The so-called “Four Basic Principles” (四项基本原则) are a hangover from the Maoist era in China and a symbol of the power still wielded by leftists. At every juncture of reforms, political conservatives in China have attacked reforms as violations of the “Four Basic Principles.” Taking the capitalist road, they say, has weakened the party, abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat (人民民主专政), and forsaken Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought (马克思主义、列宁主义、毛泽东思想).
The Four Basic Principles, introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1979, are:
1. Remaining on the socialist path
2. Upholding the dictatorship of the proletariat
3. Upholding the leadership of the CCP
4. Upholding Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought
One important question as the 17th National Congress approaches is whether Hu Jintao will continue to use the Four Basic Principles in his political report. It is a question that directly concerns political reform in China.
In the 1980s, Zhao Ziyang talked about “one core and two focal points” (一个中心，两个基本点). In this formula, economic development was the core; upholding the Four Basic Principles and supporting reform and opening were the focal points. The formula was approved by Deng Xiaoping, but in fact the two focal points stand in fundamental contradiction to one another.
Our database analysis at the China Media Project shows that “political reform” and the “Four Basic Principles” have been locked in a fierce tug of war. The following graph shows the terms as they have appeared in the official People’s Daily since the mid-1980s:
The emergence of “political reform” as a topic of discussion met with fierce resistance from the left, as the first red peak above indicates. Chinese media coined the term “contest between three and four” (三四之争) to denote the tension between these two forces – “third” for the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP (during which political reform was a hot topic), and “four” for the “Four Basic Principles.”
Although both terms were introduced by Deng Xiaoping, they stand in irreconcilable contradiction.
In 1987, leftists and proponents of reform were locked in conflict. Even as use of the term “political reform” reached a never-before-seen high in People’s Daily, the “Four Basic Principles” soared. There was clearly frustration in the leftist camp following the 13th National Congress in October 1987.
Readers may ask: given that People’s Daily is controlled by top leaders, how can we say the appearance of these two opposing terms indicates conflict when both are rising simultaneously? The answer is that top leaders use terms on either side to placate forces within the party.
In 1988, as “political reform” persisted as a term of strength, use of the “Four Basic Principles” actually declined 86 percent, appearing just one-third as frequently as its rival.
The crackdown on democracy demonstrators on June 4, 1989, brought a resurgence of leftist forces. China’s new top leader, Jiang Zemin, bowed to these forces and launched a full-scale assault on “peaceful evolution” (和平演变), which he characterized as an attempt by bourgeois forces to subvert the power of the CCP. Jiang Zemin said that “lately the focus of the class struggle had been a struggle between the Four Basic Principles and bourgeois liberalization” (当前阶级斗争的焦点是四项基本原则和资产阶级自由化的斗争).
In the years that followed, use of the term “political reform” was clearly scaled down in the official media.
In the aftermath of Tiananmen, a wave of resurgent leftism engulfed Deng Xiaoping. Leftists spoke out against economic reforms and pushed for two cores rather than one (advocating “economic development and opposition to peaceful evolution as the cores”).
The elderly Deng Xiaoping scrabbled to pick up the pieces. With firm support from those in the party who stood for reform, Deng bested those who advocated a turn back to the planned economy era. Deng managed to shore up the country’s market reform goals. This is why, in the graph above, we see a steady decline in use of the “Four Basic Principles” through the 1990s, even as “political reform” is almost nonexistent as a term.
Since Hu Jintao came to power, 16th National Congress leaders have seemed to “keep a respectful distance” (敬而远之) from the Four Basic Principles. When CMP conducted a search of 15 formal decisions, opinions and notices issued by the 16th National Congress, we found that only four used the term “Four Basic Principles”:
1. CCP Statute on Disciplinary Action (中国共产党纪律处分条例), February 17, 2004
2. CCP Decision on Strengthening Party Governance (中共中央关于加强党的执政能力建设的决定), September 19, 2004
3. CCP Opinion on Strengthening the Work of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (中共中央关于加强人民政协工作的意见), February 8, 2006
4. CCP Decision on the Study of the ‘Collected Works of Jiang Zemin’ (中共中央关于学习《江泽民文选》的决定), August 13, 2006
In what we can see from official media coverage of Hu Jintao’s June 25 speech, there is no direct mention of the Four Basic Principles. There are, however, references to “one core, two focal points,” which of course invokes the Four Basic Principles. As with the portions of Hu’s speech available, language in the official People’s Daily describing the speech does not include mention of the Four Basic Principles.
Still, there have been a number of discussions of the Four Basic Principles elsewhere in the Chinese media:
“Concerning a Few Problems on the Road to Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, Frontline (前线), September 7, 2007
“On Political Reform in China and its Unshakable Principles”, People.com.cn, May 29, 2007
“Firm and Unchanging as We Walk the Great Path Toward Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, People’s Daily, August 15, 2007
Concerning the Four Basic Principles, there are two possibilities for Hu Jintao’s political report to the 17th National Congress.
The first possibility is that Hu’s report will use the Four Basic Principles in the same way as previous reports, from the 12th congress through to the 16th. If this happens we can guess that Hu Jintao will not break any new ground in the area of political reform.
The second possibility is that the Four Basic Principles will not appear directly in Hu’s report, and that “one core, two focal points” will appear in its stead. While this would not be a radical shift in meaning, it would make a very different impression and could be read as a sign that Hu Jintao will focus more attention on [political] reform.
(Qian Gang, September 24, 2007)
[Translated by David Bandurski]
[PARTY DOCUMENTS TO REFERENCE]
CCP Notice on the Earnest Study and Follow Through of the Spirit of the 16th National Congress (中共中央关于认真学习贯彻党的十六大精神的通知), November 17, 2002
CCP Notice on the Printing and Distribution of ‘Outline Plan for the Study of the Important Ideology of the ‘Three Represents’ (中共中央关于印发《“三个代表”重要思想学习纲要》的通知), June 8, 2003
CCP Notice Concerning the Studying and Carrying Out of the New Wave of the Important Ideology of the ‘Three Represents’ Throughout the Party (中共中央关于在全党兴起学习贯彻“三个代表”重要思想新高潮的通知), June 15, 2003
CCP Decision Concerning Key Issues in the Perfecting of the Socialist Market Economic System (中共中央关于完善社会主义市场经济体制若干问题的决定), October 14, 2003
CCP Statute on Internal Party Supervision (中国共产党党内监督条例[试行]), February 17, 2004
CCP Statute on Disciplinary Action (中国共产党纪律处分条例), February 17, 2004
CCP Decision on Strengthening Party Governance (中共中央关于加强党的执政能力建设的决定), September 19, 2004
CCP Statute for Protection of the Rights of Party Members (中国共产党党员权利保障条例), October 24, 2004
CCP Opinion Concerning the Carrying Out of Advanced Party Member Education with the Ideology of ‘Three Represents’ as the Core Content (中共中央关于在全党开展以实践“三个代表”重要思想为主要内容的保持共产党员先进性教育活动的意见), November 7, 2004
CCP Notice Concerning the Printing and Distribution of ‘Outline Plan for the Comprehensive Building of a System for Fighting and Preventing Corruption Balancing the Priorities of Education, Systems and Supervision (中共中央关于印发《建立健全教育、制度、监督并重的惩治和预防腐败体系实施纲要》的通知), January 3, 2005
CCP Opinion Concerning the Formation of the Eleventh Five-year Plan for the National Economy and Society (中共中央关于制定国民经济和社会发展第十一个五年规划的建议), October 11, 2005
CCP Opinion on Strengthening the Work of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (中共中央关于加强人民政协工作的意见), February 8, 2006
CCP Decision on Commendation for Advance Grassroots Organizations, Outstanding Party Members and Party Personnel (中共中央关于表彰全国先进基层党组织和优秀共产党员优秀党务工作者的决定), June 30, 2006
CCP Decision on the Study of the ‘Collected Works of Jiang Zemin’ (中共中央关于学习《江泽民文选》的决定), August 13, 2006
CCP Decision Concerning Major Questions in the Building of a Socialist Harmonious Society (中共中央关于构建社会主义和谐社会若干重大问题的决定), October 11, 2006