chinese 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 bases
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
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 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 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 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 Mao by draping
himself in the mantle of Maoist tradition. His approach to economic
development was orthodox Maoism with an up-to-date, international twist"
(Shirk 35). This approach was tied heavily to the development of China\'s
oil reserves. "[W]hen [in 1978] estimates of the oil reserves were revised
downward[,] commitments to import plants and expand heavy industry could
not be sustained" (Shirk 35). Deng took advantage of this economic crisis
to discredit Hua and aim for leadership of the party. "Reform policies
became Deng\'s platform against Hua for post-Mao leadership" (Shirk 36).
Given this history of economic reform, it is evident that