China's Economic Reform: An Experiment in Pragmatic Socialism

China's Economic Reform: An Experiment in Pragmatic Socialism

China's Economic Reform: An Experiment in Pragmatic Socialism

China's Economic Reform: An Experiment in Pragmatic Socialism


Both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping drastically altered the course of contemporary China's economic development using opposing strategies. Mao froze China's economic system in a perennial state of consumer goods shortages and pervasive macro disequilibria. Deng, however, began thawing a rigidly structured system by introducing experimental reform measures. Mao's revolutionary rhetoric brought China's economy to the brink of bankruptcy. Deng's ideological pragmatism netted China glowing successes. Mao closed China to the outside world. Deng engineered China's reintegration into the world economy.


The approaches Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping took toward modernizing and accelerating China's economy were vastly different. Mao ruled China as his personal property. As his mission, Deng steered China's economy toward reform. Mao relied on central planning for control. Deng initiated decentralization for results. "Politics in command" was Mao's dictum. With Deng, substance weighed more than words and results were what counted. Where Mao failed, Deng succeeded.

Twice publicly humiliated by Mao, Deng became an advocate of law and order, accentuating economic laws and economic order for reform experiments. In his address to government leaders on December 13, 1979, Deng noted that:

[our] legal system needs strengthening. . . . Legal democracy needs systematizing so that the system and the laws do not change when either the leadership or its views or focus change. [In the past,] people often equated the leaders' words with laws; opposing the leaders' views was deemed as against the laws. . . . When words from the leaders changed, laws surreptitiously changed as well. (Hsu, 1988: 76)

The remark was a veiled criticism of Mao's demagogic modus operandi which culminated in the rampant lawlessness [during the] decade of the Great Cultural Revolution. The exhortation reflected Deng's own felt need for orderly economic reorientation. Within the first ten years of economic reform (1979-1989), China enacted 580 new laws, of which 55 percent dealt with domestic and foreign economic operations and relations.

Integration of China's domestic economy into the world arena began with quasi-free market experimentation in 1978. Reform design was tentative. Reform measures were experimental. Where success materialized, the reform pace also accelerated. Where undesirable outcomes occurred, timely adjustments were made. Throughout, the state retained and maintained its role as the final arbiter of reform . . .

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