Word in the CPC for a while has been that preparations are under way for a major transition in China. Until now, China has been in the first or preliminary stage of socialism. But if you study Xi Jinping’s first volume of writings, The Governance of China, you will already find the terminology of ‘socialist modernisation [shehuizhuyi xiandaihu]’, and a ‘moderately well-off society [xiaokang shehui]’. Xiaokang is an old Confucian term that had made its way into Chinese Marxist terminology. It is not the Datong, the ‘Great Harmony’, but a more realistic situation in which the vast majority can feel secure (anquangan) about food, shelter, clothing and well-being.
When will this take place? The target is the period of the Two Centenaries. The first centenary is 100 years since the founding of the Communist Party of China, in 2021, and the second is the founding of the People’s Republic in 2049.
All this is now becoming even more explicit, in preparations for the 19th Congress of the CPC in November this year. These congresses take place every five years, so preparations are under way. Already we find a number of key statements.
First, Xi has declared that socialism with Chinese characteristics is entering a ‘new development stage‘, if not a ‘new historical starting point’. Thus far, Chinese socialism has enabled the transitions from ‘standing-up to becoming better-off to getting stronger’, but now ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics has expanded the pathway to modernization for developing countries, thus providing Chinese wisdom and Chinese solutions to problems facing mankind’.
So what does all this mean in concrete terms? To begin with, a xiaokang society has lifted as many people out of poverty as possible. In the last 40 years, 750 million people lifted out of poverty (one of the greatest human rights achievements of all time), with more than 55 million since 2012. And Xi has made the continuance of this program a cornerstone of his presidency. A shade over 43 million remain in poverty in rural areas, with about 12 million a year making it out of poverty.
It also includes continual overhauling of the medical system, education, fostering supply-side structural reform, reducing overcapacity, dealing with the income gap, and – crucially – clean governance.
If these aims are indeed achieved between 2021 and 2049, then the xiaokang society will indeed have been attained.