30 years after China’s "Reform and Open Door Policy” was launched, the economy is thriving. It all began in the rural areas, where the land was returned from the "People's Communes" to the individual peasant.
China's 'great reformer' late Deng Xiaoping
After the “Cultural Revolution,” which lasted from 1966 to 1976, China was left devastated. When the country’s leader Mao Zedong died in 1976, a power struggle began in China’s Communist Party. Deng Xiaoping emerged as the new leader and would later become known as China’s great reformer.
At a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in December 1978, Deng proclaimed his “Reform and Open Door Policy” to boost the nation’s economy. Professor Bettina Gransow, who teaches Chinese Studies in Berlin, was in China at the time. She recalls, “It was clear in the summer of 1978 already that big changes were in the offing. It was expected there would be major transformations in agricultural policy. But at that time nothing was clear because nothing had been changed officially.”
Not everyone benefited equally
The reforms were not introduced all at once, but gradually. The economy was built up step-by-step to improve the lives of the Chinese, especially those of the peasants. But despite a major improvement in living conditions for many, not everybody has benefitted equally from the economic boom, explains Gransow.
“The reforms started with changes in the agricultural sector. This led to a significant improvement of the lives of most of the rural population in the first half of the 1980s. In the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s the economic-boom had a different impact on different parts of the rural population. Lots of infrastructural projects were carried out in the countryside. Those who knew about them could profit from them in a different way from those who were only affected by them.”
In 2004, the current Chinese leader Hu Jintao introduced his concept of a “Harmonious Society” to cope with the increasing social issues emerging from the economic boom. By developing sustainable growth, Hu wants to achieve a ‘healthy society’.
“The economic boom policy has put efficiency in the spotlight. The growth has had a number of social and ecological consequences. This is why the development of a social security system has a big role to play in the notion of a 'Harmonious Society'," says Gransow.
This concept of a “Harmonious Society” is not only considered a solution for China’s domestic social-economic issues. Due to increasing inter-dependencies because of globalisation, it is also a strategy to strengthen the country's position in the world economy and community.