Compare major aspects of development experience in post-1949 China


Also at this time China developed its atom bomb, a success that had only been achieved by the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain and France – all developed nations. Population had become an important issue in the 1950’s as the need for a policy was realised (India was also experiencing population problems at this time). The policy of family planning that was adopted in the 1950’s was dropped during the Great Leap Forward, as Mao saw people as producers before consumers, encouraging labour-intensive rapid industrialisation, and therefore population growth.

After the downfall of the Great Leap Forward, the need for a policy to curb the increasing population became more evident. In 1955, China’s population was estimated by the Chinese as 615 million, in 1977, it was 934 million (Simpson, 1994, p. 236). By the early 1960’s, family planning became official policy and although it has become subject to many modifications, it has not been dropped. Figure 1 shows the overall global pattern of government stances on family planning. It is mainly Asia, with severely large populations and high densities, that is committed to a reduction in population growth rate.

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Few countries throughout the rest of the Third World have adopted strong anti-natalist policies. Some former French territories in Africa, such as Chad, Ivory Coast and Niger, have in place anti-contraception laws from colonial times. In Latin America, governments seem unkeen to back anti-natalist programmes on grounds of machismo, Roman Catholicism or sometimes due to one view that such a policy is the U. S. ‘s method of restricting Latin America’s emerging power. China’s population problems as in all other developing nations however, are not merely due to its size but also its distribution.

By the 1960’s then, the issue of population was established within the system. The stagnation of agricultural production also revealed the need for new planning. It was in 1966, that the next announcement of Maoist-style development came to the fore – the Cultural Revolution. The new focus was self-reliance and self-sufficiency, with the creation of innovations from within Chinese society and by its people. The new system of technical support would complement the large labour input and all fertilizers, machinery etc. were to be produced from within the Communes.

This is in contrast to many cases in the developing world, where often foreign imported machines and vehicles remain unused without the knowledge to use or repair them. The emphasis was placed on heavy industry, especially on the iron and steel industry, with small-scale industries locating in rural areas. It was this attempt to achieve economic progress in the countryside, together with the population growth in the cities and the attempt to overthrow any followers of capitalism from authority that led to the sending down (Xia Fang) of people from urban to rural areas.

Some 30 million people were moved (mainly youths) in this period from the coastal, urban region to the remote interior. Such a large-scale forced movement has not been repeated elsewhere in the Third World, having such deep-rooted ideological motives as well as economic. After ten years of eager development planning, Chairman Mao died in 1976. The Gang of Four, leaders of the Cultural Revolution, were arrested and national economic planning was in a state of confusion. During Mao’s almost 30 years in power, China had experienced an extremely dynamic development process.

At the start of Communist China, with the Land Reform, the entire structure of traditional Chinese society was overturned and complete autonomy went to the state. Initially, following the Soviet model for development, Mao encouraged rapid economic growth, with entrenched ideological beliefs. Portraying both successes and failures, overall the achievements of Mao’s China had been great. Few other Third World countries have undergone such transformations and can claim the success of such a task. It was still a poor country and the task still huge but perhaps Mao had laid the foundations for later development.

The China that emerged was a country considerably different in its approach to development and to the rest of the world. Immediately after Mao’s death in 1976, Hua Guofeng, the new interim chairman, announced a Ten Year Economic Development Plan, focusing on the Four Modernisations – agriculture, industry, science and technology and national defence. For the first time the emphasis was placed on production rather than Mao’s politics, on increased communications and trade links as it opened up to the outside world. Deng Xiaoping became the new great leader of the PRC in 1978 and greatly encouraged modernisation.

With regard to other Third World nations, China opened its doors and rapidly developed in effect, making up for lost time, a situation that most developing countries do not have the opportunity for. Although not embracing democracy, Deng has introduced more of a market economy into China, private enterprise, light industry and modern management. It was in the rural sector that Mao had made such contributions to development, eventually leading to the downfall of his radical Marxist ideology during the Cultural Revolution. One of the major new policies of the Reform Period was the `Household Responsibility System’ introduced into rural areas.

Phasing out the communes, this system axed restraints on private economic activity and market economies. Together with the `Responsibility System’ introduced into industry, both these policies resulted in an increase in standards of living in rural and urban areas, the specialisation and diversification appearing a fairer means of production than the People’s Communes. Suitable policies are essential in rural areas of developing countries because agriculture and the rural economy are central to their problems and rapidly growing populations increase the pressure on inefficient and insecure food resources.

The problem is not simply to grow more food but to increase the efficiency in harvesting, storing, transporting and marketing. These early reforms formed the basis for Deng’s continued development strategies. China’s Open-Door policy has increased foreign trade and investment and the country has also received many loans from abroad. Trade overall is very restricted to the Third World, by the Developed World. The relationship is a very interdependent one, however unequal, and the Developed World is at the top of this hierarchy restricting certain trade, via tariffs and barriers, thus enhancing neo-colonial exploitation.

China, on the other hand has timed its entry into the New World Order well and has gained much respect for the development of this field. In contrast to its original closed economy, China has established the Special Enterprise Zones in fourteen ports in 1984 – opening up these cities to the global economy with incentives for encouraging foreign investment and the location of foreign companies. In Mexico, a similar liberalization programme was set up in 1965 – to nurture foreign-owned manufacturing enclaves along the U. S. border.

This is known as the Maquiladora programme. This move towards a free flow of trade and investment ended the country’s traditional economic policies and opened up this 20 kilometre strip along the northern border. Since then the Maquiladora have spread throughout Mexico and are now the second leading source of foreign exchange, after the oil industry. For all these zones of specific foreign investment, the benefit lies in cheap land and cheap labour and in China, there is the attraction of breaking into its growing and potentially vast domestic market.

This completely new phase of development has given the people of China more freedom – a society that becomes potentially more difficult to manage. The young people of China misread economic revolution with political revolution, leading to the massacre on Tiananmen Square in June, 1989, with tragic results. Political control has not ceased and nor has economic and commercial encouragement. China’s economic transformation is propelling at a phenomenal rate, with few parallels worldwide, let alone in the Third World.

China, perhaps also due to increased global awareness, is portraying more characteristics typical of a true Third World country. Despite it still having a 68 % agricultural workforce, China is rapidly urbanising, carrying with it all the bad traits of typical Third World cities. Under Mao, although the focus shifted from urban to rural development, one feature that did not arise in the urban areas is the usually inevitable sprawl of shanty towns. Mao’s strict migration and registration system prevented this squatter settlement from occurring.

However, since 1978 there has been a growth in cities upwards and outwards. The resultant urban sprawl not only degrades the area physically, but eats away at surrounding land becoming a financial drain on the economy. China’s population was briefly mentioned earlier and this does not do it justice as it accounts for one-third of the total world population and obviously plays a major role in determining the development path of China. Since 1979, China’s population became central to all issues and planning as the One-Child Policy was introduced.

All developing countries have problems of increasing populations and although this policy has resulted in a definite decrease in population growth rate almost to replacement level, more education in the rural areas is essential so that the population does not severely restrict further development, and so that the world’s largest labour force can be used efficiently and effectively in this new era of China. Compared to anywhere else in the entire world China has incurred the strictest anti-natalist policy on its population. Despite the benefits awarded for having only one child and the exceptions to the rule, ie.

the ethnic minorities being exempt from the policy, China could potentially be heading towards creating a superior race, a perfect offspring where less will be accepted, an extreme situation that has not appeared elsewhere. The relevance of China’s path to development as an example to other Third World countries is a difficult concept to answer. Most developing countries play subordinate and dependent roles within the international capitalist system. However it is not very appealing to the governments involved to give it all up, completely alter the structure of their society and adopt a socialist path to development.

On the other hand, certain aspects of Chinese development strategies could be used elsewhere, such as the emphasis that was placed on rural areas, developing a high level of motivation, via altering work incentives, health, education and training facilities. This investment in the countryside has eased the gap between rural and urban areas. China’s main aim was to sever all dependency relationships with the advanced industrial countries, whilst pursuing its own course of development. In Deng’s era, however, China has become increasingly important in the global economic order, proving the necessity to remain within the system.

Admittedly not all developing countries have this opportunity or onus but China can surely be seen as an example in various areas of success. The validity of using China as a third world nation is becoming less clear. Poverty is still widespread, unemployment high but, prosperity is increasing and in 1994 it achieved a miraculous 8% growth rate per annum, although with a GNP per capita of $370 in 1994 it still remains among the low income economies. However, China must be considered an anomaly to the standard development (or lack of it) achieved by Third World countries.

Despite sharing characteristics, all Third World nations are mutually exclusive, separate entities, pursuing different development paths, with different focuses. China is distinctive in its approach and, “Political ideology may have become less relevant to the people of China but China will no doubt produce a uniquely Chinese solution to the challenges of her further development. ” (Simpson, 1994, p. 248) To conclude, China’s development experience has been shaped and dominated by two figures – Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Mao’s radical and extreme Marxist ideologies pulled China out of post-revolutionary chaos, transformed the society into a socialist one and attempted to achieve rapid economic development. In comparison to the rest of the Third World, China was very closed and insular at this time. Deng’s Reform Period however, has offered so much more, development-wise, to China, opening it up to the New World Order. Still operating with similar political ideology, China is now portraying more characteristics of a Third World country, but at the same time showing signs of being on the path to becoming the major economic power of the twenty-first century.

The political and economic consequences of this will undoubtedly have a profound significance for the rest of the world – developing and developed.

BIBLIOGRAPHYAGUIGNIER, P. (1988) – `Regional Disparities Since 1978′, in FEUCHTWANG, S. et al (eds. ) – Transforming China’s Economy in the Eighties, Volume II, London, Zed Books Ltd. pp. 93-106. BRUGGER, W. (1981) – China : Liberation and Transformation 1942-62, London, Croom Helm Ltd. CANNON, T. ; JENKINS, A. (eds. ) (1990) – The Geography of Contemporary China : The Impact of Deng Xiaoping’s Decade, London, Routledge.


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