President Xi Jinping Reveals A New Principal Contradiction For China

Identification of the ‘principal contradiction’ in China has always been a very important event, as the Chinese history clearly shows. The last major change in its perceived ‘principal contradiction’ – a concept derived by Mao from the Marxist ‘dialectic materialism’- changed the trajectory of Chinese economy, enabling it to adopt market process without giving up the socialist ideology. How the new ‘contradiction’ affects Chinese future, will be a big topic of debate…
President XI Jinping Reveals a New Principal Contradiction for China
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOpening_ceremony_of_19th_National_Congress_of_the_Communist_Party_of_China_(VOA).jpg)

Those who are familiar with Chinese history understand the importance that a change of stated ‘principal contradiction’ by the Chinese Leadership can have not only for the Chinese economy and polity, but also the world at large. With an eleven trillion dollar economy, whatever happens in China can affect the rest of the world, whether we like it or not.

The Concept and Meaning of ‘Principal Contradiction’

‘Principal contradiction’ is a fairly common phrase within China, and those who study its economic and politics understand it and its importance. Its origin lies in the views formed by Mao Zedong in 1937, where

he derived his theory of contradictions and their consequences from the Marxist concept of ‘dialectical materialism’ that refers to the opposition of social forces. Marx used it to explain the contradiction between the two social classes, the capitalists and the proletariat, and predicted it to be unsustainable, with economic crisis and revolution as inevitable results. Mao further elaborated the concept by focusing on the centrality and universality of contradiction in everything that exists in this universe, like life and death, victory and defeat, or unhappiness and joy, such that one cannot exist without the other. He recognized contradictions as an eternal feature of everything, but differentiated it from antagonism, which inevitably leads to conflict, where one survives and the other is eliminated. On the other hand in a non-antagonistic conflict, the differences can be resolved without a conflict by working out solutions.

As per Mao, the universal contradictions are primary source of all identities and differentiate one from another. He also explained that several contradictions can be there at the same time, for example, the contradictions between imperialism and the colonies, and the capitalists versus labor, and that only one of them can be considered the ‘principal contradiction’ at a given point of time. These different contradictions can interchange places in hierarchy, and one that was less important earlier can become more important later on in a given situation.

Major Changes in the ‘Principal Contradiction’ in Chinese history & its Enormous Consequences

The ‘principal contradiction’ is one that needs to be dealt with at all cost, and in preference to all other contradictions. This single-mindedness in resolving the ‘principal contradiction’ makes it one of the most important theoretical and ideological assertions in Chinese State philosophy. The instances where Chinese leadership publicly admitted or declared a change in its perceived ‘principal contradiction’ invariably marked the beginning of a new phase in Chinese history, with historical consequences.

The historical precedents make the declaration of a ‘new’ principal contradiction by President Xi Jinping in the opening address of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing on 18 October, 2017 a very significant development.

The first ‘principal contradiction’ identified and put forward by Mao Zedong as long back as in 1937, was the ‘social struggle between the warring classes, i.e. the landowners and peasantry’, largely an adaptation of the ‘struggle between the working class or proletariat and the bourgeoisie’ as identified in Marxist-Leninist theories. Addressing it remained the primary goal of the Chinese leadership till 1957.

In a speech given on 27 February, 1957, Mao further elaborated his concept of ‘principal contradiction’ in following words:

“Contradictions in a socialist society are fundamentally different from those in the old societies, such as capitalist society. In a capitalist society contradictions find expression in acute antagonism and conflicts, in sharp class struggle; they cannot be resolved by the capitalist system itself and can only be resolved by socialist revolution. The case is quite different with contradictions in socialist society; on the contrary, they are not antagonistic and can be ceaselessly resolved by the socialist system itself”

Resulting from these ideological viewpoints of Mao, an editorial in Peoples’ Daily on 2 May, 1957, which is widely believed to be reflecting his view, stated:

Following the decisive victory in socialist transformation, the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in our country has already been basically resolved, and the previous several thousand years of history of a system of class exploitation has been basically concluded.

This editorial also indicated that the principal contradiction now was between the reality of a backward country and the demand to build an advanced country, which indicated a shift towards economic prioritization, but that did not happen, as during the next couple of years, the ‘principal contradiction’ shifted once again to the ‘taming of a hostile class consisting of the imperialism, feudalism, bureaucratic capitalism, the rightist and their agents, along with opportunistic  sympathizers’. In a speech

given in Chengdu on 6 April, 1958 to the Hankou Conference, Mao declared that reforming this class, which constituted about 5% of the population or about 30 million, was an unfinished priority. This change in policy led to the “Social Revolution” that was relentlessly carried over in China over the next two decades, with rather disastrous results.

In 1981, the Communist Party of China (CPC) adopted the ‘the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people versus backward social production’ as the ‘principal contradiction’ in its 12th National Congress, a historical shift, which halted the persecution of intellectuals, shifted the focus away from class struggles and social wars, and made economic development the first priority for the Chinese leadership.

The rest, as they say, is history!

The identification of the new principal contradiction in 1981 paved the way for China to adopt the market based economic efficiencies, without giving up its fundamental ideologies of communism and socialism. Once a ‘principal contradiction’ is clearly identified, it is the foremost priority, and must be addressed without being diluted by the presence of other contradictions. Once the primary focus of Chinese Government became the bridging of the gap between the backwardness of Chinese economy and its aspiration for development, the other contradiction, like those between capitalist and communist theory became secondary. Following Mao’s theory on contradictions, this ideological contradiction between capitalist means and socialist ideology was not an antagonistic contradiction and could be addressed later by the society, after the ‘principal contradiction’ has been assressed.

The New ‘Principal Contradiction’ for the ‘Future Era’

During the October, 2017 Congress, Xi Zinping not only declared a ‘new’ principal contradiction, he also reported the decision of the CPC to opt for a two stage development plan that will lead China to a “great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful”.

The new ‘principal contradiction’ that will remain central to the Chinese leadership henceforth would be the existing gap “between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life”. This practically translates into improving the lot of people who are yet to catch up with the benefits of economic developments in China. It may also include the aspirations for the people for a better quality of life in general, in particular, in respect of health, education, technology, infrastructure and employment. How exactly the Chinese government goes ahead with this new policy goal will gradually become clear as more details and explanations begin to emerge from the current session.

The New Principal Contradiction & New Chinese Era: Real and Feasible?

China has always been very cautious about its stated goals, and one should not expect that the public reports will give out any clues about how it plans to deal with the rest of the world. However, when it comes to dealing with its own people, there is a clear acknowledgement this time that the people are aspiring for the moon, not only in economic terms but in political terms too, and fulfilling their aspirations would be the topmost priority for the Chinese leadership in years to come.

The ‘principal contradiction’ serves as a kind of ‘Vision and Mission’ statement, when it comes to various government agencies in China. It clearly establishes where the priorities are. Hence, it is bound to aid in shifting focus on people’s aspirations. To what extent China would actually be able to achieve those aspirations is something that only time will be able to tell us. However, at this stage, there is little to make the world doubt about its abilities.



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  • goldstay  25-10-2017
    Therefore, the principal contradiction is one that is based from a communist idea. Thank you for sharing.
    reply 0
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