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China And The Economic Reform Essay, Research Paper

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 [between 1952 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)

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