Apologists for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) never fail to mention that it lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty—conveniently forgotting that a whole lot of that poverty was caused by the CCP’s own policies since taking over the country in 1949. Deng Xiaoping was the party’s supreme leader from 1978 to 1989 and takes all credit for the rise of China’s economy. it is known as its “Great architect.”
This claim has increased the power of CCP. The party looked like another unreliable regime back in 1970. It is now full of self-confidence and uses its economic power to make its mark on the international stage.
The CCP, however, isn’t the key to modern Chinese economic success. The reform of China’s economy was initiated by ordinary people and not Deng. True change was organic and came down from below, contrary to the CCP myth. It wasn’t Deng’s genius that caused it. It is important to reconsider this myth, as many still believe that the Chinese regime has the ability to turn around their economy.
Unfortunately, the Chinese party line has deceived much of the rest of the world. The BBC was the BBC’s 2017 spokesperson. Deng is believed to have created the “state-driven economic system,” which has been responsible for China’s rapid economic growth.ThAnniversary of Deng’s election as the Party’s Supreme Leader The Washington Post He gushed about how “Deng laid the foundations for China’s success” while instituting policies that “unleashed creativity and entrepreneurial potential of Chinese people.”
Deng wasn’t trying to set out on a new right path; he was actually trying to reverse the clock. Deng wasn’t trying to establish a new system of economics, he was looking to revive the plan economy which existed prior to the Cultural Revolution. He tried to put into practice the programme after 1978, but it was built on Zhou Enlai’s “Four Modernisations”, which he had established in 1963 after Mao’s devastating Great Leap Forward. The party’s extreme elements encouraged new collectivization campaigns during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. Deng was not interested in the plan economy but rather the reverse of these extremist policies.
After the events of the ground, Deng supported conservative reforms. After assuming control of the party, Deng supported private ownership of small parcels of land but prohibited the division of collective land among individual households. In 1982, just four years after his takeover, households became legally allowed to purchase collective production rights. He raised the price of grain that farmers compulsorily sold to the state by 20 percent—a substantial concession, but hardly evincing the kind of vision that the title “Great Architect” implies. Deng, along with the party leadership, ordered the return of those who left their communes in 1979 after the “great turn point”.
Before 1983, the communites were officially disbanded, the planned economy was weakened and subverted below. Deng’s vision did not cause decollectivization, but ordinary people fled the communites under the Cultural Revolution’s chaotic cover. Mao was killed in 1976. It had been common for ordinary people to venture out on their terms in pursuit of financial opportunities. While the party’s leaders lamented that the country had “gone capitalist”, they couldn’t stop this trend. In 1980, more than half of the production units in Guizhou and Gansu provinces were covered by household contracts. Farmers were able to obtain collective farmland rights that gave them secure tenures. This greatly improved their productivity and also increased their health. One cadre in Anhui province likened household contracting, as reported by the historian Frank Dikötter in a 2016 article in The China Quarterly, to “an irresistible wave, spontaneously topping the limits we had placed…it could not be suppressed or turned around.”
Ironic aftermath to Mao’s Cultural Revolution
Deng did not change history. He was simply swept up by it. In her 1996 book, Kate Zhou wrote that Deng was not changing history. China: The Story of the Farmer“The government did not lift restrictions because it recognized that unorganized farmers made them obsolete.” Deng Xiaoping was not the only one who resisted and reformed plans to create an economy.
The Cultural Revolution’s history is a good place to start looking at how economic control was lost by the party. Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” of 1958–1962 It had turned into the Great Famine that killed tens to millions. To increase its international reputation, the party increased grain exports to other socialist countries while they were starving.
This forced farmers to circumvent the state’s orders—one had to lie, cheat, steal, smuggle, or trade on the black markets to avoid starvation. Only the brave and the enterprising, along with the loyal hackers of the party, survived. Even Mao himself had to admit that the Great Leap Forward was a failure in the 1960s. A few safeguards were provided by the Central Committee to stop extreme collectivization. The Central Committee allowed villagers to plant their own plots of land, but they could only do so in their spare time.
Mao saw in this backsliding and launched the Cultural Revolution. China was taken over by revolutionary committees. People’s Liberation Army members were ordered to the streets. Soviet-Sino border conflicts served as pretext for regaining control of the rural countryside. Once again, private property was collected on an enormous scale. The party fell apart and was undermined by factionalism.
The Cultural Revolution broke the party’s apparatus of control—it lost much of its capacity to coerce people’s everyday behaviour. Some of these freedoms were regained by the people during the chaos. These people expanded their own lots and left the communes. They also sold produce for personal gain. This is the place where you can find the origins and roots of China’s modernization.
Many cadres lost their interest in maintaining party lines after successive terror attacks, starvation and struggle sessions. Instead, they focused on production. Some even sold all of the commune property. They also flourished on black markets. Private firms, or “collectives”, soon arose. Enterprising villager began to set up illegal brick factories and metalworks. Although the party leadership was disappointed that rural areas had become capitalists, it knew there wasn’t much it could do to stop it from happening in major cities.
Chinese People choose the “Capitalist Road”
China’s economy was transformed by the combined efforts of many ordinary citizens who engaged in production and trade on their own. The party leadership was not aware of it. It would have brought down the entire state if the village organizers had not resisted party policies. They managed to outmanoeuvre the state furtively. Before massive non-cooperation, Cadres found themselves helpless. Many authorities quickly realized that their lives would be better if politics was forgotten and they embraced the profit motive. They gained such momentum, that even the party leadership was unable to stop them.
Villagers set up factories and private businesses throughout the country. In Jiangsu, for example, industrialization rates in rural areas far outpaced those under Deng. China’s rapid growth of GDP was fueled by these rural industries. The countryside was the source of prosperity, not the capitalist cities and state-owned businesses. People who were employed in such factories often left their local communities on their own, and not following party directives. In 1978, Deng assumed the role of supreme leader. The silent revolution was well underway.
Not only were factories established, but markets linked rich and poor provinces. The coastal province Guangdong saw traders return to overseas trade after the 1972 lifting of restrictions. Deng may have initiated the opening of China. However, money from abroad reached Guangdong as soon as 1974. This was double the 1965 level. While the state held a few key products under strict monopoly, black markets were all over the place. However, virtually everything could be bought on the market.
Fixed prices were a benefit to these markets. For commodities that were not already at the set price, people would often pay double or more. Because the state was unable to enforce regulations on daily commerce, the private market’s higher prices provided an incentive for producers to stop selling their goods to the state. The planned economy was essentially destroyed.
Local leaders in each province divided the collective property among farmers, who made quick work of converting from monoculture state-mandated. Farmers were not required to grow grain. Many farmers grew crops that could be sold on the private market and bought back their grain quota from the state with the proceeds. Many others used their land to rent it to be employed in industry. They then sent the earnings to their loved ones. This was despite the will of the Central Committee.
It also lost the ability to control people’s movements. Despite the attempts of the state to stop them, villager moved into cities to seek out opportunities. Although the household registration system was supposed to track people, its agents were often outwitted. The urban population in Hubei increased by one-third of a billion between 1965 and 1970. However, it grew by half a million within the following two years. To keep illegal residents and travellers out of Beijing, more than 10,000 police officers were needed. While many lived in fear and constant worry, they were often able to persuade others to obtain a residency permit. Fraudulent means were responsible for around a fifth the Hubei Province residency permits.
Parts of the party supported the Cultural Revolution’s zealotry. In Shanxi, Dazhai village claimed that farmers worked tirelessly every day of the year. Some provinces had private plots that were collected in much the same manner as it was back in 1950. However, other parts of the Central Committee cautioned against excessive collection. Many people were confused by the various policies and counterpolicies. Nobody could agree on which party was correct.
The confusion allowed local cadres to be as creative with the rules as they wanted. They were far from Beijing’s watchful eye. Instead of being concerned with politics, the cadres became more involved in helping villagers establish black markets and collectivize their countryside. One village in Shaanxi Province had a party report. Of the “None of the Party meetings has been called” and that no one has studied Marx, Lenin or Chairman Mao, they complained. But as historian Dikötter wryly noted in his 2016 book Cultural RevolutionTelephone conferences to discuss production brigades were “not realistic” as the telephone lines had been cut and used by the villagers for drying sweet potatoes.
Marxism, History of the ‘Great Man’
Marxist theory explains history as the interplay between social production and material forces. Marxists often succumb to the enticing personality cults. Chinese Marxism, instead of challenging the “Great Man’ view of history has given in to it. Mao believed he was able to reshape China’s economy simply by inciting the people into great feats of labor by willpower. Deng didn’t make this mistake but it is still a testimony to the charm of the Great Man thesis. Xinhua is China’s official news agency and has declared that “Xi Jinping” is the central figure who will control the history tide.
Xi and Deng did not control the course of history. Although Deng acknowledged that changes are inevitable, his reforms were merely legalizations of existing practices for which he had enough intelligence to give credit. Another matter is why Deng should not be thanked.
Deng’s order to the tanks to enter Tiananmen square was met with a flurry of murderous protests by his generals and soldiers. They believed that his leadership was best for China. The party might not have held on to power if he hadn’t forced them to implement reforms. In fact, they might have even collapsed. Ironically, the party might owe its survival to the very people it formerly condemned as “capitalist roaders”—the ones whose bottom-up reforms allowed the regime to survive.