A six-part series by Peter Ford, staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
SOURCE: Reuters, AP/© 2008 MCT
– All but one of the buildings that I can see from my office balcony, packing the smoggy skyline, have one thing in common: they were not there 30 years ago.
That alone might be sufficient testament to the revolution wrought in China by "reform and opening," the gradual shift away from Maoist dogma launched by the ruling Communist party in
December 1978, which the authorities are celebrating this week.
But "the visual transformation is not nearly as profound as the psychological transformations" that Chinese citizens have undergone over the past three decades, suggests Russell Leigh Moses, a long-time China watcher here.
"Now," he says, "people think about what is possible, what can be changed, instead of what is not possible."
Nobody who has not lived in China for the last 30 years can hope to fully understand how startlingly the country has changed since Deng Xiaoping made pragmatism, not ideology, the government's guiding principle – paving the way for new enterprises, a flood of new media, and the introduction of private property. Even witnesses to the whole process often look back on the past as if it were another country that they cannot quite believe they lived in.
By the same token, none of the officials at the Central Committee meeting 30 years ago this week can have had any real idea of where they were taking their country. Denghimself said he was "crossing the river by feeling the stones," a cautiously experimental approach his successors have maintained.
Crucially, the fits-and-starts creation of a generally market-led economy has unleashed previously unheard of growth. Expanding by nearly 10 percent a year for a quarter of a century, the Chinese economy has pulled more than 600 million people out of poverty, according to World Bank figures.
If reforms have freed the spirit of enterprise, however, they have stifled the sense of social solidarity that the 1949 revolution meant to instill in China's citizenry. China today is one of the most unequal societies in the world: City dwellers' income is more than five times higher than their country cousins', and infant mortality, to take just one indicator, is seven times higher among poorer Chinese than among the wealthiest, United Nations surveys show.