The Economic Reform of China: Emerging Market Economy

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The Economic Reform of China

What is the meaning of reform?
1.0. Introduction
In the late 1970s, China initiated a full-scale economic reform in rural and urban parts of the country, because of the economic reform China has transformed itself from a centrally planned economy to an emerging market economy and at the same time its economy has achieved nearly a 9.5 percent average growth rate. The pace of China’s growth is not unique — Korea, Singapore and other economies in East Asia grew as fast in the 1970s and 1980s. What is unprecedented historically is its scale. The size of China’s population, market and geography, and the dynamism that flowed from economic reform and transformation are what define its impact on the rest of the world. Despite a still relatively low per capita income, the sheer size of the Chinese economy has made China a significant player in world production, consumption, trade and increasingly international finance and the environment.

The historic decision on “reform and opening-up” made at the Third Plenum of the CCP Eleventh Party Congress on December 18-22, 1978, marked the beginning of China’s reform era. At the time, China had a clear desire to increase productivity and raise living standards by reforming its economic system and structure, but it did not have a clear objective of what the new system would be like. Furthermore, the reform did not have a well-designed strategy or policy measures.

China’s economic reform was often distinguished from the market reform of the Soviet Union and many former socialist countries in Eastern Europe. First, unlike the case of the Soviet Union, China did not change its political system and was able to maintain political stability. Second, China’s reform process did not have a blueprint. Each step was taken after drawing the experience of the previous step. As Deng put it, the process was like a person walking across the river by feeling the rocks in each step. This characteristic was necessitated by the lack of knowledge of what kind of market economy was suitable for China on the part of the leaders. They had to learn by experimentation. Secondly, experimentation helped convince the party members of the validity of the new institutions. The slogan “to build an economic system with Chinese characteristics” was introduced in the early 1980’s and remains in constant use in the early 2000’s. “Chinese characteristics” mean the results of experimentation that are shown to work for China. This slogan also implies that the Chinese leaders are pragmatic and not confined to a set of old Communist ideology. Recall Deng Xiaoping’s famous statement, “it does not matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.” Pragmatism over ideology is an important trait of China’s reform process.

China’s reform measures that resulted from experimentation include the “household responsibility system” in agriculture, autonomy and the ”contract responsibility system” for state industrial enterprises, the free economic zones as experiments for foreign trade and investment policies, and the introduction of share-holding companies in Jiang Zemin’s report of September 1997 partly as a result of the successful experience of some small and medium sized state enterprises that was initiated by the individual enterprises themselves.

One advantage of China’s economic condition over that of the Soviet Union at the early stage of reform was that the Chinese farmers knew how to farm as private farmers. Collective farming was introduced under the Commune System only in 1958, twenty years before the reform. The farmers still remembered how to farm and they also had some practice in 1963-1965 during the president of Liu Shaoqi who introduced some elements of private farming after the economic collapse of the Great Leap Forward Movement of 1958-62. On the other hand collective farming had been introduced in the 1930’s, sixty years before the reform of the Soviet...
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