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No. 5, April 2000
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The Paradox of China's Post-Mao Reform
Edited by Merle Goldman and Roderick MacFarquhar 
Book your hotel in China online
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This book derives from a conference held at Harvard University in 1996 entitled "The Unintended Consequences of Post-Mao Reforms", examining the impact of China's economic reforms on Chinese politics, culture, and society.
 
Post-Mao reforms in fact means Deng Xiaoping's reforms. For two decades since December 1978, Deng's reform program made China's GNP grow on an average rate of 9% per year, as the editors Goldman and MacFarquhar write in their 27-page introduction. Another question is the accuracy of China's growth data. Still, China's GNP per capita was at $750 a year in 1996 (according to the Worldbank's 1998-atlas). Even if today's average monthly income should be $200, China is far from South Korea or Taiwan. Western political and business leader's do not always seem to think about these facts. One remembers their complete misunderstanding of the Russian economy.
 
But Goldman and MacFarquhar are of course right in the sens that Deng's reforms are the key to China's relative success: "After the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee in December 1978, most of the elders rejected not only Mao's utopian visions of the egalitarian society of the Great Leap Forward and the unending class struggle of the Cultural Revolution but also the Stalinist model of state control of the economy, collectivization of agriculture, and emphasis on heavy industry that China had followed since the 1950s." Deng believed that the Communist Party had to improve the standard of living for the majority of the population to hold on to its power monopoly.
 
The editors describe the power struggle within the CCP: "The more conservative elders wanted a controlled gradual reform, restricted to the economy; another group led by Deng Xiaoping and his reformist disciples, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, as well as a few of the elders, moved beyond economic reforms to implement several limited political reforms."
 
Goldman and MacFarquhar note that "After the June 4, 1989, crackdown on demonstrators in Tiananmen Square when the conservative elders and remnent Maoists reasserted their authority, the economic reforms virtually stopped." Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Deng made a comeback in favour of reform in 1992.
 
Despite the political reforms, the CCP continued campaigns against political dissidents in the years of Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. Even two party general secretaries were victims of purges, Hu Yaobang in 1987 and Zhao Ziyang in 1989. Although these crackdowns cannot be compared to those of the Mao-years, most dissidents were either in exile or silenced by the mid-1990s.
 
"Jiang [Zemin] and his colleagues are technocrats who have made their way up the political ladder via state industry or the bureaucracy. Their right to rule comes primarily from Deng's blessing." They are afraid that "too rapid political change could may produce chaos, such as that in the former Soviet Union, and thus jeopardize the gains in the standard of living of the post-Mao era."
 
There is an opening gap between the poor and the rich in China. Elizabeth Perry reveals "an explosion of collective resistance in the form of tax riots, industrial strikes, and street demonstrations. In the rural areas, an increasing gap is found between the prospering managers and workers in rural industries and farmers who work in the fields. In addition, there have been growing economic and social disparities between urban and rural areas [...]", and between the coastal areas and the inland provinces.
 
As a result of the lack of the social security safety net of the Mao era for people in the unemployed and nonstate sector, women and the elderly in the countryside suffer most. The anthropologist Arthur Kleinmann estimates that China has the highest per capita rate of suicide among women in the world.
 
"Because of Mao's ideological distortions and the fall of the former Soviet Union, Marxism-Leninism in China is bankrupt." Therefore China's leaders appeal to nationalism. Lucian Pye points out that this form of nationalism "has little meaning to a population that has virtually no knowledge of its own history and traditional culture." But a nationalism without substance cannot be a unifying force, according to Pye. Ordinary Chinese, unable to act as citizens, are absorbed in the pursuit of consumerism (Geremie Parmé).
 
The economic reforms and open-door policies weaken the party-state. A more prosperous Chinese population could well start questioning the CCP's legitimity and demand greater rights (Goldman and MacFarquhar).

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 5, April 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  Advertise  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.