Deng Xiaoping and Economic Reforms
After Mao’s death, and a subsequent power struggle, Deng Xiaoping managed to come to power as Vice Premier in the 1970s. His position during his time in office was one that prioritized economic and technological growth. He also stood against many of the ideals of Maoism, using the practical benefits of competition as counterexamples against Maoist egalitarianism. Having been purged from the Party during the Cultural Revolution, Deng was able to use the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the failed Great Leap Forward to somewhat soften his criticisms of Mao’s ideologies. Relying on individual self-interest as a human motivator, Deng de-collectivized agriculture, allowing farmers to farm on collectives if they wished, or to farm individually for some profit. Academic institutions were reopened, and doctors, lawyers, and other developmental professions were promoted. Additionally, his economic reforms introduced previously forbidden competitive elements to the economy. Besides permitting private-family farming, business was permitted to flourish according to individualistic self-interest. While most major industries remained as state-owned enterprises, many small private businesses were permitted to engage in market activity, and millions of employees were hired in the immediately-resulting economic growth. In fact, China began to receive a strong increase in foreign investment, and development began to sprout even more economic advancement, especially in the urban south and east metropolitan centers. These would become super-cities in later decades. Because economic growth decreased infant mortality rates, and because of China’s already staggering population, another reform introduced during the Xiaoping Era was the One-Child Policy, which introduced limitations of children to one-per-family. While intended to reduce population growth, the plan was fairly ineffective due to exemptions, poor enforcement, and other factors. The plan also had a serious consequence in China’s gender demographics: because of cultural emphasis on having a son, many families resorted to abortion or infanticide in order to have a male heir. However, as the practice has played out, the result has been that of a tremendous inequality of the male-female ratio in China. This has led to a distress in gender-based social balances in the cultural environment in China. Some suggest that this may increase women’s rights in China, others disagree.
The most overwhelming impact of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms is the staggering economic growth China has experienced since the 1970s. Moving from a struggling agrarian economy to the world’s second-and-soon-to-be-largest economy, China has done tremendously well in global economics. While internal wealth gaps are very serious, and poverty in the country remains a persistent problem, the overwhelming story of Deng’s reforms has been one of great success: with the competitive edge added to China’s economy, growth and advancement have been unprecedented. This has extended to modern times as well: a growing middle class and a growing capacity to consume have created a much more consumer society that in many ways resembles the consumeristic United States, for better or for worse.