In Communist China, Reform Is a Dead End

December 26, 2018 Updated: December 30, 2018
FONT BFONT SText size

Xiang Songzuo, deputy director and senior fellow at the Center for International Monetary Research at China’s Renmin University, delivered a speech on Dec. 16 that detailed a series of problems afflicting the Chinese economy.

His prognosis is much more gloomy than what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is willing to admit.

At the end of his speech, Xiang proposed three reforms: tax reform, political reform, and national reform. These were clearly meant as suggestions to authorities on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of China’s “reform and opening up.”

But those who harbor hope that the Party will restart reforms 40 years after the first round are likely to be disappointed. Regardless of who heads the Party today, it’s impossible to return to the era of Deng Xiaoping, the CCP leader who initiated economic reforms in 1978. In fact, the seeds of the failure we see now were planted at the onset of Deng’s reforms.

Those reforms began right after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Almost every aspect of economic development had to be started from scratch, and there was no clear policy on anything. The two most important and well-known policies were simply “easing restrictions” and “crossing the river by feeling the stones.”

It’s now widely agreed that the reform movement is dead, with the only debate being as to when it died. Some say it was over in 1989, after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Another explanation puts it 20 years later, in 2008 or 2009.

There are those who say that reform was “alive” until after 1989, when it was shifted to serve the power of the Party elite. However, the students gunned down at Tiananmen were already protesting against the forces of corruption and privilege in the reforms.

Even in the earliest developments of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when one may have genuinely spoken of reform, we must still consider what it was that was being changed.

The reform began in the countryside, in the small village of Xiaogang in Anhui Province. Eighteen villagers signed a life-or-death contract to split up their collective farm. The document guaranteed that if the village cadre was arrested, the entire village would help raise his children to adulthood.

How courageous of them to stand up to the political pressure facing them! But who was pressuring them? It was the Communist Party. The rural reform was none other than to break the Party’s yoke. How is it that the Party took credit for this achievement?

In the cities, reform followed the model of allowing some people to get rich first; that is, to allow the existence and development of the private economy and its development. In both the urban and rural experiences, the early reforms were nothing more than denying the “three major transformations” of the pre-reform period of communist rule, including the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts, and capitalist industry and commerce.

These “achievements” were the elimination of private ownership, while the reform and opening up was the partial recovery of private ownership. Why should both be considered the CCP’s achievements, when it would have simply been better to not undertake the socialist transformations in the first place?

Later reforms included reform of state-owned enterprises as part of China’s entry to the WTO, which had the side effect of causing a large number of workers to lose their jobs, while shifting ownership of state assets to the elites for criminally low prices. Other “reforms” include those in education, health care, and housing.

In communist propaganda, the term “three great mountains” refers to the oppressive imperialism, feudalism, and capitalist bureaucracy from which the CCP claimed to have liberated the Chinese people. Today, education, health care, and housing are widely mocked as the “new three great mountains.”

Party officials from the central to local levels seem to have a special preference for “reform,” since it benefits the CCP elite. In this sense, all officials are “reformists” and there are no “conservatives.”

The positive aspects of China’s economic reform are that it partially restored the “old society” that existed prior to the establishment of the communist regime, and that it brought in foreign technology and managerial methods. But there was never any political reform in the meaningful sense of the word, and, thus, never any reformists.

Some people think that the abolition of lifelong leadership and the establishment of “collective leadership” constituted political reform, yet the Tiananmen Square Massacre happened anyway. And the brutal persecution of Falun Gong that has lasted 19 years was begun under the “collective leadership” of Jiang Zemin and his factional allies. Whatever the circumstance, the CCP has never corrected its cyclical pattern of periodic human-rights abuses.

The history of the Communist Party’s rule is filled with such tragedies. The Lushan Conference of 1959 failed to correct the “leftist inclination” of the disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign, and instead, a further 20 million people starved to death after Mao Zedong’s ideological assault on the “rightists.”

Under Deng’s Four Cardinal Principles that re-established the political supremacy of the CCP and Marxism, the liberalizing tendencies were doomed, and reformist leaders such as Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were purged. The historical pattern shows that there’s something in the nature of the CCP that makes true reform impossible.

Today, the CCP faces an ideological and theoretical dilemma in every aspect of its existence, from political economy to diplomacy. This is an inevitable result of the four decades of partial reform, which occurred only with great internal contradictions. No reform can be successfully implemented if its goal is to save the Party’s rule.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.