CHINESE ECONOMIC REFORM




Chinese Economic Reform

Two years after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, it became apparent to many of China\'s leaders that economic reform was necessary. During his tenure as China\'s premier, Mao had encouraged social movements such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which had had as their base ideologies such as serving the people and maintaining the class struggle. By 1978 "Chinese leaders were searching for a solution to serious economic problems produced by Hua Guofeng, the man who had succeeded Mao Zedong as Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader after Mao\'s death" (Shirk 35). Hua had demonstrated a desire to continue the ideologically based movements of Mao. Unfortunately, these movements had left China in a state where "agriculture was stagnant, industrial production was low, and the people\'s living standards had not increased in twenty years" (Nathan, Andrew J. China\'s Crisis pg. 200). This last area was particularly troubling. While "the gross output value of industry and agriculture increased by 810 percent and national income grew by 420 percent between 1952 and 1980; average individual income increased by only 100 percent" (Ma Hong quoted in Shirk, Susan L. "The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China." Berkeley pg. 28).

However, attempts at economic reform in China were introduced not only due to some kind of generosity on the part of the Chinese Communist Party to increase the populace\'s living standards. It had become clear to members of the CCP that economic reform would fulfill a political purpose as well since the party felt, properly it would seem that it had suffered a loss of support. As Susan L. Shirk describes the situation in The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China, restoring the CCP\'s prestige required improving economic performance and raising living standards. The traumatic experience of the Cultural Revolution had eroded popular trust in the moral and political virtue of the CCP. The party\'s leaders decided to shift the base of party legitimacy from virtue to competence, and to do that they had to demonstrate that they could deliver the goods.

This movement "from virtue to competence" seemed to mark a serious departure from orthodox Chinese political theory. Confucius himself had posited in the fifth century BCE that those individuals who best demonstrated what he referred to as moral force should lead the nation. Using this principle as a guide, China had for centuries attempted to choose at least its bureaucratic leaders by administering a test to determine their moral force. After the Communist takeover of the country, Mao continued this emphasis on moral force by demanding that Chinese citizens demonstrate what he referred to as "correct consciousness." This correct consciousness could be exhibited, Mao believed, by the way people lived. Needless to say, that which constituted correct consciousness was often determined and assessed by Mao. Nevertheless, the ideal of moral force was still a potent one in China even after the Communist takeover. It is noteworthy that Shirk feels that the Chinese Communist Party leaders saw economic reform as a way to regain their and their party\'s moral virtue even after Mao\'s death. Thus, paradoxically, by demonstrating their expertise in a more practical area of competence, the leaders of the CCP felt they could demonstrate how they were serving the people. To be sure, the move toward economic reform came about as a result of a "changed domestic and international environment, which altered the leadership\'s perception of the factors that affect China\'s national security and social stability" (Xu, Zhiming. "The Impact of China\'s Reform and Development on the Outside World." pg. 247). But Shirk feels that, in those pre-Tienenmen days, such a move came about also as a result of an attempt by CCP leaders to demonstrate, in a more practical and thus less obviously ideological manner than Mao had done, their moral force. This is not to say that the idea of economic reform was embraced enthusiastically by all members of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in 1978.

To a great extent, the issue of economic reform became politicized as the issue was used as a means by Deng Xiaoping to attain the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
Mao\'s successor, Hua Guofeng, had "tried to prove himself a worthy successor to