China Enters the 1980s

Courtesy Reuters

The mood in China as the 1980s begin, and a post-Mao policy line is consolidated, is one of cautious hopefulness. There is a fervent desire for progress, blended with an acute awareness of the limits on future possibilities. Of all the differences since the great but oppressive Mao Zedong was embalmed in 1976, there are four which stand out.

First, people high and low see economic growth as China's highest priority. In the factories the slogans are about output, product quality and competitions between teams of workers: the conversations in the canteens are about pay packets and what to spend them on. Some private enterprise is returning to the cities, to provide much desired special products and services, and to alleviate an increasingly serious unemployment problem. The spirit of industry has been galvanized by the assertion from on high that profit and market response are the only valid measures of industrial performance.

In most of the countryside political and bureaucratic pressures on the farmers have been eased, to spur them to grow more by growing what they want to grow. In town and village alike, hard work and initiative (as well as birth control) are being rewarded in cash; one-sixth of an industrial wage can hinge on a bonus, and one-fourth of a farm income can come from private cultivation. Even the young urban dissidents are part of the age of economics. They have been selling their leaflets-unlike dissidents in the rest of the Marxist world, who tend to give their literature away; even Wei Jingsheng, the outspoken young editor who was jailed for "counterrevolutionary activity" last year, said at his trial: "We publish our magazines for the purpose of . . . making China more prosperous and powerful."

One cannot but recall how Mao in 1965 reminded André Malraux of Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin's remark, "Communism means the raising of living standards," and then sneeringly dismissed it: "and swimming is a way of putting on a pair of trunks." "Politics in command," which was Mao's

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