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A Historical Perspective of Achieving Moderate Prosperity

By Qiushi Commentary Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2021-11-15

On July 1, 2021, on the historic occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Chinese President Xi Jinping declared to the world from the gate tower over Tiananmen Square, "Thanks to the continued efforts of the whole Party and the entire nation, we have realized the First Centenary Goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. This means that we have brought about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in China, and we are now taking confident strides toward the Second Centenary Goal of building China into a great modern socialist country." This is a momentous feat achieved by the people under the leadership of the CPC that will go down in history. 

Our deep suffering in the past makes us appreciate more profoundly our hard-won happiness in the present, but only the passage of time will illuminate the full scale of our great achievements in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. 

The CPC was established in 1921. Back then, China was considered by the rest of the world to be in disarray and decay. Our people struggled for basic necessities, and our country was referred to by people in the West as the "sick man of East Asia." Data best reveals the extent of the problem. In 1920, Shanghai's spinning mills paid daily wages of just 0.27-0.30 yuan, or 7.3-8.1 yuan per month. According to a survey by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce at the time, the average monthly living expenses of a working-class couple amounted to 16 yuan. A survey conducted in the suburbs of Beijing in 1923 revealed that the average annual income of farming households was 93.1 yuan and that they had average food and clothing expenses of 135 yuan, leaving a deficit of 41.9 yuan. In 1921, China's annual steel output was just 76,800 tons, and there was less than 10,000 km of highways and 11,300 km of railways nationwide. The Qing government signed 411 unequal treaties between 1842 and 1912, and the government of the Beiyang warlords signed 243 such agreements between 1912 and 1928. 

In 1929, Life Weekly, a Shanghai magazine, published an article titled "Ten Questions on the Future of China," which asked despairingly, "When will our country be able to produce enough rice and be self-sufficient in grain so our people no longer go hungry? When will our country produce large volumes of steel, guns, and ships so our national borders can be defended? When will our country have compulsory elementary education, 100,000 middle schools, and millions of students pursuing higher education?" The questions encapsulate the suffering and humiliation as well as the hopes and dreams of the Chinese people at that time. 

As soon as the CPC was established, it identified the happiness of the Chinese people and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation as its primary objectives, promising to "save the people from dangers and rescue them from dire straits." After 28 years of bloodshed on the battlefield, the CPC united and led the people to a great victory in the New Democratic Revolution in 1949. 

When the People's Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949, what the CPC inherited was a grim situation left by the Kuomintang regime. That year, China's total grain output was 113.18 million tons, or less than 210 kg per capita, while total cotton output was 445,000 tons, or less than 1 kg per capita. Per capita disposable income was just 49.7 yuan, and the Engel coefficients of urban and rural households were as high as 80% and 90%, respectively. The whole country had only 3,670 medical and health institutions, with just 85,000 beds, and only 505,000 health care providers. Average life expectancy was a mere 35 years. The general population had just one year of schooling on average, and the adult illiteracy rate was 80%. In the early period of the founding of the PRC, China's economy accounted for less than 5% of world GDP, and its per capita national income was just 5% that of the US, while annual steel output was 158,000 tons, or 0.22% the output of the US. China had just 80,800 km of highways and 21,800 km of railways. In 1950, of the 141 countries for which data was available, only 10 countries had a per capita GDP lower than that of China. 

After the PRC was founded, the people became masters of their country under the leadership of the CPC. They could build a better life under their own steam and through sheer hard work. They dared to dream of a brighter future and achieved great feats in socialist revolution and reconstruction. 

In 1978, China reached a new historical watershed. After nearly 30 years of economic development, China had relatively complete independent industrial and national economic systems, and people's lives had improved markedly compared to before 1949. By 1978, China's total grain output reached 304.77 million tons, or more than 300 kg per capita, while cotton output reached 2.17 million tons, or more than 2 kg per capita. Per capita disposable income was 171.2 yuan, and the Engel coefficients of urban and rural households had fallen to 57.5% and 67.7%, respectively. The number of medical and health institutions in China had risen to 169,700, with 2.04 million beds, and there were 2.46 million health care providers. Average life expectancy had nearly doubled to 68, and illiteracy among the young and middle-aged had fallen to 18.5%. China's GDP had grown to 367.87 billion yuan, with per capita GDP of 385 yuan. China's steel production increased from 158,000 tons in 1949 to 31.78 million tons in 1978, and automobile production from none in 1949 to 149,000 in 1978. By 1978, China had 890,200 km of highways and 51,700 km of railways. 

The achievements of socialist revolution and reconstruction provided solid foundations for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. In 1979, Deng Xiaoping creatively used the term "moderate prosperity" to describe the objective of Chinese modernization. From vowing to ensure people lead a moderately prosperous life, to proposing "building a moderately prosperous society," to setting the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects that benefits over a billion people, the CPC firmly grasped the initiative and anchored itself to the objectives of its struggle, progressing step by step and generation after generation. In the current era, under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee centered on President Xi, the whole Party and all the people have shown unparalleled courage and strength to achieve a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. 

In 2021, China completed the construction of a moderately prosperous society in all respects. The Chinese nation's prosperity is now clear for all the world to see, and the Chinese people enjoy unprecedented happiness and good health. 

In China today, people live well and have ample food and clothing. In 2020, China's total grain output was 669.49 million tons, or more than 450 kg per capita, while cotton output was 5.91 million tons, or more than 4 kg per capita. National per capita disposable income reached 32,189 yuan, a nominal 640-fold increase since 1949. The Engel coefficients of urban and rural households dropped to 29.2% and 32.7%, respectively. China has built the world's largest social security network, with basic medical insurance for more than 1.3 billion people and basic old-age insurance for nearly 1 billion people. There were 278.7 times more medical and health institutions in 2020 than in 1949, with 107.2 times more beds, and the number of health technicians was 21.1 times higher. In 2019, China's average life expectancy reached 77.3, more than double that of 1949 and close to the level of developed countries. In 2020, just 2.67% of China's total population was illiterate, and the average number of years of education for those aged 15 and above had increased to 9.91 years, with universally available high school education. By the end of 2020, China's fixed broadband penetration rate had reached 96%, and the mobile broadband penetration rate was 108%. More than 770 million rural poor people have been lifted out of poverty, and absolute poverty, which plagued the Chinese nation for thousands of years, has been eradicated. This is a poverty alleviation miracle unparalleled in world history. 

Today, China's composite national strength is constantly growing. National GDP increased from 67.91 billion yuan in 1952 to 101.6 trillion yuan in 2020, a 189-fold increase in real terms. Between 1979 and 2020, GDP grew at an average annual rate of 9.2%, much higher than average growth of the world economy during the same period, at 2.7%. In 2020, China's economy accounted for more than 17% of global GDP, making it comfortably the second largest economy in the world. China's per capita GDP has exceeded US$10,000 for two consecutive years, which is higher than the average of middle-income countries. China has 41 major industry sectors, 207 medium sectors, and 666 sub-sectors, making it the only country in the world to possess all the industrial sectors listed in the United Nations' International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC). In 2020, China's crude steel output reached 1.06 billion tons, more than 6,000 times higher than in 1949; raw coal output reached 3.9 billion tons, more than 100 times higher than in 1949; power generation reached 7.78 trillion kilowatt hours, over 1,800 times more than in 1949; and automobile production reached 25.33 million, 170 times that of 1978. China has built a modern infrastructure network comprising railways, highways, ports, aviation, electric power, and telecommunications, and by 2020 it had a total of 38,000 km of high-speed railways in operation and 161,000 km of expressways, as well as over 200 million 5G terminals, the most in the world. 

China is making greater and greater contributions to the world. For the past 15 years, it has remained the largest contributor to world economic growth, generating as much as 30% of growth in consecutive years, making it a major source of power and stabilizer for the world economy. In 2020, the added value of China's manufacturing industry reached 26.59 trillion yuan. For 11 consecutive years, China has been the largest industrial country in the world, playing a vital role in global industrial chains. The total value of China's imports and exports of goods reached 32.16 trillion yuan in 2020, the highest in the world, making it a leader and driver of global trade. In the same year, China's foreign exchange reserves reached US$3.22 trillion, and actually utilized foreign direct investment amounted to 1 trillion yuan, making it globally influential in the areas of investment and finance. In 2020, China provided essential items to help fight Covid-19, such as masks, protective suits, and ventilators, to 150 countries and 13 international organizations, and it dispatched 37 teams of medical experts to 34 countries. As of June 23, 2021, China had signed 206 cooperation agreements on joint construction projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative with 140 countries and 32 international organizations. China also actively fulfills its duties as a responsible major country to advance the development of a global community with a shared future. The success China—a large developing country with nearly one-fifth of the world's population—has attained in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and steadily becoming a modern power has contributed enormously to the progress of human civilization. It has opened a path for the modernization of developing countries as well as contributed Chinese wisdom and solutions to the modernization of human society. 

A millennium of aspirations and a century of struggle have led us to the present. From the century of decline and disarray to the prosperity of today, the Chinese nation has marched unstoppably toward its great rejuvenation, and the CPC has delivered results worthy of the people and history. It seems evident that without the CPC, the PRC would not exist, Chinese socialism would not exist, and the Chinese people would not enjoy such happiness. Only with the leadership of the CPC can we fulfill the Chinese people's desire for a better life and realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 14, 2021)