FOR a panorama of Guangdong's upstart economy, pull back the
white-lace curtains on a northbound ride on the Kowloon-Canton
Across the border from Hong Kong rise the skyscrapers of
Shenzhen, China's liveliest free-enterprise zone. Next appear the
rice paddies and humming rural workshops of the country's richest
region, the fertile Pearl River Delta. Finally, the blue diesel
engine chugs past the abundant markets of the provincial capital,
Scenes of prosperity on the three-hour journey lend credence to
claims by Guangdong leaders that a large chunk of the southern
province will achieve the living standards of a middle-income
developed nation by the end of the century - 50 years ahead of the
rest of China.
They also support a consensus among Guangdong officials that the
free-market forces unleashed here since 1979 now constitute an
irreversible engine for economic progress.
"The momentum of development in south China ... cannot be
controlled by man," said Zhou Baohong, director of foreign
investment in Shenzhen.
In recent years, Guangdong's resilience has been proven in the
face of two major shocks: a nationwide economic retrenchment
launched in 1988 and the reversion to Marxist orthodoxy by hard-line
leaders after the June 4, 1989, Beijing massacre.
China's biggest exporting province, Guangdong now also boasts the
country's fastest growing industrial sector, chalking up a growth
rate of 27 percent from January to May.
Today, some Chinese predict the freewheeling province will also
push forward with political liberalization ahead of Beijing.
"You could argue that Guangdong is going the way of
(authoritarian regimes like) South Korea and Taiwan," where the
emergence of a middle class has spawned demands for political
participation, says a Western diplomat based in Guangzhou.
Now that Beijing has lost its grip on the province's economy,
"the crucial question is one of political control," says a Chinese
resident of Guangzhou.
Beijing's concern over Guangdong's growing autonomy prompted a
long-awaited reshuffle of the provincial leadership this spring.
Ye Xuanping, a Guangdong native who emerged as a popular champion
of reform during his tenure as governor since 1985, succumbed to
pressure from Beijing and accepted a ceremonial post in the capital.
But Mr. Ye's departure is unlikely to cramp Guangdong's maverick
style, say Chinese officials in Guangzhou.
Apparently by Ye's demand, the acting Governor Zhu Senlin and
other officials recently promoted in the province are all avid
reformers who are either native Cantonese or have spent much of
their careers here. …