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Understanding New Quality Productive Forces and Accelerating Their Development

By Qiushi Commentary Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2024-05-11

On January 31, 2024, General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered a speech while chairing the 11th group study session of the CPC Central Committee’s Political Bureau. In his speech, he drew on both theory and practice to systematically expound on the essence of new quality productive forces, elucidating the great significance of their development and setting clear requirements for doing so. From this concept’s initial introduction during a tour of Heilongjiang Province last year to the call to develop new quality productive forces at the last Central Economic Work Conference in late 2023 and to the detailed analysis at the aforementioned group study session, Xi Jinping has put forward a series of important expositions and major plans concerning this idea. In doing so, he has provided thorough answers to the major theoretical and practical questions of what new quality productive forces are, why they should be developed, and how this should be done.

High-quality development requires the guidance of new theories on productive forces

The forces of production form the material prerequisite for all social existence. They are the most dynamic and revolutionary factors promoting social progress and serve as the key yardstick of social development. As such, a fundamental goal of all CPC’s endeavors has been to promote the development of productive forces and, on this basis, to continuously improve people’s living standards.

The fundamental task of socialism is to release and develop productive forces. The strength of socialism lies in its ability to enable faster and better development of productive forces than capitalism. Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, Mao Zedong said, “The purpose of socialist revolution is to liberate the productive forces.” After the launch of reform and opening up in 1978, Deng Xiaoping noted that the tasks in the stage of socialism “are legion but the fundamental one is to develop the productive forces.” After the founding of the PRC, the CPC led the Chinese people in completing in mere decades a process of industrialization that took developed countries several centuries, turning China into the world’s second-largest economy and creating a miracle of rapid economic development rarely seen in history. One pivotal reason for this achievement is the great importance we have attached to the productive forces as the key yardstick of development. From the start, we have worked to release and develop productive forces and steadily enhanced the composite strength of our socialist country.

On entering the new era in 2012, China moved into a new stage of economic development. With a commitment to high-quality development as the paramount principle, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has worked consistently to release and develop the productive forces, issuing a host of decisions and plans that have helped steer China’s economy onto a path of higher quality, marked by more efficient, fairer, and more sustainable and secure development. These efforts have led to significant improvements and groundbreaking developments in China’s productive forces, thus paving the way for a new type of productive force to emerge. In light of all this, Xi Jinping has concluded, “New quality productive forces have taken shape in practice and are providing powerful impetus and support for high-quality development.”

At the same time, however, it must be noted that there are still numerous bottlenecks impeding China’s high-quality development. For example, we are still reliant on others for some core technologies in key fields; our industry is still not strong enough in spite of its size and falls short of excellence despite having a complete range of capabilities; and we face significant pressure in making the transition to green and low-carbon production modes and ways of life. To further promote high-quality development, therefore, we must foster new industries, models, and growth drivers and ensure that core technologies in key fields rest firmly in our hands. This will enable us to establish a modern industrial system that is self-supporting, controllable, secure, reliable, and highly competitive, as well as a green, low-carbon, and circular economy that delivers qualitative and innovation-driven growth.

Ultimately, all this requires bigger breakthroughs and developments in terms of productive forces, which in turn, poses a new task from a theoretical standpoint, namely, deepening our understanding of new quality productive forces. Xi Jinping has stressed that to develop such productive forces, “We must summarize theoretical principles that can be used to guide new development practices.” His conclusions on this subject have defined the focus for high-quality development. They reflect a thorough understanding of the laws governing the development of productive forces, as well as the prominent development issues facing China, constitute an in-depth summary of the laws underlying our economic development, and represent a further innovation in Marxist theory on productive forces. As an important component of Xi Jinping’s thinking on the economy, they hold major theoretical and practical significance.

Understanding the essence of new quality productive forces

What, then, are new quality productive forces? General Secretary Xi explained, “In summary, new quality productive forces represent a new type of advanced productivity that is compatible with the new development philosophy. Granting a leading role to innovation, they mark a break with traditional economic growth models and development pathways for productive forces and feature a high level of technology, efficiency, and quality. They are born out of revolutionary breakthroughs in technology, the innovative allocation of production factors, and the in-depth transformation and upgrading of industry. They are primarily based on the transformation of laborers, the instruments of labor, and the subjects of labor, as well as their optimal combination. A central hallmark of these forces is a significant increase in total factor productivity, and their defining characteristic is innovation, with a key focus on quality. In essence, they represent advanced productivity.” This important statement defines this concept’s basic elements along with its central feature, key focus, and essence.

As stated above, new quality productive forces represent a type of advanced productivity that grants innovation a leading role. The key to understanding this concept, therefore, lies in emphasizing the pivotal role of innovation in increasing productivity. Looking back at the three industrial revolutions of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, driven respectively by mechanization, electrification, and informatization, we can see that each successive wave of disruptive technological innovation led to the release of tremendous social productive forces and a significant leap in living standards, fundamentally changing the trajectory of human history. By seizing the rare opportunities offered by technological revolution and industrial transformation, some countries were able to rapidly build up their composite national strength and become world powers in one leap. At present, a new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation is gathering momentum, with key disruptive technological innovations giving rise to new industries and new forms of business. Technologies relating to information, biology, manufacturing, new materials, and new energy have permeated almost every field, sparking a major collective technological transformation characterized by green development, intelligent advances, and ubiquitous integration. Just as the latest round of technological revolution and industrial transformation is entering full swing, China is reaching a critical stage in transforming its growth model. This has created an unprecedented opportunity, as new quality productive forces emerge and continue to develop and grow in scale. These forces represent a new direction and trend for technological revolution and industrial transformation, as well as the orientation of advanced productivity. By accelerating the formation of new quality productive forces, we are seeking to take the lead in developing productive forces, grasp the opportunities on offer in new areas and arenas, and seize the initiative amid fierce international competition.

New quality productive forces are an outcome of the evolution of productive forces and technological progress; they represent a revolutionary enhancement of humanity’s ability to improve nature in a holistic and fundamental way. As the basic elements of new quality productive forces, laborers, the instruments of labor, and the subjects of labor are inevitably endowed with new meaning. Consider laborers, who represent the most proactive element of productive forces. Those best suited to new quality productive forces will not be ordinary workers who engage in simple repetitive labor but personnel with expertise of strategic importance who are capable of actually creating new quality productive forces and applied personnel who are familiar with new quality means of production. Next, take the instruments of labor, which, as Marx noted, “supply a standard of the degree of development to which human labor has attained.” With the development and extensive application of original and disruptive technologies, more and more new and advanced production tools will emerge to replace those that are old and outmoded. This process is also a major symbol of the development of productive forces. Finally, the widespread application of improved instruments of labor inevitably broadens the scope of labor subjects to include not only traditional physical materials but also intangible matter that is not bound by time or space, such as data.

Various factors of production only become actual productive forces when they are combined. New quality productive forces are thus reflected in the innovative development of not only various production factors but also the means by which these factors come together. As the laborers, instruments of labor, and subjects of labor that make up new quality productive forces continue to evolve, their optimal combination will also undergo revolutionary changes, giving rise to new industries, new forms of business, and new models, as well as new drivers and strengths to propel economic growth. The relations of production are both determined by and reactive to productive forces. As such, the emergence of new quality productive forces will inevitably lead to revolutionary changes in the relations of production and necessitate the establishment of a new set of well-adapted relations that will serve to protect, liberate, and develop these forces. By steadily reforming and improving production relations and establishing new management models, systems, and mechanisms, we will provide important guarantees for the continuous development of new quality productive forces.

New quality productive forces are more than just partial optimizations or simple iterations of traditional productive forces; they are a form of advanced productivity arising from revolutionary breakthroughs in technology, the innovative allocation of production factors, and in-depth industrial transformation and upgrading. They will undoubtedly result in the transformation of development models and production modes and facilitate new substantial improvements in China’s social productive forces, thereby laying more solid material and technological foundations for building a modern socialist country.

Accelerating the development of new quality productive forces

New quality productive forces are advanced in nature. Therefore, with a focus on the central task of economic development and the priority of high-quality development, we need to strengthen our awareness and initiative with regard to promoting their development so as to enhance our practical abilities in this regard. In particular, we should focus our efforts on accelerating innovation in the following areas.

Science and technology

Because it drives the creation of new industries, new models of business, and new growth drivers, scientific and technological innovation is a core element in developing new quality productive forces. It is vital that we ramp up our efforts in innovation, especially original and disruptive innovation, so as to move faster toward achieving a high level of self-reliance and strength in science and technology, effectively deliver breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields, and create new drivers for developing new quality productive forces.


Industries are the channels through which productive forces function. Thus, scientific and technological advances can only be turned into social productive forces through industrial application. To improve the modern industrial system, we must apply scientific and technological innovations in specific industries and industrial chains without delay and work to transform and upgrade traditional industries, nurture and expand emerging industries, and make plans for cultivating industries of the future. To ensure that the industrial system is self-supporting, controllable, secure, and reliable, we must optimize the layout of industrial chains with a focus on developing new quality productive forces and bolster the resilience and security of industrial and supply chains.

Development model

As the defining feature of high-quality development, green development is intrinsic to the new quality productive forces. In line with the principle that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets, it is imperative to expedite the transition to a model of green development. With a firm commitment to prioritizing ecological conservation and green development, we should advocate eco-friendly and healthy lifestyles throughout our society.

Systems and mechanisms

The relations of production must be adapted to the requirements for developing productive forces. To develop new quality productive forces, we must deepen reform, with a view to fostering a new set of well-adapted production relations. We need to further reform the economic structure and scientific and technological systems to remove the bottlenecks impeding the development of new quality productive forces. We should also expand high-standard opening up and work to create a favorable international environment for developing these forces.

Working mechanisms for talent

As our primary resource, talent is, in essence, the locomotive of innovation. The development of new quality productive forces ultimately depends on innovative personnel. Bearing in mind the requirements for developing new quality productive forces, we should establish a virtuous cycle between education, science and technology, and talent, and put in place sound working mechanisms for training, introducing, utilizing, and ensuring the smooth mobility of talent. We should also improve the mechanism for taking production factors into account in income distribution and foster a favorable atmosphere in which innovation is encouraged and failure is tolerated.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 5, 2024)