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The People Are Masters of the Country

By Ju Li Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2020-03-20

Seventy years ago, Chen Yuan, a famous historian and president of Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing (known then as Peiping) who "used to be indifferent to politics," wrote the following based on what he heard, saw, and felt: "Since its liberation, Peiping has welcomed a new army, which is the people's army, and witnessed the establishment of a new government, which is the people's government. All of these new things belong to the people. I am in my seventies, and I am now finally seeing a new society that has never existed before in history—one that truly belongs to the people." "This is different from previous dynastic changes, and is indeed an earth-shaking transformation with no precedent in history." 

The Chinese people have long pursued the ideal that the people should be masters of their own country and all things should belong to the people. Since its founding, the CPC has striven tirelessly to create a new society in which the people would become masters of the country.

After 28 years of struggle and sacrifice, the CPC finally brought about the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Now that they had been liberated and become masters of the country, where would the Chinese people begin in order to build their new country and new society? What kind of institutional framework would the CPC set up to guarantee the people's position as masters of the country?

Chinese Communists have lived up to the people's expectations, uniting and leading them in creating systems that guarantee their role as masters of the country. They have established and consolidated a set of socialist political systems with distinctive Chinese characteristics, which includes the state system of a people's democratic power led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and farmers, the system of people's congresses as the system of state power, the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC, the system of regional ethnic autonomy, and the system of community-level self-governance.

Over the past 70 years, historic changes that have taken place in China have proven that this set of systems represents a new type of state system that the CPC has established by integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China's realities in order to effectively secure the people's position as masters of the country. As an institutional guarantee that has allowed the new China to achieve rapid economic development and long-term social stability over seven decades, this set of systems has increasingly demonstrated its incomparable superiority and strong vitality, providing a new option for developing countries that wish to realize modernization, and contributing Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to humanity's search for better social systems.


Celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC were held at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019. The military parade was followed by a public parade with the theme of "Building the Chinese Dream Together." The public parade was divided into three sections: "Building the People's Republic," "Reform and Opening Up," and "Great Rejuvenation." A total of 100,000 people participated in this spectacular event, with 70 floats in 36 different formations. Pictured here is a float in the "Masters of the Country" formation with huge sculptures that depict the classic scene of people's deputies emerging proudly from the Great Hall of the People. PHOTO PROVIDED BY VISUAL CHINA

I. A solid foundation for the people's role as masters of the country

On March 23, 1949, the CPC Central Committee, led by Mao Zedong and others, left Xibaipo for Peiping, setting up their headquarters at the Fragrant Hills in the city's western suburbs. It was here that the great call to "cross the Yangtze River and liberate the whole of China" was sounded, the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was drafted, the state system of the new China was initially established, and a grand blueprint for building the country was drawn.

As early as 1940, in his article "On New Democracy," Mao Zedong gave deep thought to the state system of the new China in the future, believing that "the proletariat, the peasantry, the intelligentsia and the other sections of the petty bourgeoisie constitute the basic forces determining China's fate," and that they "will necessarily become the basic components of the state and governmental structure in the democratic republic of China, with the proletariat as the leading force."

Mao Zedong's views on the state system reflected the will of the people throughout the country, and were recognized in the Common Program of the CPPCC, which served as an interim constitution: "The People's Republic of China is a new-democratic or a people's democratic state. It carries out the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class, based on the alliance of workers and farmers, and uniting all democratic classes and all ethnic groups in China." This statement clearly proclaimed that the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people had become masters of the People's Republic, taking control of their destiny for the first time in China's history stretching back thousands of years.

The state system in which the people act as masters of the country may seem like just another political term to some people today. However, if we look back on history, we can see that building a people's democratic government was actually an extraordinarily difficult process.

Before the founding of the PRC in 1949, China's quest for democracy had been hobbled by the misery of autocracy for a century. After the Opium War of 1840, a number of progressive Chinese intellectuals actively attempted to learn from Western capitalist countries in search of an approach to democracy. Sun Yat-sen led the Revolution of 1911 to overthrow China's millennia-old feudal autocracy and establish the first republican government in Chinese history—the Republic of China, but ended up "buying a fake republic at the cost of money and lives beyond count." Meanwhile, imperialist powers flaunting "democracy, freedom, and human rights" were only taking advantage of China's poverty and weakness to invade and plunder our country. In light of this, insightful people in China became disillusioned with the Western system, and the plan to build a bourgeois republic went utterly bankrupt in the eyes of the Chinese people.

What kind of democratic government should be established in China if we are to liberate the overwhelming majority of the people and turn them into masters of the country? Chinese Communists have never stopped making inquiries in this regard, not even for a moment.

At an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee held in Xibaipo in September 1948, Mao Zedong offered a clear description of the new China's state system: "The class nature of our government is like this: it is a people's democratic dictatorship led by the proletariat and based on the alliance of workers and farmers, involving not only workers and farmers but also bourgeois democrats." He also stressed that since our state system is a people's democratic dictatorship, the word "people" must be added to the names of governments at all levels and of various bodies of state power.

The First Session of the First National People's Congress (NPC) held in September 1954 marked the adoption of the Constitution of the PRC, which had been widely discussed by people across the country. The Constitution confirmed China's state system as "a people's democratic state led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and farmers." A new version of the Constitution of the PRC adopted at the Fifth Session of the Fifth NPC in December 1982 stipulated: "The People's Republic of China is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and farmers." China's state system has thus been clearly defined in its Constitution.

In the historical journey toward the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, the CPC and the Chinese people have integrated the basic tenets of Marxism with China's realities to carve out a new path for realizing people's democracy.

II. The highest form through which the people's position as masters of the country is realized

Deep in the Taihang Mountains, there is a small village called Xigou, which is the hometown of recent Medal of the Republic recipient Shen Jilan. In her home, there are two walls covered with photos that show the development course of the people's congress system. In the earliest photo from the First NPC, she is a 25-year-old girl with bows in her braids, while in the latest photo from the 13th NPC held in 2018 she is a wrinkled yet healthy-looking 90-year-old deputy. Due to the length of her service, Shen Jilan has been called a "living relic" of the people's congress system.

What kind of system could enable an ordinary farmer to remain at the center of the national political arena for 65 years and exercise power on behalf of the people?

In his important speech at the ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the NPC, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that implementing the system of people's congresses in China represents a great innovation of the Chinese people in the history of world political systems, a basic conclusion drawn from the painful lessons of China's political life since modern times began, the result of Chinese society's dramatic transformation and surging development over more than a century, and the Chinese people's inevitable choice after they became masters of the country and took their destiny into their own hands.

History has vividly demonstrated the profound meaning of this great innovation Xi Jinping mentioned in his speech.

After the Revolution of 1911, China for a time emulated the so-called parliamentary system and "separation of powers" practiced by bourgeois states in Europe and America, but in the end these proved to be nothing more than tricks used by politicians to fool the people. Dong Biwu, who once joined the Chinese Revolutionary League (Tongmenghui), gave an incisive description of this situation: "Under the old-democratic parliamentary system, a part of the bourgeoisie, who are in power, allows another part, the so-called opposition, to stand at the podium and speak some empty words, with the former keeping a firm grip on administrative powers and acting in the interest of their rule. This is a deceptive system whereby exploiting classes brazenly play tricks and share the spoils in front of the general public." Such deceptive tricks discredited the parliamentary system and "separation of powers" of Western bourgeois states in modern China. Even intellectuals who used to be keen on this system were disappointed, considering it to be yet another vehicle for political corruption and election manipulation.


A float in the "Democracy and Rule of Law" formation of the parade featuring the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. The star and circle represent the ceiling of the Great Hall of the People where the Constitution was adopted, while the golden hands holding it up represent our determination to safeguard people's democracy and our commitment to upholding the Constitution and the law. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER LIU XIAO

It was by comparing and drawing on the historical experiences of China and other countries that Chinese Communists decided that, instead of implementing Western parliamentary system and "separation of powers," the new China should adopt a system of state power suited to its conditions, which is the system of people's congresses based on democratic centralism. At the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee held in September 1948, there was discussion about what kind of state power system should be established in the new China. Mao Zedong said, "Should we adopt the parliamentary system or democratic centralism for the organization of state power? We used to call it the soviet congress… but now we use the term 'people's congress.' We will employ democratic centralism instead of the bourgeois parliamentary system. The parliamentary system that Yuan Shikai and Cao Kun adopted has been discredited." At the First Plenary Session of the CPPCC held in 1949, which performed the functions of the later NPC, the Common Program of the CPPCC was adopted, making it clear that the system of people's congresses is the system of state power in the PRC.

This is a completely new system. In the history of China, there has never been anything like the system of people's congresses, which allows the vast majority of the Chinese people to enjoy full democracy and broadly participate in the administration of state affairs.


The "Ethnic Solidarity" formation during the National Day parade. Participants of various ethnic groups joined hands as they sang and danced together. The striking pomegranate-shaped vase on this float represents the idea that all China's ethnic groups are joined closely together like seeds in a pomegranate. They stand together through thick and thin, because all 56 of them are part of the same family. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER LI XIAOGUO 

In September 1949, the famous sociologist Professor Fei Xiaotong wrote the following passionate words after attending a meeting of representatives from all walks of life in Peiping: "I stepped into the venue and saw many people, wearing uniforms, work clothes, Chinese jackets and dresses, Western suits, and long gowns, and even one with an old-fashioned skullcap. So many people, who one could immediately see were different from their appearance, were discussing issues together in one place—this was the first time in my life that I witnessed such a scene. What does it imply? I looked at the word 'representative' on the large banner in the front of the venue, and couldn't help nodding my head. Representativeness is important, since Peiping is home to so many different people…. Can the parliamentary bodies of Britain and the US reach such a high level of representativeness through general elections?"

On March 1, 1953, the Central People's Government promulgated the first Electoral Law of the PRC. Shen Jilan was elected an NPC deputy for pioneering the concept of equal pay for equal work regardless of sex throughout China.

On September 15, 1954, more than 1,000 NPC deputies from the coast, the grasslands, the plateaus, and the deserts, gathered excitedly in Beijing. The First Session of the First NPC was convened at Huairen Hall in Zhongnanhai compound. On September 20, the more than 1,200 NPC deputies attending the session voted unanimously in favor of adopting the Constitution of the PRC.

The famous writer Lao She said that when he got his red-colored ballot sheet, his heart almost jumped out of his chest. After he cast his vote, he looked at the people around him and saw that they too had tears in their eyes.

The Constitution clearly stipulated, "All power in the People's Republic of China belongs to the people. The National People's Congress and the local people's congresses at various levels are the organs through which the people exercise state power." The system of people's congresses was thus established as the fundamental political system of the PRC. This was an epoch-making event in the political history of both China and the world as China, a country with more than 5,000 years of history and population numbering in the hundreds of millions, established a new type of political system in which the people became masters of the country.

When asked which NPC from the first to the 13th was the best, Shen Jilan answered that the NPC has kept getting better. Over 65 years, it has been proven through practice that the system of people's congresses is a sound system which conforms to China's national conditions and realities, reflects the country's socialist character, ensures the people act as masters of the country, and guarantees the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

The system of people's congresses is rooted in the people and represents the overwhelming majority of the people, and through it Chinese people of all ethnic groups have taken the future of the country and the nation into their own hands.

III. Continued efforts to enrich the forms through which the people act as masters of the country

Guaranteeing the people's position as masters of the country was always a decisive factor as Chinese Communists designed the political systems of the new China, which ranged from defining the fundamental nature of the state and the composition of the government to identifying the basic political system.

—The system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the lead-ership of the CPC

At Huairen Hall in Zhongnanhai on the evening of September 21, 1949, a huge banner with the words "The First Plenary Session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference" signaled a new beginning—the birth of the CPPCC and the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC.

In the process of preparing for and convening the new CPPCC, the CPC engaged in equal consultation and cooperation with other political parties and democratic personages, with all participants coming together as equals. This situation was in stark contrast to the old Political Consultative Conference under the one-party dictatorship of the Kuomintang. At the invitation of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, Soong Ching-ling attended the First Plenary Session of the CPPCC, where she said, "Our historical status today is attributable to the leadership of the CPC, which is the only political party that possesses the power of the general public." The new CPPCC elected the National Committee of the CPPCC and the Central People's Government Council of the PRC, marking the initial establishment of the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC.

After the founding of the new China, some figures of other political parties were worried about whether their parties could still exist and whether the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation could persist as China became a socialist society. In his article "On the Ten Major Relationships" written in April 1956, Mao Zedong gave them a clear answer: "Which is better, to have just one party or several? As we see it now, it's perhaps better to have several parties. This has been true in the past and may well be so for the future; it means long-term coexistence and mutual supervision." Since the launch of reform and opening up over 40 years ago, the CPC Central Committee has further clarified the nature, tasks, themes, and functions of the CPPCC, promoted the inclusion of its nature and role in the Constitution, and identified the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC as one of China's basic political systems.

This system is aimed at finding common ground and helping interests converge. Under China's socialist system, the true essence of people's democracy is to solve problems through consultation, address the concerns of the people through public consultation, and find common ground with regard to the wishes and demands of society as a whole. Under the leadership of the CPC, other political parties and prominent citizens without party affiliation actively participate in the deliberation of state affairs. Consultative democracy is an important institutional design whereby the CPC leads the people in effectively governing the country and guarantees the position of the people as masters of the country, and complements electoral democracy in a mutually reinforcing manner. Consultative democracy is unique to China, and gives our socialist democracy a distinctive edge. As the main channel for consultative democracy, the CPPCC adheres to the two themes of unity and democracy, serves the CPC and the country's central tasks, and plays a very important role in the country's political and social affairs. CPPCC members have worked on many policies that have had a major impact on national development and people's lives, from evaluating the feasibility of the Three Gorges Project to abolishing the agricultural tax, from establishing Teachers' Day to moving up the date of the college entrance examination, and from controlling air pollution to fighting against poverty, demonstrating their contemporary relevance and concern for the people in the performance of their duties.


Ruan Yuying, a resident of Zhuanta Community in Xicheng District, Beijing holds up her voter card, which she has kept since 1953. The role of the people as masters of the country represents the essence of China's socialist democracy. Since the founding of the PRC 70 years ago, the Chinese socialist system and the system of national governance have remained firmly rooted in the great endeavors of the Chinese people. China has upheld the principle that all power belongs to the people, carried out democratic elections, consultation, decision-making, administration, and oversight in accordance with the law, and constantly improved the system under which the people exercise state power through people's congresses. XINHUA (FILE PHOTO)

Over the last 70 years, we have scored glorious success as we have forged ahead together. The system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC, as one of China's basic political systems, represents a great political innovation made by the CPC, the Chinese people, other political parties in China, and prominent citizens without party affiliation. It is a new type of political party system that has grown out of Chinese soil.

—The system of regional ethnic autonomy

In October 1936, colored flags fluttered in the 600-year-old mosque in Tongxin Town, Ningxia. It was here that the West Route Red Army helped the people of Tongxin establish the first county-level Hui autonomous government in Chinese history—the Yuhai County Hui Autonomous Government of Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Province. The American journalist Edgar Snow wrote in his book Red Star over China that this was one of the most significant events occurred while he was in Ningxia.

In May 1947, the establishment of the first provincial-level ethnic autonomous region in China, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the country's vast grasslands, was proclaimed under the leadership of the CPC. In September 1949, the Common Program of the CPPCC, which was in essence the interim constitution, stipulated that regional ethnic autonomy should be exercised in areas where large concentrations of ethnic minorities reside. The new China's first constitution enacted in 1954 later codified the system of regional ethnic autonomy in the form of a fundamental law.

Regional ethnic autonomy has since been exercised in all areas where large concentrations of ethnic minorities reside, leading to the creation of five ethnic autonomous regions and numerous autonomous prefectures and counties all over China, from the boundless grasslands to the vast deserts, and from the northern mountains to the southern frontier. While speaking at a national conference to commend people for outstanding contributions to ethnic solidarity and progress on September 27, 2019, Xi Jinping said, "Our Party has integrated the Marxist theory on ethnicity with China's practical ethnic issues, found a correct path with Chinese characteristics to solve ethnic issues, identified its own ethnic theories and policies, regarded ethnic equality as one of the fundamental principles upon which our country is founded, and established the system of regional ethnic autonomy. For the first time in history, people of all ethnic groups in China have truly gained equal political rights and become masters of the country. We have put an end to the old China's miserable history of ethnic oppression and strife, and launched a new era for the development of ethnic relations characterized by equality, solidarity, mutual assistance, and harmony."

The system of regional ethnic autonomy has brought about dramatic and sweeping changes over 70 years, from its identification as one of China's basic policies, to constant improvement of the ethnic legal system based on the Constitution and the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy. The system of regional ethnic autonomy, as one of China's basic political systems, has guaranteed that all ethnic groups in the great family of Chinese nation share in the glory and dignity of being masters of the country. Ethnic minorities, ethnic minority areas, ethnic relations, and the Chinese nation have all transformed in historic and remarkable ways.

The history of China is a tale of all ethnic groups merging together to become a diverse yet united Chinese nation, and joining hands to create, develop, and consolidate a great, unified China. The Chinese nation's diversity and unity is a rich legacy passed down by our forebears, and a great strength for China's development. The reason for the great vitality of the system of regional ethnic autonomy lies in the fact that it proceeds from China's basic national conditions regarding ethnic issues, upholds the principle of treating all ethnic groups as equals regardless of size, and brings all ethnic groups into an inseparable community with a shared future.

The Chinese nation is like a big family, and it is important that we pursue a better life for all members of this family. Our Constitution has made the moving declaration that the state will help ethnic minority areas speed up their economic and cultural development.

—The system of community-level self-governance

Efforts to cultivate democratic spirit, foster democratic character, and promote democratic practice are all generated, developed, and tested at the community level. This has been vividly demonstrated by the process of creating the system of community-level self-governance.

In 1979, reforms aimed at establishing a household contracting system for farmland reached Hezhai Village, Hechi City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. With collectively owned farmland contracted out to individual households, the villagers were greatly motivated to engage in agricultural production, and thus output rapidly increased. At the same time, however, the original management system based on production teams became a mere skeleton. Lax management immediately led to problems and conflicts inside and outside the village, causing significant displeasure among the public.

Many historic innovations come about inadvertently. Wei Huanneng, who was the leader of the First Production Team of Guozuo, Hezhai Village at the time, was given the honorary title of "Pioneer of Reform" by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council in 2018. When Wei Huanneng set up a villagers' committee together with several other village officials 39 years ago, he did not know that their actions would mark the beginning of village self-governance in China. On the evening of February 5, 1980, he called five other officials of their production team together and told them about his idea of establishing a new management organization and electing a group of village leaders. After hearing his idea, the others immediately expressed their approval. The next day, the villagers held a village conference under a large camphor tree, becoming the first group of Chinese farmers to pursue happy lives for themselves by directly exercising their democratic rights and handling their own affairs in accordance with the law. Wei Huanneng was elected as the first director of the new organization, which he and the other officials decided should be called the villagers' committee, the rural counterpart of residents' committees in urban areas. Later, the Constitution adopted in December 1982 clearly identified villagers' committees as community-level organizations for self-governance by rural residents in China.

As China is a large agrarian country with farmers being in the majority, their direct exercise of democratic rights indicate that a democratic system in which people act as masters of the country is truly put in place. Over the past decades, Hezhai Village has resolved many problems related to public wellbeing through village self-governance, including the supply of power and running water, the construction of school buildings, the paving of roads, the renovation of ditches, and the installation of closed-circuit television. Its villagers' committee has maintained a high level of transparency despite several changes of leadership. The pioneering explorations conducted in this quiet village have shown that the system of community-level self-governance under the leadership of the CPC is an effective way of realizing socialist democracy in rural areas.

The "Fengqiao experience" refers to the idea that minor issues should be resolved at the community level and major issues should be resolved at the township level so as to avoid turning to higher levels for solutions. Dating back to the 1960s, it embodies the CPC's tireless efforts to lead the people in exploring methods for community-level governance. In November 1963, Mao Zedong called on localities to learn from the "Fengqiao experience." In 2003, when Xi Jinping was Secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee, he clearly stated that the "Fengqiao experience" must be cherished, promoted, and refined, and a decade later he again instructed that it should be upheld and developed. By sticking to these principles while developing new practices, we have ensured that the "Fengqiao experience" continues to foster effective community-level self-governance in the new era. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 19, 2019)