With regard to President Xi Jinping’s speech and the special proceedings of the conference celebrating forty years of reform and opening-up, I have three points of observation.
First, a hundred individuals were awarded at the grand gathering for their outstanding contributions to the country’s reform and opening up. They come from all walks of life, including scientists, engineers, intellectuals, workers, farmers, migrant workers, and entrepreneurs. They are a visual proof that reform is neither a top-down nor a bottom-up movement. It is rather a historic tide jointly generated and driven by all classes and groups in China.
My second thought came from the two pieces of music played at the meeting. The first one was of course the national anthem of the PRC, the first line of which goes ‘Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves’. The reform is a great struggle of the Chinese people against their fate of misery and an effort to change it. Towards the end of his report, Xi claimed that the days of poverty and hunger are basically gone forever for the Chinese people. The statement won a very warm round of applause from the audience, indicating a strong resonance and shared realization that the reform has been about survival of our nation. The second piece was The Story of Spring, played as the background music for the award ceremony. Known to every household, the song praises Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of reform and opening-up. The audience on site and elsewhere were reminded that without Deng there would not have been reform or opening-up in China and without Deng’s resolute decision at the Third Plenum of the 11th CPC Central Committee held 40 years ago the course of events would not have been changed.
Third, one particular expression in Xi’s long report was particularly gratifying. He talked about the basic reason for China to carry out reform, that is, the ten chaotic years caused by the Cultural Revolution had pushed the Chinese economy to the brink of collapse. Although this was already agreed upon among the Chinese people over thirty years ago, his articulation undoubtedly represents a powerful counterpunch to attempts to revise the case for the Cultural Revolution.
About one fifth of the award-winning individuals are from the business community, including leaders of emerging industries and those in both state-owned and private sectors. Honoring so many entrepreneurs is proof that business people, who are most active in the market economy, have become the main force in the socio-economic development of China. Several award-winners were local government officials who had ‘risked their lives’ to support the market economy. These people would have been labelled “right opportunists” or even jailed during the Mao era before reform and opening-up. Former Party Secretary Xie Gaohua of Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, allowed farmers to run and trade in farmers’ market, starting Yiwu’s journey from a poverty-stricken county to today’s world capital of small commodities.
Xi Jinping attributes the achievements in the past four decades to ‘respect for history and reality’. The respect for reality is a respect for the productive forces and the market economy. In 1978, 97% of the commodities available in China were priced by the government. Even hairpins were produced and sold with government funding and according to government plans. Today, 97% of the commodities are priced by the market.
The market economy has also been a great experience for the Chinese people. The past four decades have taught Chinese about economics, contracts, rule of law, and credit, who have collectively attended a big school of the market economy. Xi described the process as a ‘great reawakening’.
Xi Jinping has the habit of quoting Mao Zedong in his speeches. This time he again used Mao’s expressions to liken the progress in the past forty years to ‘a relatively small prelude’ to a great show, showing that the top CPC leaders are fully aware that the market economy-oriented reform is an unfinished race. In my view, so long as the Chinese do not deviate from the path of the market economy, Western investors anxious about the China-US trade war should feel relief.