China’s Transition from the Mao Era to Neoliberal Post-Mao Market Reforms





China’s Transition from the Mao Era to Neoliberal Post-Mao Market Reforms

A lot has been said about China and how it transitioned from the Mao era to a neoliberal post-Mao market economy. Evidently, China begun the transition to a market economy from the late 1970s and in the early 1980s using a systematic approach to its major industries including the agricultural sector, opening up itself to foreign investments, and allowing entrepreneurs to conduct businesses. Previously, Mao had instituted a socialist education campaign and in 1966 formed a cultural revolution aimed at removing counter-revolutionary aspects in the Chinese society. In a movement that lasted 10 years, Mao saw China descend into class struggles, unprecedented elevation, and widespread destruction of various cultural artifacts unique to China. Mao’s agenda was to preserve communism in China through a process of purging capitalist remnants and all traditional aspects for the society. Due to the radicalness of the Mao era, its abrupt end and the transition to a neoliberal market reform afterwards is quite remarkable. Notably, the most compelling elements identifiable in China’s transition from the Mao era to neoliberal post-Mao market reforms include economics as a key to the country’s agenda, reduction of trade barriers, partially free market conditions, and the partial control and deregulation of the capital markets.

One of the key hallmarks of China’s transition from the Mao era to neoliberal post-Mao market reforms was the reversal of some policies made under the Mao era. Ping highlights how the movement from socialization to privatization of housing and other property markets in a reversed policymaking period reflected development ideology in the post-Mao period (6). As a mark of neoliberal politics and thinking, the housing sector was prioritized in the economy driven new approach that has seen China rise ever since to its current status. Today, expansive economy driven policies have seen urbanization account for a majority of China’s success in the post-Mao era (The Guardian 1). These developments are clear indications of a change in policy, one that would not have been possible in a nationalized Mao-era government. At present, powerful national identity and the strong sense of social purpose, as identified by Meisner (413), have been replaced by a country focused on an economy-driven political ideology, one that focuses on an overall welfare of its society through enabling entrepreneurs to drive the economy, removing barriers, and protecting domestic industries from external rivalry that is harmful. Yet, in the current post-Mao market reform era, the government has retained some level of control not evident in countries in the same economic development level as China.

While it is easy to focus only on the economic development of the country following the end of the Mao-driven reforms, it is important to also note that the post-Mao Chinese state play a vital role in governing and regulating people’s everyday life. Yu presents a case of how girls in the traditional Chinese society were forced to bind their feet in order to marry city elites, in a display of a Chinese culture that was very unequal, influenced largely by the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century (1). Here, the influence of the reigning political class shows how policies affect the daily lives of the people in China. The post-Mao Chinese state has similar effects, albeit not as extreme as the foot-binding girls, but all the same noteworthy as the activities and policies held by the government controls and regulates how people interact with others through business, social, political, ideological, and in economic realms. At present, the post-Mao Chinese state offers freedom in relation to entrepreneurship, a phenomenon that has created jobs for various industries, improved the livelihood of the people, led to a rise in middle class status for a majority of the citizens, and seen an unprecedented wave of internal rural-urban migration. According to Miller (1), migration in China, titled Farm to City, is the story of the movement from the Mao era to a more liberal post-Mao period that has seen the lives of many people transformed. Urbanization, largely due to government interventions and policies, has led to better health care, overall improvement in education and its quality, opening up of more rural economies, and an overall better employment opportunity. While some problems exist, including unemployment and overpopulation in some cities, and the problem of a middle-class economy, the role of the post-Mao Chinese state has been one that has facilitated positive change to improve the everyday lives of the Chinese people. Therefore, through its efforts to improve the economy, the post-Mao Chinese state has enabled better outcomes for people, even where poverty, joblessness, increased migration, and a rising middle class exist.

The role that the government has played in governing and regulating the everyday lives of the Chinese people has been converted into rapid urbanization and the formation of a middle class xiaokang society. Ping is conscious of the problems and limitations that have risen in China due to the rapid urbanization of the country including changing patterns of human activities, social structural changes, and migration (7). In China today, rapid urbanization and building a middle-class xiaokang society have given rise to high population density especially in the cities, a lack of affordable housing, poverty, inadequate infrastructure in some regions of the country, pollution, crime, creation of slum dwellings especially for those migrating into the cities, and congestion. Meisner’s view of the concept of cultural revolution also points to a change in culture where Chinese people are gradually adopting capitalist ideologies in various critical sectors and in the act of building and maintain a vibrant middle-class society (293). Overall, the problems and limitations of China’s rapid urbanization and building a middle-class xiaokang society continue to expand as the nation rises in terms of economic development, social structures, and the adoption of more economy-driven political ideologies.

Due to the rapid urbanization and the rise of a budding middle-class society, China has progressed unevenly. This has meant that the nation has seen many people move from the countryside to the urban dwellings in the cities in search of greener pastures. The effect has meant that migrant workers have increased significantly, a condition that Miller has expressed to be a disaster in waiting as the country expands in ways that even the government has not been able to control (3). Migrant workers earn better than those that stay behind in farms and the twin processes of industrialization and urbanization mean that the national Chinese economy is able to provide jobs, even at minimum pay, for migrant workers (Miller 3). However, life for these workers is uncomfortable insecure, and unfair. While the economic rewards are better than the life in the countryside, mass migration means that housing and other critical components of human living are critically inadequate. The plight and struggles of the migrant workers will continue in the next several years as mass migration continues to happen amidst an expanding Chinese economy.

In conclusion, China’s transition from the Mao era to neoliberal post-Mao market reforms has meant rapid development, industrialization, and urbanization. While positive elements exist, including a better overall living condition and more wealth distribution in the country, it has also meant that a majority of people have been affected. While the government struggles to provide the best living conditions for all its citizenry, some elements cannot be controlled. For example, migration into the cities have meant poor conditions and insecurity for migrant workers. Nonetheless, the transition from the Mao era to neoliberal post-Mao market reforms has been a positive era for China, one that has seen it rise to global status.

Works Cited

Meisner, Maurice, and Matthias Meisner. Mao’s China and after: A history of the People’s

Republic. Simon and Schuster, 1999.

Miller, Tom. China’s urban billion: the story behind the biggest migration in human history. Zed

Books Ltd., 2012.

Ping, Lei. “Demolition of a Distinctive Chinese Habitus: Controversies of Urban Sustainability

in Shanghai.” Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 61.6 (2019): 4-17.

The Guardian. “Chinese construction firm erects 57_storey skyscraper in 19 days: Company

claims to be world’s fastest builder after assembling Mini Sky City at a pace of three floors a day.” The Guardian. 30 April 2015: Web.

Yu, Kongjian. “Beautiful big feet: Toward a new landscape aesthetic.” Harvard Design

Magazine, Fall/Winter 10 (2009).

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