State-Society Relations in Post-Mao Chinese Economic Reforms: Changes and Challenges

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Abstract

This study examines the impact of China's post-Mao economic reforms on its state-society relation. The study first provides an overview of China's state-society relations before the post-Mao reforms. It then offers some detailed analyses regarding changes in state-society relations that stem from the economic reforms. Specifically, the analyses focus on changes in five major areas: (1) changes in rural areas, (2) changes in urban areas, (3) changes in social mobility, (4) changes in individual and social ideology, and (5) changes in social control and stability. After studying these changes, the study concludes with summaries and discussions about critical issues that may challenge China's future development.

Introduction

Since 1978, the post-Mao Chinese leaders have developed and implemented various reform policies to promote China's modernization and development. These reform policies have improved China's macroeconomic performance and the Chinese people's living standards. For example, during the period of 1978 to 1995, the Chinese economy achieved high growth rates in almost every aspect of economic indicators, including an average annual increase of 9.8 percent in gross national product (GNP), 8.3 percent in per-capita GNP, 6.6 percent in gross output value of agriculture, and 15.0 percent in gross output value of industry. In the same period of time, China also increased its foreign trade and investment activities, including the increase of export from about 5 percent of its GNP to about 22 percent of the GNP and the increase of foreign direct investment from less than 1 billion to more than 37 billion U.S. dollars (Liou, 1998). Despite the impact of the Asian financial crisis, China still achieved an impressive growth rate of 8.8 percent in 1997.

In addition to economic effects, the post-Mao economic reforms have also resulted in direct or indirect effects on other important aspects of Chinese society, such as state-society relations. The issue of state-society relations is important because it covers not only the environment of the economic reforms but also the impact of the reforms on the social environment. As emphasized in the literature, economic development researchers (Haggard and Webb, 1993; Rondinelli and Montgomery, 1990; Summers and Thomas, 1993) recognized the importance of stable political and social environment in the process of economic development. They noticed that a stable environment is one of the major factors that are associated with the success of reform and development and they maintained that the stable environment will allow policy makers to formulate and implement policies and structures to achieve development goals.

The study of China's state-society relations has also been recognized by many researchers as a new model of studying Chinese politics (Harding, 1994; Perry, 1994). The new model focuses on studies of neither the state nor the society in isolation, but rather on the interaction between the two (Harding, 1994). In other words, researchers interpret changes, both causes and consequences, in Chinese politics as a product of interactions between the state apparatus and society at large (Nee and Mozingo, 1983). The major research issue raised in the study of state-society relations is whether the post-Mao economic reforms are producing a significant change in the relative power of state-society relations. The research issue is important to China's future development because of possible outcomes and consequences associated with changes in the state and society relations (Lieberthal, 1995: p. 293). In the case of Eastern Europe and the USSR, for example, it is important to notice that the down fall of communist regimes in these countries between 1989 and 1991 was based on the initiative of the people living there, which was the outcome of their political and economic reforms. How do the Chinese economic reforms change the nature of the traditional tie that connects the society to the state? …