Chinese Economic Reform under Communist Rule

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 [between1952 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. (23) 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