China’s Long March from Mao to Modernity

This month marks thirty years since the launch of China’s reform and opening policy. For Reuters, Jonathan Sharp remembers reporting from China just before the reforms, at the tail end of the :

The worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution that broke out in 1966 and formally ended in 1976 were over. In fact Beijing-based foreign reporters in the early 1970s wrote about the Cultural Revolution as if it finished in 1969, and they were not corrected by their minders in the Foreign Ministry.

But the decidedly un-comradely battle which foreign observers believed was being fought out between hardliners and moderates was still going full tilt.

According to those attempting to read the Chinese tea leaves, this conflict pitted hard-left firebrands led by Jiang Qing, wife of the increasingly enfeebled Mao Zedong, and a more moderate group, presumed to be led by Premier Zhou Enlai.

And Jiang and her cohorts, later demonised as the Gang of Four, appeared to be winning.

Also, see a timeline from Reuters of the events that have shaped China’s history over the past three decades.

Alan Wheatley, also writing for Reuters, argues that with thirty years of breakneck economic growth behind it, the country now needs to consider a new model. It should look away from industry and exports and towards social spending:

[…] China’s attachment to investment, exports and heavy industry runs deep.

After all, these have been the drivers of the remarkable growth of 10 percent a year that China has enjoyed since it embarked on market reforms 30 years ago this month, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the process.

Weaning the economy off exports in favor of domestic consumption driven by services is easier said than done.

But the closure of thousands of factories as export demand evaporates has dealt a serious blow to China’s confidence. President Hu Jintao has gone so far as to say that turning the challenges posed by the global credit crisis into opportunities would be a test of the Communist Party’s capacity to govern.

China, in short, realizes it needs to stand on its own feet.

So expectations are running high that a meeting starting on Monday of China’s top leaders to chart economic policy for 2009 will finally get serious about boosting home-grown spending.



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