Thursday, 29 October 2015

Deng Xiaoping and Japan

Another extract from Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw's book, The Commanding Heights. I will post a Tamil translation of this section soon. This part deals with the status of the Chinese economy, first under Mao Tse Tung, from 1949 to his death, and later, Deng's reforms beginning in 1978.

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Mao's collectivization produced dismal results. Outputs in many regions was no greater than it had been three decades earlier, and in some places, actually less.

China's entire economic reform began with severe drought in 1978. The ground was so dry neither tractors nor plows could break it. Starvation became endemic. Dysentery encephalitis hepatitis and other diseases swept through the region. Hundreds of thousands fled their homes, a militia mobilized to prevent them flooding into shanghai. A film of the suffering to made Politburo members cry out, cover faces and weep. Peasants would not do hardest labour until they could benefit. They pleaded for a return to the old ways. By this they mean the household responsibility system, which allowed a family to keep some of the benefits of their labor. Even so, some of the peasants insisted upon swearing a common  oath to take care of each other's children  if they should "come to grief" by being arrested for participating in such a new program. Their fears were based on what happened during the Cultural Revolution.

But the experiment was successful. The responsibility system was adopted throughout China replacing Maoism. Over sixteen years output increased more than 50%.

The introduction of markets generated an entire trading apparatus.  Farmers involved themselves in transportation, house building, repair, private food markets, and hiring workers. In 1978, just 8% of agricultural output was sold in the open market. By 1990, the share was 80%.

Visiting Japan and seeing it's dynamism first hand shocked the Chinese economists. The head of Communist party propaganda division noticed : one out of two households in Japan owned a car; more than 95% possessed TV, fridges and washing machines. He was overwhelmed by how the people were dressed - by the variety of clothing and it's cleanliness. "on the street, of all the women we saw, no two wore the same style of clothes." Even more astonishing : "Female workers who accompanied us changed clothes every day."

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Gopu's Note

In China under Mao, foreign movies, magazines and television were rare. In India, we could see Hollywood movies, or those set in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan etc., even though television was stifled by all Central Governments before Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1984. Rajiv ushered in the color television age, and his finance minister VP Singh cancelled all licenses for radios and television sets. So we could see those people enjoying the advantages of the free market, but it was dinned into most Indians that foreigners were rich and India was a poor country.

People who wanted to enjoy any consumer goods like fridges, cameras, tape recorders, shaving gel, etc had to pay high prices (as these were luxury goods) or depend on the kindness and public service of smugglers.

But we were never subject to the insanity and horrors of the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution. And clothing and cleanliness were not problems for the middle classes, or even most of the poor. People just bought fewer clothes of poorer quality in those Nehruvian decades.

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