tradition rather than one ossified and dogmatically fixed on texts of the past; b) one can liberate thinking only on the basis of Marxist-Leninism; c) only through liberating thought can this theoretical line develop even further. New problems demand new solutions, which Marx and Engels, and indeed Lenin and Stalin, did not experience and could not foresee. It is not for nothing that liberating thought is the ‘beginning point’ or ‘primary task’ [shouxian]: ‘When it comes to liberating thought, using our heads, seeking truth from facts and uniting as one in looking to the future, the primary task is to liberate thought’ (Deng 1978b, 140; 1978a, 151).

A specific and sharp example may help in understanding this contradiction: Deng’s invocation of the Yan’an Rectification Movement of 1942-1945. As Deng writes, ‘Comrade Mao Zedong said this time and again [fanfu] during the rectification movements [zhengfeng yundong]’ (Deng 1978b, 143; 1978a, 153). Said what? Mao too urged repeatedly the danger of ossified thinking and book-worship (Mao 1942d; 1942c; 1942a; 1942b), observing at one point: ‘a prerequisite for maintaining close links with the masses and making fewer mistakes is to examine one’s baggage, to get rid of it, and to liberate one’s spirit [ziji de jingshen huode de jiefang]’ (Mao 1944b, 947; 1944a, 692). The anticipation of liberating thought should be obvious, although Mao uses jingshen, spirit or vital energy, rather than thought (sixiang).

This move by Deng is highly significant, for it is not the only occasion he sought to connect with the Mao from before the deviation of the 1960s and 1970s (even if the Gang of Four are so often the culprits). In other words, Deng argues strongly that he is continuing the correct line that runs not only from Mao before his deviation, but also from Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. And it is precisely this line, this tradition, which requires periodic rectification and even purging, to provide the foundation for and foster liberated thinking. In turn, liberating thought becomes the primary means for enabling the line to continue on its creative path.

In the next post, I will deal with economic democracy (second point mentioned earlier).


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”. 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.

Mao Zedong. 1937a. “Bianzheng weiwu lun”. In Mao Zedong ji, Bujuan, redigeret af Takeuchi Minoru, 5:187–280. Tokyo: Sōsōsha, 1983-1986.

———. 1937b. “Bianzhengfa weiwu lun (jiangshou tigang)”. In Mao Zedong ji, redigeret af Takeuchi Minoru, 6:265–305. Tokyo: Hokubasha, 1970-1972.

———. 1937c. “Maodun lun (1937.08)”. In Maozedong xuanji, Vol. 1:299–340. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1952.

———. 1942a. “Guanyu zhengdun sanfeng (1942.04.20)”. In Mao Zedong quanji, Vol. 2:411–23. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1993.

———. 1942b. “On the Rectification of the Three Styles (1942.04.20)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 8:81–91. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2015.

———. 1942c. “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.

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

———. 1944a. “Our Study and the Current Situation (12 April, 1944)”. In Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, Vol. 8:679–95. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2015.

———. 1944b. “Xuexi he shiju (1944.04.12)”. I Mao Zedong xuanji, Vol. 3:937–51. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2009.

———. 1957. “Guanyu zhengque chuli renmin neibu maodun de wenti”. In Maozedong wenji, Vol. 7:204–44. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1999.

1 Translation modified. With jiefang sixiang I prefer to stay a little closer to the Chinese: liberate thought.

Huoshenshan (Fire God Mountain) Hospital completed today, ahead of schedule

Never let a crisis go to waste: the Chinese are clearly making the most of the COVID-19 outbreak to show the world what they can do these days. Earlier, I have noted that they call this ‘Chinese speed’. About 80 years ago, Stalin called it ‘Bolshevik tempo’. Only a socialist system can do this.

Below are two time-lapse videos, tracking the way Huoshenshan (Fire God Mountain) Hospital was built in 9 days – 3 days ahead of schedule. As I write, it is being handed over to the PLA’s medical corps to deal with coronavirus patients in Wuhan. The other hospital – Leishenshan (Thunder God Mountain) – will be ready soon.

What is the best way to deal with human-animal disease cycles?

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 set me thinking about human-animal disease cycles. This is a problem as old as human communities.

About 12,000 years ago, human beings began the long process of moving towards collective living in villages. It took a long time, perhaps 4,000 years, and entailed the slow domestication of animals and plants. During this period, hunting remained a crucial feature in human food supply – what we now call ‘game’ meat. Why so long? Domestication takes some effort: originally wild animals need to mutate, through restriction of movement, controlled breeding, regulation of feeding, and extension of lactation. The first animals – in Asia, which usually leads human development – were what we now know as domesticated sheep and goats. In the process of mutation, wool became longer and more amenable to human use (by selective breeding through which plucking during annual moulting gave way to non-moulting wool that could be shorn), and the animals became smaller than their wild relatives. Meanwhile, hunting of the gazelle, onager, aurochs, hare, fox, and wild sheep and goats continued for a long time alongside the herding of domesticated animals, but the shift had been made.

However, this process of collective and semi-settled living and domestication of animals (and plants) also brought with it a whole series of new diseases. Why? Many diseases require different hosts for their life cycles, and with human beings and animals living in close proximity, humans became more and more part of the cycles. To be sure, this was already the case with the hunting of wild animals, in which the eating of ‘game’ meat brought its own risks. But with daily interaction between human beings and sheep, goats, pigs (where water was plentiful) and the rare bovine, a series of new diseases arose. Plagues were common, small populations were regularly decimated, and life expectancy was short (about 30 years).

In our world, we are supposed to have overcome these ‘primitive’ realities. Not so.

Hunting is still common in many parts, especially for ‘real men’. In the United States, Canada and Australia – for example – you can (with a gun license) go out and shoot wildlife, cut it up, take it home and eat it. Go to a fancy restaurant in Sydney or Copenhagen and you can buy an expensive dish of ‘game’ meat. Or go to the simplest barbeque, and it will be the men who stand around the barbeque cooking the ‘kill’ (even if it comes from a butcher).

In regard to disease cycles between domesticated animals and human beings, these continue to abound. Think of the ‘swine flu’ (H1N1), of which the most recent version appeared in North America in 2009, especially the United States of America. Or the avian influenza, which makes its way from the wild bird population, into the domestic bird population, and into human beings. Or the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which appears to have entered into the human population in 2012 via camels (and perhaps originally bats).

As for transmission from the ‘wild’ population, we have of course the coronavirus (influenza) from bats with both SARS and the recent Novel Coronavirus. But more notable is HIV/AIDS, which came through from primates into human beings and became a pandemic, originating in the United States.

Obviously, these disease cycles are a reality of human communities and their association with animals. They will continue as long as these two realities continue, so the question is how one deals with them. Let me take two comparable examples, one negative and one positive.

The first is the outbreak of ‘swine flu’ (H1N1), which appeared first in the United States (or perhaps Mexico). The World Health Organisation initially called it ‘North American Influenza’. The response by the regime in the United States was shambolic and slow. Schools remained open, workplaces did not use face masks, and U.S. airlines took virtually no measures, relying instead on previous and ineffective practices of looking for individuals with flu-like symptoms, not providing face masks even for cabin crew, and relying on the aircraft’s air-cleaning systems. Other airlines did take measures, especially from Eastern Asia. I recall arriving in Shanghai in 2009, and before we were allowed to disembark, all passengers were checked by health officials (one passenger had a temperature and those up to three seats around were quarantined). Perversely, the U.S. regime issued a travel warning for ‘restrictive’ measures instituted by Chinese medical experts. The result: by the time the pandemic had run its course, about 30,000 people died in the United States and up to 579,000 worldwide.

Obviously, this is an example of how not to deal with an outbreak.

Ten years later, we have the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in China. In this case, the Chinese government moved quickly, mobilising all of the state’s significant resources to contain the outbreak, communicating directly with WHO on a daily basis and sharing all information. Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, went into lock-down, all post Spring Festival travel was halted across a country of 1.4 billion, and from villages to cities people undertook the necessary measures to contain the virus’s spread. How was this possible? It has nothing to do with ‘authoritarian’ measures, but everything to do with the primary focus in China on the common good. Everyone contributes. The outcome: at the time of writing, about 10,000 people have been infected, only those with underlying conditions have died (in the low hundreds), and more and more leave hospital after recovering – and this is before a vaccine has been developed.

So effective were the measures that the World Health Organisation promoted them as a new model for dealing with diseases arising from the human-animal cycle (see also here).