Chinese Economic Reform
Two
years after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, it became apparent to many of

China\'s leaders that economic reform was necessary. During his tenure as China\'s
premier, Mao had encouraged social movements such as the Great Leap Forward and
the Cultural Revolution which had had as their bases ideologies such as serving
the people and maintaining the class struggle. By 1978 "Chinese leaders
were searching for a solution to serious economic problems produced by Hua

Guofeng, the man who had succeeded Mao Zedong as CCP leader after Mao\'s
death" (Shirk 35). Hua had demonstrated a desire to continue the
ideologically based movements of Mao. Unfortunately, these movements had left

China in a state where "agriculture was stagnant, industrial production was
low, and the people\'s living standards had not increased in twenty years"
(Nathan 200). This last area was particularly troubling. While "the gross
output value of industry and agriculture increased by 810 percent and national
income grew by 420 percent [between 1952 and 1980] ... average individual income
increased by only 100 percent" (Ma Hong quoted in Shirk 28). However,
attempts at economic reform in China were introduced not only due to some kind
of generosity on the part of the Chinese Communist Party to increase the
populace\'s living standards. It had become clear to members of the CCP that
economic reform would fulfill a political purpose as well since the party felt,
properly it would seem, that it had suffered a loss of support. As Susan L.

Shirk describes the situation in The Political Logic of Economic Reform in

China, restoring the CCP\'s prestige required improving economic performance and
raising living standards. The traumatic experience of the Cultural Revolution
had eroded popular trust in the moral and political virtue of the CCP. The
party\'s leaders decided to shift the base of party legitimacy from virtue to
competence, and to do that they had to demonstrate that they could deliver the
goods. (23) This movement "from virtue to competence" seemed to mark a
serious departure from orthodox Chinese political theory. Confucius himself had
posited in the fifth century BCE that those individuals who best demonstrated
what he referred to as moral force should lead the nation. Using this principle
as a guide, China had for centuries attempted to choose at least its
bureaucratic leaders by administering a test to determine their moral force.

After the Communist takeover of the country, Mao continued this emphasis on
moral force by demanding that Chinese citizens demonstrate what he referred to
as "correct consciousness." This correct consciousness could be
exhibited, Mao believed, by the way people lived. Needless to say, that which
constituted correct consciousness was often determined and assessed by Mao.

Nevertheless, the ideal of moral force was still a potent one in China even
after the Communist takeover. It is noteworthy that Shirk feels that the Chinese

Communist Party leaders saw economic reform as a way to regain their and their
party\'s moral virtue even after Mao\'s death. Thus, paradoxically, by
demonstrating their expertise in a more practical area of competence, the
leaders of the CCP felt they could demonstrate how they were serving the people.

To be sure, the move toward economic reform came about as a result of a
"changed domestic and international environment, which altered the
leadership\'s perception of the factors that affect China\'s national security and
social stability" (Xu 247). But Shirk feels that, in those pre-Tienenmen
days, such a move came about also as a result of an attempt by CCP leaders to
demonstrate, in a more practical and thus less obviously ideological manner than

Mao had done, their moral force. This is not to say that the idea of economic
reform was embraced enthusiastically by all members of the leadership of the

Chinese Communist Party in 1978. To a great extent, the issue of economic reform
became politicized as the issue was used as a means by Deng Xiaoping to attain
the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Mao\'s successor, Hua Guofeng, had
"tried to prove himself a worthy successor to Mao by draping himself in the
mantle of Maoist tradition. His approach to economic development was orthodox

Maoism with an up-to-date, international twist" (Shirk 35). This approach
was tied heavily to the development of China\'s oil reserves. "[W]hen [in

1978] estimates of the oil reserves were revised downward[,] commitments to
import plants and expand heavy industry could not be sustained" (Shirk 35).

Deng took advantage of this economic crisis to discredit Hua and aim for
leadership of the party. "Reform policies became Deng\'s platform against

Hua for post-Mao leadership" (Shirk 36). Given this history of