China’s economic liberalisation is leading to the emergence of new socio-political interests and will therefore result in democratisation

To understand why we have seen the emergence of social and political interests in China, I intend to briefly describe how the reform period changed work practices and institutions in nearly all industries throughout China. Next I will relate these changes to the rise in the number of politically active groups, businesses, and people. Finally I will discuss how these groups will change China and suggest some ideas as to what we may see in the future. The main engine behind the reforms in China since 1978 has been Deng Xiaoping.Deng believed the only solution to the problems that China faced in the late 1970’s was to iberalise the economy. This was a means rather than an end though.

He noticed the way China’s neighbouring countries had benefited from allowing inward investment specifically and foreign trade in general. In the early 1980’s, all the top politicians in China were required to read “The third wave” (Toffler), which set out a theory whereby developing countries could miss out industrialisation and move straight to the technological revolution and catch up with developed countries.Therefore the pursuit of new technology became the focal point of reforms in China and the quickest way to introduce new technology to China was to let more advanced countries do it for them.. Apart from granting access to multinational companies, Deng also set in motion plans to cerate incentives for China’s own companies to innovate and become more efficient. Small local companies were allowed to sprout and these became the freest.

Larger companies considered to be more important by the party, still had to meet their quotas, but they were allowed to produce more if they could, and sell excess stock on the market. Profit became something to be desired not despised. The changes mentioned so far have been limited to the urban sector of China but arming has also been liberalised to a degree. Land leases are longer and can be bought and sold under supervision. Those with a lot of land can now hire workers to help farm it and they also have more choice on what to grow on it.The rural community has seen ‘the commercialisation of land’. These changes both in urban and rural communities have caused the attitudes of many people in China to change significantly. Before reform, China could be split into two social groups, workers and peasants, or urban dwellers and rural dwellers.

Economic iberalisation has created a new, much documented ‘middle class’, that many writers hold to be the driving force behind democratisation. Reform has also affected the stature and personal efficacy of the original groups.First I will look at how the workers situations have changed and how they have reacted, next I will do the same with the farmers, and then I will try to discover where the new middle class has come from and investigate what their interests are. Before reform, workers in the city seriously considered themselves the leading class, and they had good reason to. Their jobs were secure, they were highly paid, highly respected, and received many fringe benefits such as pensions and insurance.

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Workers had ‘the iron rice bowl’.Reform worsened their situation because with many industries trying to cut down on costs, some workers lost their jobs. Even those that have kept their job have suffered with inflation lowering their real income due to wages being fixed in most industries where the state plays a part. A 1990 survey of Tianjin shows that contrary to urban regions throughout the world, workers in this urban region lack personal efficacy, have little faith in heir ability ‘to get ahead’, and are closed to new or different opinions.Ironically the frustration of workers led them to protest against economic reform with the students in Tiananmen Square who were protesting political stagnation. One group of people not complaining in Tiananmen were the farmers.

Although they’re a long way from comfortable, the peasants gained a lot from the reforms. Before the 1980’s peasants were banned from ‘trespassing’ in the cities, they farmed in unpopular and inefficient communes and could only sell crops to the government at a price the government ictated.Peasants received none of the benefits that workers enjoyed.

According to Bernstein, some lived below the poverty line, most just above it, and they were not listened to by the government for fear of the mass enthusiasm of urban workers people being damped. Considering it was the peasants that provided the support for the CCP in the first instance, and that nearly 80% of the country lived in rural areas, Deng considered rural reform a priority. First he raised the procurement prices, then he dismantled the communes and let families lease land for a long period of time.Later he allowed controlled buying and selling of leases so that the most efficient farmers could control more land and hire help from surplus labour nearby. The rest of the surplus labour freed up was allowed to find temporary work in the city although they were not allowed to permanently reside there. This created yet another new class in China, that of the migrants. Migrants had little job security and often lived in depressing conditions in the city but they were only there to raise a little extra money for the household and could go back at any time to the farm.

Little has been said yet of the new middle class. That is because it draws from both urban and rural areas and is divided itself. The first people to take advantage of a more relaxed government line on production quotas in rural areas started to find themselves being able to sell grain to the government at the increased price as mentioned, but also surplus grain or other produce could be sold without much restriction on the local free market (which was sometimes an even higher price).Small villages began trading each others surpluses and the people making money became up to 5. % richer than those who were not according to an investigation by China Quarterly). In the city some of the people who lost their jobs or who had long been waiting for some freedom to do what they wanted began polishing shoes at the street corner or selling newspapers. Of these people, G. Barme and L.

Jaivin said ‘Perhaps a new force is gathering, an energy that can be directed towards social change. We must not underestimate them’. But these ‘owner-operators’ are not the only category that should be included in this new force.Besides managers of state companies who effectively became capitalists by default, David Goodman also defines suburban executives’ and money middle-men as components of the new rich in China.

Suburban executives he says are those who were able to put together the technical know- how gained by living close to the city, with the decollectivisation of rural reform. Industry in these areas has become very flexible and usually consists of a mixture of agriculture markets, and manufacturing plants or even large factories.Goodman also identifies wheelers and dealers as those who had some money saved up and suddenly became much in demand as banks started offering interest rates and businesses started looking for investors.

It is the emergence of this middle class that leads many commentators to predict and indeed to recommend democratisation in China. They argue that the new social classes need to vent their opinions and the only way they can do that is by voting for an alternative party at an open election.This is perhaps oversimplified but is that not what arguing for democracy amounts to? Two such commentators are White and McCormick. White thinks that a gradual transition via an authoritarian government would be less likely to cause political unrest. McCormick argues that taking this route would lead to unnecessary risks nd would not be as safe as White believes. Both these writers agree that these new social forces cannot be suppressed, in fact that by trying to suppress them will only increase tensions between state and society.White’s transitional approach though suggests that governments control over society could be loosened to encourage the build up of social pressures to a point where democracy would be demanded.

He argues that at present, there are not enough people interested or able enough to make a democracy of any sort work. That most people in China ‘would be disenfranchised, in reality if not in form’. He akes perfectly clear though that an authoritarian regime should be a temporary measure when he talks of ‘the erosion of the legitimacy of state, the CCP, and the current leadership’.McCormick objects to White’s assertion that China is not ready for democracy right now (or at least in 1993). For him democratisation cannot happen soon enough and he regards the route through authoritarianism as was used by the Asian ‘tiger economies’ as a bad model to follow. For these countries he says, the international climate was such that they had a lot of backing from developed countries that China would not enjoy now. I think the last 7 years have shown though that institutions like the WTO and western countries in general have done their best to accommodate China and help her on her way to Democracy.McCormick then raised the question of how difficult would it be to go from an authoritarian regime to a democratic regime.

He raises several objections to White’s ‘guarantees’ that democracy will follow authoritarianism. He points out several examples including Argentina, Peru, and Chile where this practice has been tried and failed. He rejects the theory that once China’s GDP grows to $5000 per capita, dictatorship would be mpossible, by pointing put that this would not happen in China until 2008.This is a long enough wait but when one considers China’s economic slowdown over the past 7 years this becomes a very effective argument.

In fact it is this slowdown that leads many journalists today to write persuasive accounts of why China has reached the point where it must democratise to avoid collapse. There is so much social tension in China now that according to a taiwan website (taiwansecurity. org) the government admitted in 1999 that in the previous year there were 5000 collective protests.

The problem perhaps unsurprisingly is one that McCormick predicted, that the current crop of leaders just don’t want to let go.According to the Economist, there are officials in China who whisper to foreigners that they realise change is necessary, and that the NPC is testing out powers of holding the government to account. There have also been experiments with local elections in many rural areas throughout China. The problem is though that they may only be experiments, and that candidate’s are always vetted by the party before being allowed to stand. The same article however points out that there are a lot of politician ‘wannabees’ in China.It gives the example of a Beijing province in 1981, where 10,000 candidates were nominated for 316 seats. This would seem to contradict White’s argument that Chinese people would not have time to vote.

The general trend is one of diminishing totalitarianism – from Mao to Deng to Jiang – and this trend is likely to continue in 2002 when Jiang retires. There are a lot of people among the leaders that one would think do want to take the government towards a more open and accountable ay of working that would perhaps eventually result in democracy.In addition to this there is an intense international pressure that cannot be ignored.

China has been very accommodating in it’s attempts to join the WTO, especially with their quick ‘forgive and forget’ of the bombing in Belgrade in April last year. Perhaps if the west continues to recommend democracy and help the CCP control over a smooth transition (which may include some financial help), then everyone can benefit from a strong, stable China in the future in the same way that they gain now from the U. S.