International Department of the CPC Central Committee       BEIJING REVIEW
Illustrated Guide to the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee       MONTHLY
A Brief History of the CPC Over the Past Century: The New Period of Reform, Opening up, and Socialist Modernization

The New Period of Reform, Opening up, and Socialist Modernization  

(December, 1978-November, 2012)  

The Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee

In December 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee took place. The Party fundamentally freed itself from the prolonged fetter of leftist errors and reaffirmed the ideological, political and organizational lines of Marxism. The session decided to shift the emphasis of the Party’s work onto socialist modernization construction. It also formulated the general principle of reform and opening up. The measures brought about a great turning point of far- reaching significance in Party history since the founding of the PRC in 1949. With Deng Xiaoping at the core of leadership, the CPC Central Committee led the work of resolutely righting the wrongs of the past and guided other ideology and practical work. Step by step, the Party established the basic line of adher- ing to the Four Cardinal Principles and to the policy of reform and opening up, with economic construction at the center of the work.

Family Land Contract Responsibility System

In 1978, 18 farmers gathered for a covert meeting inside a mud hut home in Xiaogang Village in Anhui Province, where they signed a secret agreement to divide communally owned farmland into family plots. The family land contract responsibility system that derived from the Xiaogang meeting had spread nationwide by 1984, when China’s per-capita grain output reached 400 kg, which means that the country basically solved its food shortage problem.

Urban Economic System Reform

The urban reform started with the efforts to invigorate state-owned enterprises and gradually turn them into independent economic entities rather than affiliations of government departments. Various business operation models, such as contracting and leasing, have been popularized in state-owned enterprises to explore ways to separate ownership from management rights after 1978. Private businesses have been encouraged, while at the same time the public sector of the economy has been kept in the dominant position.

Shekou Industrial Zone

In July 1979, the Shekou Industrial Zone began construction in Shenzhen of Guangdong Province, firing the “first shot” in China’s process of reform and opening up. That same year, the first workshop of China International Marine Containers (Group) Ltd. (CIMC) was created in the zone. CIMC was then a joint venture between Hong Kong and European investors, denoting the first time for the latter to invest in Shenzhen. Over the past four decades, Shekou has transformed from a fishing village into a zone with more than 400,000 residents and its GDP has reached tens of billions of U.S. dollars.

Shenzhen Special Economic Zone

On August 26, 1980, the 15th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Fifth National People’s Congress approved the establishment of special economic zones in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and Shantou i n G u a n g d o n g Province and Xiamen in Fujian Province. The window of the country’s reform and opening up drive was opened in Shenzhen, as the frontrunner kick-started a brand-new market-oriented development pattern. A giant poster bearing the slogan “Time is money, efficiency is life” stood tall before the Shekou Industrial Zone to remind the early builders in Shenzhen to seize the moment and strive for economic miracles. Since then, Shenzhen has been branded as a prominent test bed of China’s reform and opening-up drive. From 1979 to 2019, Shenzhen’s GDP rose at an annual rate of 21.6 percent. The city has become a major engine for China’s scientific and technological innovation, with a large number of innovation-oriented enterprises.

New Pattern of Opening Up

When it decided to reform the national economic system in 1978, the Chinese Government embarked on a policy of opening up in a planned, step-by-step way. Since 1980, China has established special economic zones in Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou in Guangdong Province and Xiamen in Fujian Province, and designated the entire province of Hainan as a special economic zone. In 1984, China further opened up 14 coastal cities—Dalian, Qinhuangdao, Tianjin, Yantai, Qingdao, Lianyungang, Nantong, Shanghai, Ningbo, Wenzhou, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Zhanjiang and Beihai—to overseas investment. Then, the state decided to expand, from 1985 onwards, its number of open coastal areas, establishing economic zones in the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, and Xiamen-Zhangzhou-Quanzhou Triangle in south Fujian, on Shandong Peninsula and Liaodong Peninsula, and in Hebei Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Message to Compatriots in Taiwan

OnJanuary 1, 1979, the NPC Standing Committee issued the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan. It was considered a declaration of the Central Government’s policy for peaceful reunification. A halt to military confrontations was proposed. Visits, cross-Straits transportation, postal services and eco- nomic and cultural exchanges were promoted. Thus, a new page on cross-Straits relations was turned.

South Tour Speeches

In 1992, Deng Xiaoping embarked on his famous tour of south China and held a series of talks on the month-long trip, stressing the importance of economic reform in China. His “South Tour Speeches” heralded a brand new phase of development, accelerating the pace oftransformation from a planned economy to a market-oriented system.

China’s WTO Accession

ChinaformallyjoinedtheWorldTrade Organization (WTO) and became its 143rd member on December 11, 2001. This was an event of vital importance in its course ofreformand opening up.

Since its entry to the WTO, China has further integrated with and become an irreplaceable force in the international economy while benefiting from globalization. “Mutually beneficial” is an accurate description of China’s relationship with the rest of the world. China firmly supports multilateral trade systems. It has been and will always be a responsible WTO member and it will keep on contributing to multilateral trade systems.

Hong Kong’s Return to the Motherland

Against the historical backdrop of reform and opening up, late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping put forward the great vision of “one country, two systems,” which guided China’s diplomatic negotiations with the United Kingdom that ultimately led to the successful return of Hong Kong. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong returned to the Motherland, which marked a major step toward the complete reunification of China. Hong Kong’s return has gone down as a monumental achievement in the history ofthe Chinese nation. Hong Kong has since embarked on a journey of unity and common development with the mainland.

Macao’s Return to the Motherland

On December 20, 1999, China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Macao, once under Portuguese colonial rule. Since then, the Chinese Central Government and the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government have promoted the political and legislative systems in the region in accordance with the Constitution and the Basic Law of the Macao SAR and laid out multiple development plans.

1992 Consensus

The 1992 Consensus on the one-China principle and its respective verbal wording of both sides was reached during a meeting in November 1992 hosted in Hong Kong by the Association for Relations Across Taiwan Straits (ARATS) of the mainland, headed by Wang Daohan, and the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) of Taiwan, led by Koo Chen-fu. The consensus held that “both sides of the (Taiwan) Straits adhere to the one-China principle” and verbally explain the principle respectively.

As exchanges in trade, economy and other fields across the Taiwan Straits have kept increasing since late 1987, the Taiwan authorities adjusted its policy of “no contact, no concession and no negotiation” and set up the SEF to contact and negotiate with the Chinese mainland over any occurring problems. The Chinese mainland agreed to hold negotiations by setting up ARATS in December 1991 to promote exchanges across the Straits.

A Summary of the Wang-Koo Talks published by the SEF in August 1993 stated that the consensus reached by ARATS and the SEF were quite clear: both sides had worked hard to seek common ground while reserving differences in explain- ing the political content of one China.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a permanent intergovernmental international organization, the creation of which was announced on June 15, 2001 in Shanghai (China) by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the PRC, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan. It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism.

The SCO’s main goals are strengthening mutual trust and neighborliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.


The Boao Forum for Asia

The Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), headquartered in China, is an international organization jointly initiated by 29 member states. BFA holds its annual conference in Boao, Hainan Province on a regular basis. The founding purpose of BFA was to promote economic integration in Asia. Its mission now is to pool positive energy for the development of Asia and the world.

Fight Against SARS

The largest outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) struck Beijing in spring 2003, against a backdrop of earlier outbreaks detected in Guangdong, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Toronto, and Singapore. In contrast with Toronto, where the entire outbreak originated from a single imported case, Beijing’s outbreak involved multiple distinct imported cases, and transmission from index cases was amplified within several healthcare facilities. China took immediate and decisive measures to contain the spread of SARS.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway

In the 1950s, the Central Government decided to establish a railway to Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region. In 1956, the Ministry of Railways carried out a comprehensive survey of Tibet to work out the planning and design for this task. After decades of research and debates, in June 2001, the railway connecting Golmud, Qinghai, to Lhasa started construction. Its main obstacles were permafrost, a cold and anoxic environment, and a fragile ecology. Having overcome all three, in July 2006 the railway went into operation.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, with a total length of 1,956 km, is the first railway to Lhasa and the world’s highest one, which is why it is known as the “Heavenly Road.” The railway travels through the Hoh Xil, Sanjiangyuan, Qiangtang and several other national nature reserves. Since its opening, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has served as an important driving force for the economic development ofTibet.

The 2008 Summer Olympics

The 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, officially known as the Games of the XXIX Olympiad and commonly known as Beijing 2008, was an international multi-sport event held from August 8-24, 2008 in Beijing, capital of China. A total of 10,942 athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees competed in 28 sports and 302 events. This was the first time China had hosted the Summer Olympic Games, and the third time the Games had been held in East Asia, following the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, the Republic of Korea. These were also the third Summer Olympic Games staged in a developing country after the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.


China launched Shenzhou-5, its first manned space mission in 2003, becoming the third country in the world to independently develop manned spaceflight, after Russia and the U.S.. Yang Liwei became well-known as China’s first taikonaut in space after orbiting the earth 14 times and traveling some 600,000 km in space in 21 hours, a record for the world’s most populous nation.


In 2008, China had its first spacewalker, Zhai Zhigang, 42 at the time, ventured outside of the Earth-orbiting Shenzhou-7 spacecraft and became the first Chinese to leave a “footprint in the universe.” China thus became the third country in the world capable of conducting spacewalks. Two other taikonauts, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng, were also onboard the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft.

Exemption of Tuition and Miscellaneous Fees

The Compulsory Educati on Law of the People’ s Republic of China was adopted during the Fourth Session of the Sixth National People’s Congress on April 12, 1986. It was amended during the 22nd Session of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People’s Congress on June 29, 2006. According to the amended law, starting from September 1, 2008, about 28 million students in the compulsory education system across urban areas were exempted from tuition and other miscellaneous fees.

The New Rural Cooperative Medical System

The New Rural Cooperative Medical System was established in 2003, under which a rural resident pays about 200 yuan ($30.89) per year to enjoy full medical insurance coverage. For each individual joining the insurance program, the central and local governments contribute about 600 yuan ($93.78) to the pool.Yet because ofits limited resources, the rural insurance program can reimburse only between 20 percent and 60 percent of a patient’s overall medical costs. To ensure underprivileged farmers, too, can receive the necessary medical treatment, the government has implemented additional policies that allow people suffering from serious illness or living in extreme poverty to apply for different kinds of subsidies.

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