Understanding Chinese modernization from perspectives of world history

By SUN LEQIANG / 03-09-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

China’s advanced agricultural civilization over quite a long time span in history shaped its rich traditional culture that benefits China and the world today. Since China declined to be a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, many intellectuals with lofty ideals attempted to find solutions for national independence and strength and prosperity of the country, but all ended in failure. The Communist Party of China (CPC), with radical New Democratic Revolution, successfully addressed this issue, creating the fundamental social conditions for the realization of modernization. 

Rising above cycles of time and history

The incontrovertible historical evidence from China demonstrates that the leadership of the CPC is an intrinsic and indispensable feature of China’s modernization process. This provides a basis for analyzing the fundamental nature of China’s modernization path.

The continuum of the past, the present and the future constitutes the entirety of China. In order to fully grasp the unique characteristics of Chinese modernization and its distinctive significance, we must extend our vision beyond particular historical stages and cycles of time, rise above history and perceive China as a whole with a grand view of history. Chinese modernization is deeply rooted in its fine traditional culture. Without the latter, it is impossible to fully understand the unique characteristics of Chinese modernization. Similarly, we must not discuss the new era or the centenary history of the CPC just in isolation. Instead, place it within the framework of socialist development history. 

Reflecting different world views

From a worldwide perspective, modernization is a common issue facing all nationalities and countries. However, world history has fully proven that Western modernization is merely one such path, bred by the unique social soil of the West. It is essentially a type of capital-centered, polarized modernization with materialist expansion and foreign aggrandizement as well as plunder. 

Compared with the West, Chinese modernization reflects diametrically different world views and values, representing a major innovation for world modernization in terms of both theory and practice. China’s modernization experience shows that there is not only one way to achieve modernization, but many different ways.

General rules and unique features

As General Secretary of the CPC Central Commission Xi Jinping pointed out, solving our own national problems means stronger ability to solve worldwide problems; summarizing Chinese practice well means stronger ability to offer solutions to worldwide problems. In this regard, Chinese modernization has provided more valuable general experience and optimized solutions that offer reference for solving the worldwide problems facing mankind. It also offers unique Chinese wisdom and solutions for mankind to explore better social systems. Therefore, Chinese modernization should not be understood solely on the basis of its particularity, nor should it be distorted as an exception of social development. Otherwise, the significance embodied in Chinese modernization in the universal sense will be erased.

Representing trend of times 

From the overall development trend of human society, the path of Western modernization based on narrow ethno-nationalism and Western-centrism is bound to expose its fundamental defects in the flowing torrents of world history. In this regard, Chinese modernization represents the trend of the times, the trend of the world, and the direction along which human civilization advances. With the continuous evolution of great changes facing the world unseen in a century and the deepening of the contradiction movement in world history, a new pattern that breaks the capitalist system is bound to come, and will definitely come!

Sun Leqiang is an associate professor from the School of Marxism at Nanjing University.

Edited by BAI LE