Monday, July 05, 2010

Studying the "Higher Law" of Scientific Development (科学发展观) in Chinese State-Party Constitutionalism

The concept of Scientific Development (科学发展观) as both constitutional doctrine and leadership principle of Chinese Communist Party doctrine continues to play a foundational role in the emergence of Chinese Party-State meta constitutionalism.  The concept is particularly interesting both as an articulation of "higher law" that informs both the approach to the leadership (领导) role of the Chinese Communist Party under the Constitution and the substantive principles under which the state apparatus (the National People's Congress system) operates.  It is all the more interesting as an example of the way in which Chinese constitutionalism, and the articulation of its fundamental doctrines, requires reading both the State and Party constitutions together.  My research assistant, Ma Lian recently provides a review of the evolution of the concept within Chinese intellectual and Party circles--at least to the extent that such development is available publicly.  

Interpreting Scientific Development Concept

The Scientific Development Concept (kexue fazhan guan) was written into the Chinese Communist Party’s Constitution in 2007 at the Party’s 17th Congress – a symbol that it has become the latest dominant guideline for the Party as well as the country. In the past few years since the adoption of the Scientific Development as the Party’s new theory, there have been discussions about what exactly Scientific Development is while the country has seen several campaigns aimed at pushing for the implementation of the new ideology.

What is Scientific Development Concept?

In general and officially, Scientific Development Concept is understood as an overarching guideline for building China’s socialism under new conditions. Every aspect of work is supposed to be done according to Scientific Development Concept. Specifically, according to a study guide issued by the Party’s Publicity Department to help better understand the concept, Scientific Development Concept has four key points: One, the top priority of Scientific Development Concept remains to be development. Two, the core of Scientific Development Concept is people first. Three, the basic requirement is overall, balanced and sustainable development. Four, the fundamental approach is making overall plans and taking all factors into consideration. [1]

The Study Guide has seven chapters and an introduction.

Chapter One: Scientific Development Concept is the latest achievement of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This chapter reviewed the history of applying Marxist theory in China and concluded that there were two major theoretical breakthroughs in coming up with a China version of Marxism. One is Mao’s Thought and the other is the Chinese characteristic theory system, which includes Deng’s Theory, Jiang’s Three Represents and now Hu’s Scientific Development Concept. This chapter has four points: a) Scientific Development Concept is consistent with Marxism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, and the important thought of Three Represents. b) Scientific Development Concept is based on national conditions, past experience and new requirement for development. c) Scientific Development Concept is based on analysis of international situation, the world development trend and development experiences of other countries (must take China’s development into the global picture and improve the ability to manage domestic and international situations). d) Scientific Development Concept is a strategic thought that must be upheld and implemented in developing socialism with Chinese characteristics (it answers the question of what kind of development we should pursue and how we develop).

Chapter Two: Development is the top priority of Scientific Development Concept. This development must be good and quick (not the other way around). Good is before quick. It points out that growth does not equal to development. It talks about changing China’s economic development approach, transitioning China’s resource consumption economy to an innovative economy. It calls for building China to be an innovative nation. It also mentions building new socialist rural China, etc.

Chapter Three: People first. The beginning paragraph explains what is included in the concept of “people” – workers, peasants, intellectuals, and other laborers as well as all strata of the society. It traces back to China’s ancient philosophy about people as essential to a state. It emphasizes the importance of making the Party serve people. It also talks about combing the development of economy and society with the all around development of each individual, or human beings.

Chapter Four: Development should be comprehensive, balanced and sustainable. It brings up a four-dimension development of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. Economic, political, cultural and societal buildings are integral parts of the socialist cause.

Chapter Five: Development should take all factors into consideration. This is a chapter about methodology. It calls for proper handling of relations between regional differences, central and local, people and nature, domestic and international, individual interests versus group interests, current versus future, etc. It calls for good handling of different interests. It also talks about combining Party building with the four-dimension – economic, political, cultural and societal building.

Chapter Six: The implementation of Scientific Development Concept. a) Uphold the Party’s fundamental line of “one center (economic) two basic points (the four cardinal principles and reform).” b) Build harmonious society. In this section, a definition or basic characters of a harmonious society is given out – democracy and rule of law, fairness and justice, integrity and friendship, energy and stability, harmony between man and nature. c) Deepen reform and opening up. d) Indeed strengthen and improve Party building. “The key to truly implementing Scientific Development Concept lies in the Party.” “The Party’s ruling ability and its advancement should be improved and reflected on its role in leading scientific development and promoting harmonious society building.”It warns that the party’s ruling status is not always guaranteed. “All Party comrades should firmly remember that a party’s advancement in the past does not mean its advancement now; and it’s being advanced now does not mean that it’s being advanced in the future.”

It admits that the ruling ability of the Party today is not compatible with the new conditions and new tasks. It calls for pushing Party building in a spirit of reform and innovation. The Party building project has five aspects: Party’s thinking, organization, working style, institution building, and anti-corruption and clean governance building.

Combine party’s ruling ability building with studying and implementing Scientific Development Concept.

Combine party’s advancement building with Scientific Development Concept.

Chapter Seven: Sum up and call for efforts to implement Scientific Development Concept. Use Scientific Development to arm one’s mind. Continue to liberate thought and change thoughts that are not compatible with Scientific Development Concept.

Attempted Interpretations

Scholars have various sayings about Scientific Development Concept since its inception. Some believe it is closely linked to the Three Represents and it is the implementation of the Three Represents. It is not only a question of practice but also a theory. It is brought out against a changed situation in China – the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, the environment is becoming unsustainable if economic development continues the old way, and a lack of the development of human beings during the first 30 years of reform.[2]

The official interpretation of Scientific Development Concept does not seem to be complete because it does not give out a clear definition, as criticized by an article published on an academic journal. The authors of this article said that by far there is still not a single good definition of Scientific Development Concept.[3] The authors believe that before defining Scientific Development Concept, there should be a definition for “scientific” and “development” first, and a standard norm to test what is scientific and what is not.

The four points of Scientific Development Concept only explain some components of this concept – priority, core, requirement and methodology. In order to understand what the concept is, one needs to understand what scientific and what development means separately and what they mean together. Scholars of various backgrounds have been trying to define and describe Scientific Development.

Yu Jin, who’s been researching on Scientific Development Concept, wrote in his Sina blog that “scientific” here is not about natural science, nor social science. It is serving as an adjective to modify the “perspective on development.” He believes that “scientific” here means first, the development we are talking about is conforming to the common laws (not in a legal sense, but in a universal sense) of modern economic development. He explains that economic development is constrained by not only factors like resources, market, etc, but also society, politics, and culture factors. Therefore, only through a coordinated development of these multiple dimensions, can we obtain a sustainable development. Secondly, “scientific” means that this development is in line with the current world trend – respecting human rights, protecting environment and pursuing sustainable development. China as a responsible country must incorporate these ideas and trends into its guidelines for development and apply them into policy making and implementation. Third, this new perspective on development reflects Chinese people’s needs today. After 30 years of fast economic growth, people now care about high quality life, cultural life, and political life. [4]

Xin Xiangyang, a scholar of Marxism, has similar interpretation to “scientific.” It is the “scientific” in “scientific socialism.”[5] In this sense, Scientific Development Concept is the science about development laws (not in legal sense). It is the science about China’s characteristic reform and development laws. In other words, the concept is tailored to the unique conditions of China’s development.

Chen Zhigang, another scholar of Marxism, also believes that “scientific” is not the scientific in common sense – rock science.[6] It is about Marxist outlook or perspective on history, truth and values. The core of Scientific Development Concept – people first, requires a change from blindly pursuing economic development to all around development, from a focus on material wealth to a focus on human beings, and a change from pursuing efficiency to pursuing fairness.

Chen believes there is no big difference in the understanding of “development” in the academic circle. It is believed that the development of a society is different from that of the nature, which is about the increase of quantity. Societal development is about quality, and overall progress of a society. Scientific Development Concept differs from traditional modernization theory and development theory, which are about industrialization, urbanization, market, and economic growth (GDP as a growth index).

Other scholars believe Scientific Development Concept implies a great transition of the Chinese national strategy. Pang Yuanzheng, a Party School professor, says this development means a process from industrialization to information society and post-information society where all around development is pursued.[7]

Bai Wangang, who heads a consulting company, offers an insightful interpretation. He interprets it from three changes: [8]

One, Scientific Development Concept is a change of thinking paradigm. Compared with Deng’s “crossing the river by feeling stones,” the Scientific Development Concept symbolizes a powerful turn from Deng’s theory about China’s development path – not fumbling in the dark but actively pursuing the correct path. In Deng’s era, what he suggested was acting first and then coming up with a theory. Therefore, the government was more directly involved in economic matters. But in Hu and Wen’s era, they tend to have the government play a macro role of coordination and adjustment by setting up institutions and mechanisms, rather than directly involved in market operations.

Two, Scientific Development Concept implies to a change of governance – having a big central administration to reverse a situation where central command has been ignored or altered at local levels. This refers to a situation where because of flexible local implementation of central command in the past 30 years of reform, the central government is losing power to local administrations. A latest reform on the size of ministries indicates that the central government wants to curtail increasing local power.

Three, Scientific Development Concept means a change of economic development mode – from export oriented economy to self-relying economy. (Adjusting the current disparity between wealthy coastal area and poor inland area.)

A lawyer expressed his thinking about Scientific Development, arguing that it should be an open and developing theory.[9] Zhou Yongkun says Scientific Development Concept belongs to the discipline of humanities, not the scientific knowledge system. It is a question of philosophy. Scientific Development Concept is also a thought, which implies that there is no absolute truth and therefore it should be an open theory. The development in Scientific Development Concept should be directing the development of society. It should be based on the protection of rights enshrined in the Constitution. In another word, the core question of the Scientific Development is inherently related to constitutionalism.

Another blog article by a member of a democratic party pointed out that the previous 30 years of reform is not scientific. He said the reason for being not scientific lies in many problems that have been exposed after the first 30 years. He criticized that the slogan of “letting a portion of people get rich first” was problematic.[10] He calls for all people to get well off, not just a group.

Wu Jingshi, an independent thinker, says Scientific Development Concept is not an innovation but a return to normal thinking and normal action. She said the current Chinese society is abnormal. Scientific Development Concept is the middle road, is about long term development, not short term. She compared the reform era as waging a battle in a battle field. She said ruling a country is not like fighting a battle. You must have reason and wisdom, not just courage and passion. She said Scientific Development Concept is trying to return to reason and wisdom, rejecting the mentality of fighting for political power – revolution.

Scientific Development Concept = Liberation of Thought?

Fang Ning, a political scientist, summed up three major ideologies that have been having impact on China since reform. They are liberalism, nationalism, and neo-leftism. He said Scientific Development and Harmonious Society are conforming to the thought of neo-leftists.[11] He believes that the Scientific Development is not only about an adjustment of policy, but also about a critical (critique) overview of the previous reform and a call for ideological change. Scientific Development Concept emphasizes on equity and sharing national wealth among all citizens of China. It also calls for a coordinated development of the economy and the people of that society. “These are exactly what neo-leftists advocate.”[12]

Liu Haibo, a scholar of law from China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), calls for liberation of thought and believes the birth of Scientific Development Concept implies another wave of liberation of thought – saying goodbye to the high investment, high pollution development mode in the previous 30 years.[13] He criticized the domination of economists in decision making in the reform era.

Zhu Andong, a lecturer of political economy in Qinghua University, criticized neo-liberalism as unscientific. He called for liberation of thought targeting neo-liberal thought that has been influencing China during the latter 15 years in the reform era. He said China must reject and oppose neo-liberalism in order to implement Scientific Development. He also encourages analysis of who will be supporting Scientific Development and who will not.

Gan Yang, one of the leading representatives of neo-leftists in China, published an article comparing two articles that represent the Left and the Right factions within the Party. Apparently Gan was taking the side of the Left. Zhang Qinde, a Leftist, believed that the reform, especially the time under Jiang, was a disaster. Therefore, he believed Hu and Wen have been trying to rectify problems caused by the previous administration (Jiang). However, Xie Tao, who is labeled as a Right, worries that Zhang and the Leftists are trying to negate the achievements of the 30 years reform.[14]

In another article Gan pointed out that the current liberation of thought is about rejecting a blind admiration for American road.[15] This is similar to the opinion that the current liberation of thought is not like the situation in the beginning of reform, i.e. the first wave of liberation of thought where people had been brainwashed by the Cultural Revolution and people had been hostile toward everything from the West. The current liberation should be a review and reconsideration over what happened in the 30 years of reform in which Western ideas and ideology have been very popular and predominant.

To sum up, scholars and people have different interpretations to the Scientific Development Concept, as it was translated literarily. In general, the interpretations fall into two groups. One group believes that it is a continuation of the Three Represents because at least two of the key points align with the Three Represents. For example, point one, development is priority. This is a reflection of the first Represent – the advanced productivity. Point two, people first. This is a reflection of the third Represent – the broadest masses. Officially, the Scientific Development Concept is described as the latest theory following Marxism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, and the important thought of the Three Represents.

The other group, however, believes that the Scientific Development Concept implies a major change of the Party’s ideology – different from Deng’s focus on economic development. This group also believes that it indicates a review of the past 30 years of reform which has brought huge material wealth but also damaged environment, increased income gap, and left holes in many aspects of the society, i.e. social welfare, medicare, education.

The new theory, as previous theories, has been studied nationwide through large scale campaigns. It is worth noting that Party building has been very intensive recently, which is quite understandable since Party is the key to the implementation of Scientific Development Concept.

Study Campaign

Right after the 17th Party Congress, on which Scientific Development Concept and Harmonious Society were formally introduced into the Party Constitution, a nationwide campaign was waged among party members to study and implement the Scientific Development Concept. This study campaign lasted one year and a half from September 2008 till April of 2010, with a previous six-month period of pilot campaigns in several places in the first half of 2008.[16] It was reported that 3.7 million party organizations and 75 million party members participated in this study.[17] Party officials and members have been asked not only to study the meaning of Scientific Development but also implement it in their daily work. For instance, while economic development is still the priority, but an environmentally conscious and balanced development is desired. Party officials have also been asked to care more about people’s interests and to solve problems for them, as a way of practicing the Scientific Development Concept – the core of which is people first. [18]

At the close of this large scale study campaign, Hu Jintao gave a wrap-up speech at the campaign’s review meeting. He talked about three issues.

First, he confirmed the achievement of the study campaign – it was a good education of Scientific Development Concept among party members; the idea of following Scientific Development Concept is clear; people got benefit and party-people relations became closer; local party organizations were strengthened.

Second, he summed up good experiences from this campaign. Those good experiences include 1) an emphasis on learning and education among party members. 2) an emphasis on development, a development that should not only care about GDP growth, but should be high quality development that keeps people first and all-round and sustainable. 3) an emphasis on the role of Party leaders. 4) an emphasis on depending on people and putting people’s interests first. 5) an emphasis on innovating mechanisms.

Third, Hu called for building the Party “in a spirit of reform and innovation.” He kept using “scientific” in the following points about party building. “Use scientific theory to guide Party building, scientific institutions to guarantee Party building, and scientific method to promote Party building.” He talked about four aspects about party building: One is calling for building the party to be a party that keeps learning and applying what it has learned into practice (to build a party of learning was mentioned). Two is improving the capability of party leaders and party organizations, in which selecting moral and capable leaders is mentioned. Three is building strong and capable local party organizations (the excellence campaign was mentioned). Four is asking party members and leaders to work close with people, for the people, picking up again what had been the party’s good old traditions. [19]

The Excellence Campaign

Immediately following the high-profile study campaign among party members nationwide, the Party’s Organization Department waged a practice campaign that is aimed at consolidating and exploring the achievement of the study campaign. This practice campaign is calling on party organizations and party members to build excellent local Party organizations and become excellent Party members (Chuang Xian Zheng You: this campaign encourages local party organizations and party members to become the best.).[20]

The Excellence Campaign is one of the two major projects about Party building appeared in the 17th Party Congress Report and reiterated in the document of the 4th plenary session of the 17th Party Congress. The other project is building the Party to be a learning Party.[21]

The Excellence Campaign is headed by the Party’s Organization Department Head Li Yuanchao, who served as the Governor of Jiangsu Province before he was promoted to the current position. [22] The campaign, which is the continuation of the Study Campaign, is a constant work of Party building at local levels.[23] The basic qualifications for being an excellent Party organization can be summed up into “five good” – good leaders team, good Party members team, good working mechanism, good work performance, and good feedbacks from people. The basic requirements or qualifications for an excellent Party member can be summed up into “five leads” – lead in learning Scientific Development as well as broad knowledge to raise one’s knowledge level; lead in excellent work performance; lead in serving people and protecting people’s interests; lead in observing Party discipline and State law; and lead in upholding morals and fighting against immoral and unlawful practices.[24]

The campaign’s organizers also asked various sectors to have their specific additional qualifications according to their different needs on the ground. For example, Party organizations in rural areas should combine the Excellence Campaign with the work of promoting rural development. Each sector should have a theme in their Excellence Campaigns.[25]

According to the View issued by the CCP Office, in the first year of the Excellence Campaign, the focus should be on celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Party (July 1, 2011). The campaign should be oriented toward further implementing Scientific Development and building a long term mechanism of studying the guideline. In the second year of the campaign, a review will be held before July 2012, to praise and publicize good examples of Party organizations and Party members.

Building a Party of Learning Campaign

If the Excellence Campaign is weighing more on practice, the campaign of building a party of learning is emphasizing on study. Launched a bit earlier than the Excellence Campaign, the call for building party organizations of learning is also targeting Party building. The layout of this campaign appeared in another View issued by the CCP Office. As the Feb 8 View introduced, “Building a Marxist learning party is a strategic task brought up at the 4th plenary session of the 17th Congress … building party organizations of learning at various levels is a basic project of building a Marxist learning party. ” [26]

What should be learned? First of all, the theory of Chinese socialism – Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, and the Scientific Development Concept. Second, further studying and implementing Scientific Development. Third, learn and practice socialist core values and morals. Fourth, learn and master various knowledge required in the course of China’s modernization. Fifth, learn and gather successful experiences in practices.[27]

Finally, the interpretations of the Scientific Development Concept may evolve and develop over time as the current leadership continues until 2012. How effective the theory will be in addressing many serious problems such as transitioning China’s economy from manufacturing to high-tech and low-pollution economy, tending people’s interests in living, education, and medical care, and fighting rampant corruption, remains to be seen.

[1] Study Guide, available here

[2] Jin Wei, “Summary of Scientific Development Research”

[3] Cui Weicheng, Kang Bolin, “Personal view about the definition of scientific development” China Social Science Journal Vol 5, 2009,

[4] Yu Jin, “How to understand the meaning of ‘scientific’ in the ‘Scientific Development’”

[5] Xin Xiangyang, “On three basic questions of scientific development”

[6] Chen Zhigang, “Latest progress in the research of scientific development”

[7] Pang Yuanzheng, “What is development in scientific development”

[8] Bai Wangang, “About Scientific Development” 05/10/2010,

[9] Zhou Yongkun, “Scientific Development Concept should be a developing theory”

[10] Tan Junfeng, My opinion about scientific development,

[11] Fang Ning,

[12] Ibid.

[13] Liu Haibo,

[14] Gan Yang, Comment on Zhang and Xie,

[15] Gan,

[16] Chen Jiaxing, et al, “Report on the study campaign nationwide,” People’s Daily, 04/06/2010,

[17] Ibid.

[18] Chen’s article. Ibid.

[19]Hu Jintao, “Speech at the review meeting of the campaign of studying and implementing Scientific Development” People’s Daily, 04/06/2010

[20] Xinhua column, “Excellence campaign is spreading out nationwide,” 06/01/2010

[21] Ibid.

[22] Li Yuanchao’s bio information is available here

[23] Zhong Zuwen, “Excellence campaign is the continuation of the study campaign,” 06/03/2010,People’s Daily,

[24] “Five good and Five leads” available here

[25] Central Office of the CCP issued a view about the Excellence campaign, 05/14/2010,

[26] CCP Office View on promoting party organizations of learning, 02/08/2010,

[27] Ibid.


This review provides a glimpse at the public face of a political concept with constitutional and governance dimensions that affect Party, Government and enterprises in their domestic and international operations. Understanding Scientific Development, or better put, understanding the way in which Chinese elites frame their legal discourse through the principles of Scientific Development (among other "higher Principles"), provides a sounder basis for analysis of Chinese legal developments.   In particular, such principles explains not merely the context in which political and legal action is understood (and thus conceptualized) but also the limitations under which both Party and State apparatus operate in everything from the focus on corruption, to the relationship between government and Party, and to the more fundamental relationship of governing substantive values to (and as) fundamental law (Fa--).   And those relationships in China, as they do elsewhere, color all other socio-legal engagements--from the court system to the understanding and application of statutes and other rules.  

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