Reform and Opening: China’s Turning Point

Crossing the river by feeling for the stones – Klaus Mühlhahn

On December 13, 1978, at the end of a month-long preparatory conference for the historic Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee, to be held in Beijing from December 18 to December 22, Deng Xiaoping delivered a carefully thought-out, well-calculated speech, which not only dared a risky break with the Maoist past, but ushered in a new era of reform and opening. It is time, Deng stated, that the members of the Chinese Communist Party "emancipate their minds, use their heads, seek the truth in the facts, and look to the future together." He criticized that many Party members clung to "book knowledge" and were accustomed to "hang their flag in the wind." But conservatism and the worship of theories must be overcome in order to make China a "modern and powerful socialist state." Deng also made it clear that pragmatism should never call into question the political leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.