Three Represents

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Three Represents
A slogan in Futu, Hubei, which reads: "Practice the Thought of Three Represents, advance the reform on rural tax system", with the word "reform" (改革) blocked by a billboard.
Simplified Chinese三个代表
Traditional Chinese三個代表
The important thought of Three Represents
Simplified Chinese「三個代表」重要思想
Traditional Chinese「三個代表」重要思想

The Three Represents or the important thought of Three Represents is a guiding socio-political theory within China credited to then-General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Jiang Zemin, which was ratified at the Sixteenth Party Congress in 2002. The Three Represents defines the role of the CCP; it stresses that the party must always represent the requirements for developing China's advanced productive forces, the orientation of China's advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.[1][2] Jiang Zemin first introduced his theory on 25 February 2000 while on an inspection tour in Maoming, Guangdong province.

This experience and the historical experiences gained by the Party since its founding can be summarized as follows: Our Party must always represent the requirements for developing China's advanced productive forces, the orientation of China's advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people. These are the inexorable requirements for maintaining and developing socialism, and the logical conclusion our Party has reached through hard exploration and great praxis.[3]

Ideological evolution[edit]

Throughout the years, the ideology of the CCP has changed together with the change of the party leaders. And between all the changes in the party history, the most well-known and significant period would be the reform and opening up which pursue socialist modernization by incorporating elements of capitalism. After Deng Xiaoping, the leader who tried to avoid theoretical debates, Jiang Zemin invented a new theory to define the new relationship between the party and the people, which is named “Three Represents.”[4] Since then, the CCP identified itself as the representatives in three levels:[5]

  1. Representing the development trend of China’s advanced productive forces.
  2. Representing the orientation of China's advanced culture.
  3. Representing the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.

Class Nature of the CCP[edit]

The idea of CCP becoming a “whole people’s party” that represents all people regardless of the class backgrounds of people had brought strong criticism from the left conservatives even before Jiang Zemin made his speech. A leftist journal "Quest for Truth" published a harsh attack that the sort of party that would admit capitalists is transforming from the vanguard of the working class and thus abandoned its “class character.”[6] Interestingly, Jiang himself also agreed on this opinion from his speech in 1989:

“A comrade talked about the issue of millionaires joining the party, and many people are discussing this after the newspaper was published. The documents of this meeting stated that those who are exploiting cannot join the party. I agree with this opinion. Our party is the vanguard of the working class. If we allow those who are unwilling to give up exploitation and rely their lives on exploitation to join the party, what sort of party will we build? In the primary stage of socialism, various economic components are allowed to coexist upon the foundation of the public economy. However, the individual economy can only be a supplement to the public economy, it can’t be reversed. Large and medium-sized enterprises are still the backbone of an economy owned by the whole people, and this must not be changed.”[7]

Justification of the “Three Represents”[edit]

After Jiang Zemin first delivered his groundbreaking speech about his theory on 25 February 2000, it had brought a wide attention and many interpretations of the meaning of the speech. Jiang said that by representing Chinese people in three levels, the party used the interests and demands of the overwhelming majority of the people to replace the specific interests of people from different quarters, especially the class nature of the working class. As defender Xiao Gongqin argues, the innovation of the “three represents” theory was mean to complete the historical ideology transformation of CCP from a revolutionary party to a ruling party. The Party can keep its legitimacy under the ‘socialist market economy’ or any system that is conducive to the development of advanced productive forces, without promoting any revolutionary movement or keeping the ideal of egalitarianism.[8]

Some observers speculated that the CCP will drop its “communist” label in favor of the more internationally accepted “social democratic” tag eventually.[9] On the other hand, some observers worried the CCP would fall into a trap set by foreigners if it failed to maintain its clear-cut class nature. Zheng Bijian, the executive vice president of the Central Party School who has been active in helping to create the “three represents,” argued that a party of the whole people would be a catch-all party that would include diverse and conflicting interests. To include all of the broad mass of contemporary Chinese intellectuals, science and technology workers, cultural workers, and economic managers, in the category of the so-called ‘middle class’ would weaken or even obliterate the working class.[9]

The party rejected both speculations. In Jiang's speech on the "three represents" on the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Party, he claimed that the expansion of "working class" would help the party remain advanced as the vanguard of the working class by expanding its popular support and increasing its social influence. Jiang made a clear statement on the concept of the working class that it includes intellectuals:

“With intellectuals being part of the working class, the scientific, technical and educational level of the working class has been raised considerably... Consequently some workers have changed their jobs. But this has not changed the status of the Chinese working class. On the contrary, this will serve to improve the overall quality of the working class and give play to its advantages as a group in the long run. The Chinese working class has always been the basic force for promoting the advanced productive forces in China. Our Party must remain the vanguard of the working class and unswervingly and wholeheartedly rely on the working class.”[10]

It is in such ways that Jiang and the theoreticians who wrote the speech have tried to stretch the traditional understandings of the meaning of the “vanguard of the proletariat” by expanding the meaning of the “proletariat.” This makes it possible for the ruling party to change the party’s policies and goals in different periods, overseeing the overall interests of people to keep the Party in power and maintain social stability.

Influence and reception[edit]

Certain segments within the CCP criticized the Three Represents as being un-Marxist and a betrayal of basic Marxist values. Supporters viewed it as a further development of socialism with Chinese characteristics.[11] Jiang disagreed with the assertion that his theories were not Marxist, and concluded that attaining the communist mode of production (as formulated by earlier communists) was more complex than had been realized; it was useless to try to force a change, as it had to develop naturally by following the economic laws of history.[12] The theory is most notable for allowing capitalists, officially referred to as the "new social strata", to join the party on the grounds that they engaged in "honest labour and work" and through their labour contributed "to build[ing] socialism with Chinese characteristics."[13]

One of the main goals of the Three Represents is to change the CCP into a governmental and more democratic party. This opens up the Party to "the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people", as well as businessmen and managers. This makes for a party that is much more attractive for a greater number of people. The Theory of the Three Represents is another expansion to what the government of China would define as "allies". Over the years, the number of people that could in fact still be defined as "class enemies" kept reducing, seeing how the number of people that belonged to the "wavering middle" (people that were not allies, but could in fact not threaten the Party's regime) increased.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Selected Works of Jiang Zemin, Eng. ed., FLP, Beijing, 2013, Vol. III, p. 519.
  2. ^ Chan 2003, p. 201.
  3. ^ Selected Works of Jiang Zemin, Eng. ed., FLP, Beijing, 2013, Vol. III, p. 519.
  4. ^ Zhiyue, Bo (2004). "Hu Jintao and the CPC's Ideology: A Historical Perspective". Chinese Journal of Political Science. 9 (2): 1.
  5. ^ "International Department Central Committee of CPC". 25 September 2004. Archived from the original on 25 September 2004. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  6. ^ Fewsmith, Joseph (2002). "Is Political Reform Ahead? - Beijing Confronts Problems Facing Society-and the CPC". China Leadership Journal: 2.
  7. ^ "人民日报 1989-10-17电子版,人民日报历史". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  8. ^ 萧, 功秦 (2006). "改革开放以来意识形态创新的历史考察 - 中国知网". 天津社会科学. (04). doi:10.16240/j.cnki.1002-3976.2006.04.008. Retrieved 17 April 2021.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ a b Fewsmith, Joseph (December 2001). "Rethinking the Role of the CPC: Explicating Jiang Zemin's Party Anniversary Speech". China Leadership Monitor. No.1 Part 2: 5.
  10. ^ "Jiang Zemin's Speech at the Meeting Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of the Founding of the Communist Party of China China". Internet Information Center. 1 July 2001. Retrieved 17 April 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ Kuhn 2011, pp. 108–109.
  12. ^ Kuhn 2011, pp. 107–108.
  13. ^ Kuhn 2011, p. 110.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]