Deng Xiaopeng's Reforms Caused More Problems Than They Solved

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‘Deng Xiaoping’s reforms created more problems than they solved in China.’ How far do you agree? (M/J 2009)

China after the death of Mao Zedong was a sorry state of affairs. Communist had failed to bring prosperity to the country; instead, was poor and isolated from the rest of the world. The Cultural Revolution had also been a failure, and the youths sent down during the period came to be known as the ‘changed generation’. On top of that, infighting within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) stagnated its decision-making and threatened its authority. It was in the light of all this turmoil than Deng Xiaoping introduced the economic reforms of the 1980s, with the intention of salvaging the economy and raising the peoples’ standard of living. However, the major reforms also brought about numerous adverse effects.

Was it true that the reforms created more problems than they solved? One of the first changes Deng implemented was to abolish Mao’s rural agricultural communes. Under the ‘contract responsibility system’, land was leased out to peasants to cultivate family plots, and surplus production could be sold for profit. Grain harvest quickly increased following this new incentive. However, the communist principle of equality was soon replaced with a large income disparity between regions and provinces, because of differing conditions, climate, or levels of entrepreneurial skill. Violence and conflict occurred more frequently, with successful farmers and entrepreneurs being attacked by jealous competitors. Decollectivisation of social welfare and services soon followed, and the poor found themselves unable to afford access to privatised hospitals and education. Instead of raising the standard of living, the reforms had, in fact, worsened impoverishment in some areas.

The industrial reforms also led to significant unintended consequences. As the ‘iron rice bowl’ concept was replaced with performance-based employment, thousands of workers were laid off in...
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